necn Investigates Report Triggers Call to Clean Up Merrimack River - NECN
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necn Investigates Report Triggers Call to Clean Up Merrimack River

A local mayor and a Congresswoman have promised to help out



    An necn investigation is prompting change for cleaner drinking water in Massachusetts for the 600,000 who live along the Merrimack River. (Published Friday, Sept. 23, 2016)

    An necn investigation is prompting change for cleaner drinking water in Massachusetts for the 600,000 who live along the Merrimack River.

    Since our investigation first aired in August showing all of the cars, tires and trash that had been pulled from the Merrimack, reaction has been quick and strong.

    We returned as Clean River Project pulled car number 65 from the Merrimack River. It was a stolen 1985 Jeep Grand Cherokee that has been at the bottom of the river for 26 years.

    Decades later, oil and chemicals burp out of the cars into the river. Time is not watering down the environmental impact. The team surrounds the recovery area with gas and oil booms to protect the environment.

    Our investigation in August introduced you to this nonprofit footing the bill to pull 60-plus cars, 8,000 tires and dumpsters of trash over the last 12 years. They have cobbled together donations and grants to barely stay afloat.

    "Financially, it's a nightmare," said Rocky Morrison, the Clean River Project's founder.

    necn Investigates took the issue of no money to the mayors of the Merrimack.

    "That we have a responsibility for it is clear," Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said. "That we should figure out a way to make it happen is also clear."

    After our investigation, three mayors agreed to to action, including Lowell and Methuen.

    Only the mayor of Lawrence vowed to put money into his budget and address the other mayors.

    "I'm going to bring it up in the mayors and managers meeting for the Merrimack Valley mayors and managers because the river really is an asset for us," Rivera said.

    The mayor of Methuen says he is "continuing to explore ways ... to support their efforts."

    The mayor of Lowell has asked the sustainability council to take on the issue in October.

    After repeated efforts, there have been no statements from Andover or Haverhill.

    Viewers responded too after seeing our story and three boats needing motors parked on the streets in three river towns.

    Ken Aspeslagh and his brother Glen own Ecamm, a software company.

    "I was driving along (Route) 125 and saw Rocky's banner asking for a hero to sponsor a boat motor," Ken said. "I pulled over, took a picture and texted it to Glen and said 'How about this?'"

    The twin brothers, whose great-grandparents immigrated to Lawrence over 100 years ago, donated $8,500. Another $8,500 check came from Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston.

    Congresswoman Niki Tsongas contacted the Clean River Project within days of our investigation.

    "I would be sorry to see the Clean River Project close its doors if it is unable to secure the needed funding to maintain operations," she told necn Investigates. "We stand ready to help Mr. Morrison identify federal grant sources. In fact, my office reached out to the Clean River Project this week."

    The checks for $17,000 are enough to buy motors for two of the three boats used by divers. Still, divers need to be paid, equipment rented and cranes to lift out the cars operated.

    So on what could still be the final cleanup, Keurig Coffee sent teams of volunteers to help clean the river banks.

    This week, Clean River Project is spending the final grant money from the Massachusetts Environmental Trust to pull 13 more cars from behind the Boys and Girls Club in Lawrence.

    Kids from the club watched closely from the riverbank. As each car was laid to rest along the bank waiting to be towed, Morrison checked for any fish, hollering "Shake out the fish!”

    He found two catfish and walked them back down to the river, announcing, "These belong in the river, those (cars) don't belong in the river."

    "In a few minutes that will be out of here on its way to the tow yard and this won’t be a hazard for the environment," Morrison said. But more cars lie beneath, rotting away in what has become a graveyard of environmental economics.

    American Rivers says the Merrimack River is third of the 10 most endangered rivers. They were there for the clean-up, telling necn that sometimes these nonprofits are taken for granted until it’s too late.

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