In February, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) filed an appeal on behalf of more than ten residents of East Boston to stop construction of the highly controversial Eversource substation in East Eagle Square that received approval from both the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
In its appeal CLF argues state officials shut the community out of the planning process for the project, wrongfully characterized the substation as a water-dependent use, and failed to consider the negative impact on environmental justice populations as well as not considering alternative sites.
Last week, Sen. Lydia Edwards provided testimony as part of the appeal process with the purpose of relaying her constituency’s concerns about the facility, the failure to consider other sites for siting the substation, and the need for improved community process.
Edwards spoke on behalf of GreenRoots, Inc., a non-profit organization based in Chelsea that represents the citizens of Eastie as well as the CLF, both of which are plaintiffs in the appeal proceedings.
While Edwards addressed Eversource’s lack of community engagement, wrongfully characterizing the substation as a water-dependent use and impacts to the already overburdened Environmental Justice Community, the Senator was of the opinion, like many, the substation should be placed elsewhere.
“If the EFSB determines that there is a need for a new substation, then Eversource must look for an alternative site,” said Edwards. “The largest consumer of electricity in East Boston is Massport and to my knowledge, Eversource has not considered a site on Massport property. There are other locations that would not present the same challenges. The EFSB should consider that the burdens of the East Eagle Street Substation are greater than any benefits and pose significant challenges for environmental justice populations. Such consideration of environmental justice is now enshrined in law after years of hard-fought struggle by residents who have been unseen and unheard by government, and whose communities have been shaped by the demands of industry at the expense of the public.
Edwards testified that Eversource never really took the community seriously when residents offered alternative sites.
“The company has been disingenuous in its claims that it is willing to work with the community,” she said. “While it has given some funds to location organizations, Eversource’s primary community outreach has been superficial.”
Despite widespread community opposition as well as opposition from over a dozen Massachusetts elected officials the state’s EFSB unanimously approved Eversource’s highly controversial plan to build a new substation in February 2021.
Despite state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides saying at the hearing that the substation would be placed in a “heavily, heavily industrialized area within an environmental justice community that has historically suffered disproportionate environmental harms and a heavy burden of infrastructure” she still voted in favor of Eversource’s plans as an EFSB board member.
The project was then granted a license from the DEP.
Elected officials led by U.S. Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren, Edwards, State Representative Adrian Madaro and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley went on record in a joint letter affirming their support of Eastie residents and opposition to the proposed substation location.
The substation is the subject of numerous pending appeals and legal challenges at the state level from Eastie residents and organizations.
The environmental justice organization GreenRoots then filed suit challenging the Board approval in the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. Attorney General Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy declined to defend the state Siting Board approval, and the Siting Board has been compelled to seek outside legal counsel to defend their decision.
Edwards also pointed out in her testimony that during Boston’s Municipal Election in November a non-binding ballot question was posed to voters here and across the city asking if the substation should be sited in East Eagle Square. An overwhelming number of voters thought Eversource should not build a substation in Eastie and seek a nearby alternative location such as non-residential Massport land at Logan Airport.
During the election 5,755 Eastie voters voted “NO” on Question 2 with only 600 voting “YES”. A NO vote meant that the voter opposed building the substation at the proposed East Eagle Square location and favored locating the facility at a secure location such as Logan Airport.
Citywide 101,953 voters voted “NO” on the ballot question with only 19,797 voting “YES”. At 101,953 NO votes against the substation received the largest single vote total for any ballot measure or candidate in Boston over the last 17 municipal elections according to the City of Boston Election Department records.
Historically, a non- binding ballot question provides information to elected officials and the public of voter sentiment on a particular issue and it seems most Bostonians are on Eastie’s side when it comes to this particular issue.