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Clammers Retake Beach After Ban

November 30, 2002|From Associated Press

BOSTON — Temperatures hovered near freezing, storm clouds threatened a mix of wet snow and rain, and Chester MacDonald was happily up to his knees in muck.

Fourteen months after post-Sept. 11 security worries drove MacDonald and dozens of other clam diggers off the flats near Logan International Airport, he returned Friday to the backbreaking work he loves.

Under a state law approved this summer, about 40 to 50 clam diggers who used to work the flats have been allowed to return -- after being fingerprinted by police, issued new identification cards and receiving a security briefing.

MacDonald, 71, was among more than two dozen clammers who showed up Friday, their first day back.

"This is a godsend here, because Christmas is coming," he said. "All I can tell you is that it's been a long 14 months."

The day after the 2001 terrorist attacks, clammers were evicted from about five miles of prime flats in Boston Harbor.

Massachusetts Port Authority officials then established a 500-foot security zone around the airport that included the rich clamming grounds.

The clammers appealed to lawmakers, who passed a law giving the diggers an exemption to the security zone, provided they passed background checks.

Massport officials frowned at the exemption, calling it a "less than ideal scenario in terms of securing the airport perimeter."

The clammers each have to pay $110 for the background check, fingerprinting and an ID card. They have to attend an anti-terrorism class, where they are told to immediately report any suspicious activity or people on the waters around Logan.

They also must wear a black and yellow vest while clamming in the secure zone.

The clammers are so familiar with the airport's noise and smell of burnt rubber, most knew something was amiss the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when suddenly everything went silent.

It was only hours later that they learned two of the planes that left Logan that morning were hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center.

MacDonald said the clammers will make the airport more secure, not less.

"Who knows this waterfront better than us?" he asked. "Anyone we see who doesn't belong here, we call the police."

The three beds near the airport are some of the most productive in the state and key to their economic survival, clammers said.

Of the roughly 150 days a year the clam diggers work in Boston Harbor, more than half are spent on the beds near the runways. The beds also account for most of the 16,000 bushels of clams hauled out of the area each year.

The clammers said they lost about 70% of their clams and profits during the 14 months they were barred from the flats.

MacDonald said he will make about $160 from the 4 1/4 bushels he dug during his first day back.

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