Clean River Project Plans Earth Day Rally in Haverhill

This Billboard was donated to the Clean River Project to advertise Sunday's rally in Haverhill. (courtesy photo)

Instead of pulling trash from the Merrimack River. Rocky Morrison of the Clean River Project has decided to do something totally different for Earth Day this year.

This Earth Day, which is Sunday, April 22, the Clean River Project is hosting a free, family-friendly "Earth Day Awareness Event" 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the G.A.R. Park in Haverhill, rain or shine, and everyone is invited.

Sunday's event marks the launch of the newly formed Merrimack Riverkeepers Coalition, a network of organizations and citizens working together to raise awareness, spark community engagement and apply pressure on elected officials to invest in cleanup efforts.

The Clean River Project was launched by Morrison in 2005. A Methuen native, he grew up playing on the banks of the Merrimack River and couldn't stand to see the debris piling up, so he decided to do something about it.

“The banks were so filled with sofas and couches and… you name it… kids toys, construction debris… It took me until my 30’s to realize the DPW wasn’t going to come pick this stuff up,” Morrison said, “it got to the point that it was so polluted that, even boating, you’d have to steer around all the stuff.”

The project relies primarily on volunteers and community fundraising, with some public investment but, says Morrison, those meager public investments are insufficient to pay for the job that he envisions, which is to have skimmers and booms deployed on the river to catch some of the debris.

“I went up and down to each city hall and met with the city councils and so forth and I put forward a coalition, more or less. I showed them the needles and I educated them about the booms and all that…. I said, in a fashion, it’s only gonna cost $23,000 per city and we can turn this ecosystem around.”

Morrison hoped to secure a $23 – 25,000 commitment from each of 15 communities that he serves along the Merrimack River - from Lowell to the coast – for booms and a skimmer that would help to contain and control the floating debris so it can be easily removed but he only received commitments from two of them, Lawrence and Chelmsford. Other towns joined together to invite bids for a contractor to clean up the riverbanks, but an agreement has not been reached.

Haverhill City Council members gave Morrison $1000 from their own pockets toward the skimmer, $112 each, after he was told no by the city.

Frustrated with the lack of funding, Morrison has taken his fight for clean water in a different direction in hopes that pressure from citizens will succeed in generating enthusiasm for his vision where his pitch to community leaders failed.