Once in a while, the little guy wins. Such is the story of the Wenham Lake Watershed Association (WLWA), which was formed when it became clear, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the coal-burning Salem, MA Power Station had been illegally dumping toxic coal fly ash for decades on a site several miles away in the City of Beverly. Not only was the dumping illegal, but it was determined that this carcinogenic fly ash had been coursing its way into Wenham Lake, the drinking water supply for over 80,000 Salem and Beverly residents. The late Dominic Manzoli, an unsung hero, who lived by the Lake, had long been aware of the problem, and he had been petitioning both Salem and Beverly for years. Both cities remained in complete denial, and the Mayor of Beverly at the time, was downright hostile. Then, along came a young lawyer, named Jan Schlictmann, who had gained notoriety for his work on behalf of the residents of Woburn, MA, several miles to the south. (Remember the book and the award-winning 1998 film, “A Civil Action,” starring John Travolta, who played Jan Schlictmann?) Together, WLWA and Mr. Schlictmann commissioned independent studies of Wenham Lake. Core samples were taken, shocking amounts of fly ash were pulled up and the massive pollution was presented as physical evidence in City Council Meetings for both Cities. No longer in denial, Beverly attempted to blame everyone and anyone, as did Salem. Nobody would step up to properly deal with the mess at the site or Wenham Lake, so it was left to WLWA to work with the current owner of the Salem Power Station, National Grid, who, after some constructive and fruitful negotiations, agreed to a multi-million dollar cleanup. PR for them, and a victory for the citizens of Beverly and Salem. The dumping site has been capped and is now a park, and Wenham Lake is once again one of the cleanest bodies of water in the world. I’m proud to say that I was one of those concerned citizens and part of WLWA. I designed and built the site and the blog. Several years after the success of this project, WLWA agreed to disband, but this project is truly a special memory for me; we did the right thing, and won. It is possible!
[Note: After writing this post, I was googling for more info on Mr. Manzoli, and I ran across a Daily Kos article on WLWA, by “lale” (Lori Erhlich), activist, member of the MA House of Representatives, and admirable human being. I didn’t find much more on “Dom,” as he was affectionately called, but Lori’s backstory about this big win for the residents of Beverly and Salem is a great – and surprising – read.]