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Warren pledges to find money for new Cape bridges and to protect local waters from harm

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, flanked by Rep. Kip Diggs and State Sen. Julian Cyr, opens a thank you card signed by individuals with disabilities from Cape Abilities.
Eve Zuckoff
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, flanked by Rep. Kip Diggs and State Sen. Julian Cyr, opens a thank you card signed by individuals with disabilities from Cape Abilities.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren said she’s working to secure direct federal funding to replace the Bourne and Sagamore bridges, months after federal officials denied grant funding for the $4 billion project for the second time.

While visiting Hyannis, the Massachusetts Democrat also reiterated her opposition to any move by Holtec International, the company charged with decommissioning the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth, to dump harmful substances into local waters.

Warren made her comments after speaking with staff and program participants at Cape Abilities, a nonprofit organization that helps provide vocational training programs, housing, and transportation for people with disabilities.

During a question and answer session with reporters, Warren said it is impossible to overstate the urgency of replacing the bridges, built nearly 90 years ago and declared “functionally obsolete” by state officials. She said she’s working closely with state leadership and other members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation to secure funding through two different means.

First, Warren said, she’s been working with Governor Maura Healey to help the state finally receive much-needed grant funding.

“This time around, the state's grant request meets all the qualifications of the grant, unlike before, and will be a much stronger application,” she said.

Second, Warren said, she’s been communicating with other members of Congress who could help ensure federal dollars reach the state through a direct appropriation.

“Senator [Ed] Markey and Congressman [Bill] Keating and I are working to get some direct money in the budget from the federal government, not by competition, but just money in the budget to help support the bridges,” Warren said. “Part of that is a direct appropriation to the highway department. I'm also looking at trying to get some through the Department of Defense, but trying to find money wherever we can to support the federal portion of replacing these bridges.”

Separately, Warren said it’s essential to hold Holtec accountable throughout the entire process of decommissioning the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth.

“That means a hard ‘no’ on dumping anything into the local waters that could in any way be a threat either to the wildlife or the people who live here,” she said. “The responsibilities to the community when Pilgrim shut down didn't end the day, they said, 'We're done.' They go until the whole thing has been fully decommissioned and there are no additional risks or threats to the people who live here.”

Warren also faced questions about a proposed machine gun range on Joint Base Cape Cod. The Environmental Protection Agency recently published a draft report that found the range could contaminate drinking water and create a significant public health threat.

“I think the most important thing right now is that nothing happens out at Joint Base Cape Cod that threatens the aquifer, the water that supports Cape Cod,” Warren said, adding that she appreciates the “in-depth” study conducted by the EPA.

“I think we will all be guided by the science on this.”

Beyond addressing environmental and infrastructure concerns in the region, Warren also touched on the need for more housing.

“We are short on affordable housing. We are short on workforce housing. We are short on housing for first-time homebuyers. We are short on housing for seniors. We are short on housing for people with disabilities. We are short on housing for people who have no housing right now,” she said. “So we're in this circumstance where we need more of everything.”

Those comments came during a roundtable discussion with the staff from Cape Abilities, Cape representative Kip Diggs and State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro). Several told the officials that they need more funding to provide programming and pay staff a living wage.

During a tour through the Hyannis building, one staff member told Cyr that she would be losing her housing on Wednesday.

Cape Abilities CEO Kim McElholm said she’d like to hire 40 more people, but the industry’s low pay and lack of workforce housing keep the nonprofit chronically understaffed.

“We have 270 staff but we could have 310,” McElholm said.

She said it’s a struggle shared by all direct care providers.

Haley Doane, one of the program’s participants, took the opportunity to ask the senator about future funding.

“Do you think there will still be some money going to programs [for people] with disabilities in the future?” she asked.

“Yes, but it's always a fight,” the senator replied. “There are people in Washington who want to cut our budget. And among the things they want to cut is money that goes to programs like this.”

Warren told the group that everyone should have opportunities in this country; the government builds schools, roads, and bridges for all — and some groups need higher levels of support.

“That's what's really important, is that we put the funding in different places so that people who have different kinds of abilities will all have opportunities going forward,” she said. “That’s our job.”

Cape Abilities recently received federal funds to buy three new vehicles and to continue a program that distributed more than 2,000 food boxes in the last few months.

Cape Abilities program participants also asked about Warren’s hobbies, travels, and her favorite animal. It’s golden retrievers, the senator confirmed.

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.