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Cleaning the river has made a huge difference in the Pioneer Valley

Date: 9/25/2013

By G. Michael Dobbs

It was a shame the story of the 20th anniversary of the coordinated efforts to cleanup the Connecticut River in Western Massachusetts didn’t receive more media attention. Only myself and my colleague Mary Serreze from WHMP attended the event.

It’s a big deal, but perhaps not sexy enough for the other media. It certainly is a story that has affected many people in a positive way.

In 1963, my family rented a house in the Hockanum section of Hadley. It’s a beautiful farming area with a flood plain and the river defining one border and the mountains making the other.

Our neighbors and landlords had a nice boat on which they cruised the Connecticut and they frequently asked us to go along. I had just learned to swim and wanted to practice but was told there was no swimming in the river. It wasn’t clean enough.

As a kid, that didn’t seem to make much sense. Why pollute a river to the point you can’t swim in it?

At that time there was a paper factory in South Hadley that was on a tributary of the Connecticut that was different colors depending on the color of the toilet paper they were making. The cross between pink and magenta made the biggest impression as we would drive by.

I distinctly remember one time a large pipe from which flowed raw sewage from one community.

And I’m sure those two examples were the tip of the pollution iceberg. I would hate to imagine what the river would be like if the Clean Water Act had never been passed or if standards for water purity weren’t enforced. The problem with too many of us is if the easy way saves us money, we take it regardless of the long-term effects.

Considering all of this, it’s amazing the river has made such a comeback. Now, you can safely swim. The river is carefully monitored for bacteria so a more full recreational use is possible.

This has all been made possible by hard work and millions of dollars in changing how we dispose of waste and correcting combined sewer overflows (CSO).

There is still much to do – about half of the CSOs have been corrected and still millions of dollars need to be expended.

A clean river means greater recreational use, the potential for more tourism and an attraction for more development. Many people seek out living next to a body of water.

The “best landscaped sewer in America” has become something of which we can be proud.

Something more than crime

With the crime news coming out of Springfield this weekend, I’m sure the good news from the city’s school was too quickly forgotten.

That’s a shame because the fact that three of the city’s Level Four schools – meaning they are one step aware from the state operating them – made a leap. Two of them are now Level Three and one jumped all the way to Level One.

That’s huge.

The city’s public school students also made increases in their MCAS scores that exceeded the statewide averages.

Again, perhaps this isn’t as attention getting as crime news, but it should be. Color me “Pollyanna” today, but I think it’s appropriate to celebrate some successes.

His legacy is apparent today

As we all become older the issue of what kind of legacy we are leaving behind becomes larger and larger. The legacy of former Mayor Ted Dimauro can be seen and felt in Springfield to this day.

Dimauro was mayor from 1978 to 1983. It was a key time in the city’s history – a time of transition as the city felt the changes of more jobs moving to southern states.

My friend Tony Cignoli wrote and delivered the eulogy at Dimauro’s recent memorial service and he said, “Ted Dimauro was more the great public servant than the great politician. He was courageous and compassionate, a rare combination seldom seen today. He was not motivated by what might be popular for his next election, but more so, much more so, by what great endeavor might benefit Springfield and her people for decades to come.”

Tony continued, “Teddy built Springfield. He built schools, a civic center, he negotiated deals with corporates like Friendly's for Springfield water and fought the fight for a new Basketball Hall of Fame. He forged a cable television contract that was copied around the state – he created the cable endowment that still contributes financially to Springfield. It was a grand time for Springfield. It was transformative and he was a transformer.”

Agree? Disagree? Drop me a line at or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. As always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.