Councilors Edwards and Wu Join Community to Oppose Substation

At its monthly meeting last Wednesday the Boston Conservation Commission (BCC) said it will decide whether or not to place an Eversource Substation at the City Yards is East Eagle Square on Nov. 4.

Prior to the BCC”s meeting City Councilor Lydia Edwards and At-Large City Councilor Michelle Wu, who is also running for Boston Mayor, joined East Boston environmental activists against Eversource’s proposed substation plan–especially given the fact the proposed location is in a floodplain.

Councilors Edwards and Wu stood with Eastie residents and activists and urged the Conservation Commission to use their jurisdiction powers to deny the Eversource application.

At the press conference Edwards said the Eastie community never asked Eversource to be in the neighborhood but that the company ‘demanded’ they be here.

“We need to have a true process before we allow something that is permanent and harmful to the community,” said Edwards. “There needs to be a transparent and true analysis from Eversource. While they say East Boston needs the substation the people of East Boston have not said they need Eversource..

Edwards went on to call the proposal harmful to the neighborhood and “ is not helpful in any way, shape, or form.”

Wu added the new substation is proposed in the heart of an environmental justice community, one contending with the health pandemic.

“This crisis has starkly revealed disparate impacts directly caused by many decades of agency failure to protect East Boston residents and the East Boston environment when it was in their power to do so,” she said.

GreenRoots activist John Walkey pointed to the new Boston Water and Sewer Commission flood modeling effort that provides new insight on the complexity of coastal flooding in Boston.   “It is more advanced than the flood modeling that Eversource’s consultants have done for this project,” said Walkey. “Given that the ratepayers have paid for this advanced modeling and it is now available to the City, the project should be evaluated with the benefit of these new data before being given an order of conditions. I think this general area of Eastie has been flooded at least once or twice a year, every year since the winter storms of 2018. This includes the street immediately adjacent to the site of the (proposed substation) transformers.”

Environmental justice agencies and local environmental activists recently filed a civil rights complaint against Massachusetts energy agencies regarding placing the substation in East Eagle Square and Edwards submitted a formal records request to Massport to obtain information related to a proposed second substation on Massport property.

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), GreenRoots and Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) officially Title VI civil rights complaint recently arguing state angines like Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) failed to provide proper translation and interpretation services in proceedings regarding a proposed substation.

The EFSB ruled in favor of placing the substation at the City Yards back in 2018.

Edwards recently held a hearing regarding the proposed Eversource substation in Eagle Hill and is seeking more information regarding the Massport project to better understand whether the two proposals could be combined on airport property.

The records request asks Massport to turn over all documents related to “substations” or “switching stations.”

In its written testimony submitted for the recent hearing held by Councilor Edwards, Massport indicated that “there are very distinct differences between switching stations and substations.” However, Massport board documents from September 2019 show references to a “proposed new Eversource substation” on Massport property.

Last year Eversource filed a Notice of Project Change and sought approval to move the proposed substation 190 feet to the western side of the City Yards lot. Eversource said the two 115-kV transmission lines that would connect to the substation would no longer be routed along Condor and East Eagle Streets if the substation is placed in the western portion of the parcel.

In their civil complaint the group argues the electrical project would have catastrophic implications for low-income communities of color in Eastie and Chelsea. State officials treated demands for interpretation as disruptive, effectively shutting out participation from the area’s many Spanish-speaking residents.

Last year, local environmentalists from Eastie and Chelsea gathered at Boston City Hall to deliver 700 postcards to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh asking for the mayor to meet with residents on both sides of the Chelsea Creek to discuss alternatives to placing Eversource’s proposed substation along the creek.

For three years local environmentalists on the Eastie and Chelsea sides of the Chelsea Creek have launched a visual, media and talking campaign against Eversource’s plans to place the substation at the City Yards in Eagle Square.

However, the EFSB approval came with some provisos. According to the state energy board the EFSB directed Eversource to enter into discussions with the City of Boston regarding the possible relocation of the new substation on the Chelsea Creek site.

The complaint requests that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigate the state’s EFSB and its parent agencies, the Department of Public Utilities and the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, for their failure to comply with federal laws ensuring equal access for limited English proficient speakers.

The complaint urges the EPA to halt the review of the proposed substation, pending this investigation into the Board’s language access policies and practices and until the present state of emergency has been lifted.

The substation was initially slated to be built on an Eversource-owned parcel on Bremen Street. However, under the former late Mayor Thomas Menino, Boston executed a land swap with Eversource. Eversource handed over the Bremen Street parcel so the city could build the new East Boston Branch Library in return for the city-owned parcel in East Eagle Square.

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