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Irrigation System Transfer Project, Spectacle Island

Description: Between 2002 and 2003, the Boston Harbor Island national park area removed four miles of no-longer-needed irrigation pipe and achieved a major, highly visible recycling and community partnership success. The final phase of a 1.5-year volunteer project was completed on November 12, 2003, when the last sections of irrigation pipe were transferred from Spectacle Island to Tufts University's New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP). This unique and complex project involved some twenty government agencies, non-governmental and business organizations, and over 130 individuals that gave their time and services to ensure that the Tufts' University New Entry Sustainable Farming Project received Spectacle Island's surplused state-of-the-art irrigation system.

The Boston Harbor Island was established as a unit of the National Park System in November, 1996. Management of the park involves 13 legislated partners and a 28-member Advisory Council. The NPS does not own any of the islands. The clean-up of Boston Harbor and the depression of the Central Artery (the "Big Dig") in downtown Boston were major factors in the push to create the park. Spectacle Island was well on the way towards reclamation prior to the establishment of the national park area by utilizing fill from the Big Dig to cap a leaching landfill on the island. The island is co-owned by the City of Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The long-term desired future was for Spectacle Island to become a major green space/public park.

The park and partnership largely operate through committees. The adaptation of "green" concepts was encouraged by the partners and constituents at public meetings during the development of the general management plan. The Renewable Energy and Sustainable Design Sub-committee of the Partnership Planning Committee was established when Bill Green, a retired physician and National Park Service VIP, approached the park about his interest in sustainable practices. Green lent his considerable enthusiasm and leadership on "Green" issues for the park. He has been instrumental in forcing the Partnership to create and focus on a green agenda as a key component of this new unit of the National Park System.

The irrigation system transfer project was the vision of Green and Amy Carrington. Green discovered the irrigation pipe on a site visit to the island in summer, 2002. The pipe, valued at $50,000, had irrigated thousands of new plantings placed on Spectacle Island to convert it from a City landfill to an island park. The pipes were no longer needed. Representatives from the park, and numerous city and state agencies tried to find an appropriate recipient for the irrigation system but no one expressed interest.

Green recalled the obituary of John Ogonowski, the pilot of American Airlines Flight 11 who died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Ogonowski helped establish the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project (NESFP) which provides recent Cambodian and Hmong immigrants the opportunity to establish small, commercial farming operations in New England. At the time of his death, Ogonowski had been working with the director of NESFP to find a funding for a much-needed irrigation system.

Green contacted Amy Carrington, Farm Site Coordinator of NESFP, about donating the Spectacle Island irrigation pipe to the farming project. After Carrington enthusiastically agreed to take the pipes, preparations began on how to transport four miles of them from the island to farm sites in Lowell, Lancaster, Bolton and Dracut, Mass.

The first phase of the project began on October 4, 2002 when 90 volunteers located and disconnected the largely-hidden pipes, removed and collected the sprinkler heads and other hardware, and carried 800 aluminum pipes downhill to a central collection area.

Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center donated the use of their vessel "Hurricane" to transport the volunteers to and from the island. Urban Harbors Institute donated a crew from Division of Marine Services of the University of Massachusetts to pilot the boat.

State Street Corporation (a Boston-based financial services firm and six-year funder of the park's efforts) supplied nearly 60 volunteers through its Global Outreach Employee Program. The program allows employees one paid day per year to participate in company-approved community service projects. State Street Corporation dedicated its participation in the project to the memory of John Ogonowski as part of the Unity in the Spirit of America Act. The Act project organizes volunteer service projects to honor victims of the 9/11 attacks.

YouthBuild, a comprehensive youth and community development program that offers job training, education, counseling and leadership development opportunities to unemployed and out-of-school youths, provided 20 volunteers from Lawrence, Mass.

Additional volunteers included Peggy Ogonowski, widow of John, immigrant farmers, NESFP staff, staff and volunteers from Boston Harbor Island national park area, Island Alliance, City of Boston Parks and Recreation, Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority/Central Artery Project, R Zoppo Corp, representatives from TV and press, and many others who participated in this effort which required two to three hours of diligent, non-stop team work.

In mid-November 2002, two months after the initial volunteer effort to collect the pipes, R Zoppo Corp., contractors for the Spectacle Island Visitor Center, assisted a smaller volunteer group in the removal of two-thirds of the pipe and hardware from the island. The company donated the barge, forklift and labor to allow the pipes to be loaded onto a truck (on the island), transported by barge to the mainland, and delivered to NESFP farm sites for the 2003 growing season.

In late October 2003 several State Street Corporation and Island Alliance volunteers moved the remaining three hundred pipe to the water's edge with the help of two small electric trucks. Finally, on November 12, 2003, the irrigation system transfer project was completed as a group of 15 volunteers carried the 300 remaining thirty-foot sections of pipe across the beach and up onto the "Goliath", a landing craft provided by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. The pipes were transported to the mainland where volunteers loaded them onto a waiting flatbed truck and transported them to NESFP sites. Once at the site, immigrant farmers, NESFP staff and volunteers unloaded them for use in the 2004 growing season.

Geographic area covered: Spectacle Island is one of the 34 islands in the Boston Harbor Island national park area. The island covers 102 acres and is scheduled to open to the public in the summer of 2004.

List of partners and relationships:

  • National Park Service, Boston Harbor Islands
  • Boston Harbor Islands Partnership - a 13-member body of public and nonprofit entities that coordinates the activities of the managers of the islands in the development and implementation of a management plan for the national park area. Members include: the National Park Service, United States Coast Guard, Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, Massachusetts Port Authority, Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, City of Boston, Boston Redevelopment Authority, Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center, the Trustees of Reservations, Island Alliance, Boston Harbor Island Advisory Council.
  • Island Alliance - the 501(c)(3) non-profit designated by Congress as a partner in the development and management of the park, with specific responsibility for generating monies.
  • New Entry Sustainable Farming Project
  • State Street Corporation
  • YouthBuild/Community Teamwork, Inc.
  • R Zoppo Corp.
  • Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, Central Artery Project
  • City of Boston, Parks and Recreation
  • Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation
  • Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management
  • Metropolitan District Commission
  • Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs
  • Thompson Island Outward Bound Education Center
  • University of Massachusetts/Boston, Division of Marine Services
  • Urban Harbors Institute, UMass, Boston
  • Tufts University, School of Nutrition Science and Policy
  • Penske Truck Leasing Company (provided reduced rate lease for truck used to take off the first installment of pipes)
  • Roche Brothers (provided food and drinks for volunteers)
  • VeryFine Corporation (provided drinks, etc. for volunteers)
  • Red Tomato (food and drinks)
  • Dracut Hardware (provided tools, gloves, etc.)
  • Kenwood True Value Hardware (provided tools, gloves, etc.)

Accomplishments to date: The park was able to remove no-longer-needed irrigation pipe and achieve a major, highly visible recycling and community partnership success.

Four miles of state-of-the-art surplus irrigation pipe and hardware were removed from Spectacle Island and transported and adapted for agricultural use in four communities northwest of Boston, where recent immigrants have gained access to farm land and technical expertise to grow ethnic crops for home and commercial use.

The use of the irrigation system allowed the NESFP to train over 20 farmers at Bolton farm sites on how to use overhead irrigation in vegetable production. During the 2003 season, farmers employed the system to irrigate over 25 acres of Asian crops. The pipe brought to Dracut for the 2004 growing season will service an additional 25-plus acres of farmland.

The success and publicity of the project promoted a sense that grand, complex volunteer projects can be confidently undertaken and, that diverse unrelated government, non-government and private organizations can pull together in common public service efforts.

Key success factors:

  1. "Can do" attitude of people involved in the vision, the planning and implementation of the project! In particular the leadership of the two point persons -- Bill Green and Amy Carrington -- who had the vision and tenacity to conceive the idea, operationalize the details, and motivate the large team of diverse participants.
  2. Previously well-established relationships with large corporate volunteer programs that are receptive and responsive to calls for assistance on public service projects (e.g. State Street Corporation has been a financial supporter of Island Alliance for several years).
  3. High profile of the Boston Harbor Island national park area and Island Alliance as significant organizations seeking to improve the harbor islands area and their environmental and recreational potential.
  4. Pre-existing and evolving networks and linkages across governmental, non-governmental, educational and business organizations with similar interests (e.g. urban improvement, harbor, waterfront, parks, environment, recreation, farming, immigrant issues, etc.).
  5. Vision, organizational skills and time to maximize the leverage of the conditions above.
  6. John Ogonowski's involvement in the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project; the emotional impact of his death in the 9/11 attacks were motivating factors for many.


  1. Difficulty in locating the right organizations and leadership personnel that would supply enough volunteers on the established dates.
  2. Logistical issues of working on, and removing four miles of aluminum pipe from an island.
  3. The need to have contingent scheduling for tides, weather, availability of appropriate boats, trucks, forklifts, volunteer personnel, work gear, etc.
  4. The numerous phone calls, more than a hundred emails, several preparative meetings and scouting trips, etc.

Most important lessons learned to date:

  1. The volunteer crew is the most important single ingredient.
  2. Maintain and cultivate associations and connections, the networks between various related organizations.
  3. Recognize how you, as an organization, might be of assistance to other organizations, whether governmental, NGO, educational, corporate, small business or as individuals.
  4. Keep lines of communication open.
  5. Think big with the attitude: "We can do that!"
  6. The value of tapping into corporate volunteer programs.

What would you do differently next time: Ensure that networks stay intact. Make sure that certain organizations expect to be called on for their help.

Suggested resource materials(related to the case study): Story featured in The Boston Globe, October 5, 2002. Information on Boston Harbor Island national park area is available at First phase of the project was featured on New England Cable News TV (NECN) October 5, 2002. Information on Tufts University's New Entry Sustainable Farming Project is available at

For more information:

Name: Doug Welch
Affiliation: Acting Director, Island Alliance
Phone/Fax: 617-223-8035/617-223-8671

Name: George Price
Affiliation: Superintendent, Boston Harbor Island national park area
Phone/Fax: 617-223-8667

Name: Hugh Joseph
Affiliation: Project Director, New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Tufts University
Phone/Fax: 617-636-3788

Name: Bill Green
Affiliation: Coordinator, Subcommittee on Renewable Energy and Sustainable Design, Boston Harbor Island Park Area
Phone/Fax: 617-547-5758

Partnership category(ies) (check all that apply)

Fundraising _X_; Capital Improvement __; Facility Management __; Trails ___; Design __; Program Delivery __; Visitor Services __; Tenant Organizations __; Concessioners __; Natural Resources Management/Restoration _X_; Cultural Resources __; Education/Interpretation __; Arts __; Information Services __; Transportation __; Mutual Aid _X_; Fire Management __; Planning __; Tourism __; Community Relations _X_;

Other ____________________________

Prepared by: Bill Green Date posted: 5/4/04
Phone: 617-547-5758

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Volunteers load pipes from Island to Landing Craft for transportion to mainland.
Volunteers load sprinkler heads and hardware.
Volunteers who moved pipes and irrigation system at Bolton Flats
Volunteers pose on drop ramp of LCM after loading the pipes.
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