Opinions differ about the best options for Condor Street site

It’s been an East Boston eyesore for many years — a post-industrial property too polluted to be used as is, but too precious to be abandoned forever. No matter how thoroughly the land’s eight plus acres are cleaned, it will never be pristine again.

The former Hess site on Condor Street, an eight and a half-acre parcel along the Chelsea Creek that once housed an oil tank farm, was purchased by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) at the end of 2007 as well as a small parcel across Condor from the former oil farm.

Now there’s a battle brewing between local environmental activists and the city over what to do next with the site.

While the neighborhood wants natural wetland and bird habitat, similar to the adjacent Condor Street Urban Wild, the BRA and city said it wanted to move forward with converting the site into an industrial park for green companies. Environmentalists have had their eyes on the site for years as a possible extension of the Urban Wild but funding to buy and clean the site was nonexistent–until now.

They were hoping to use a portion of a $6.1 million pollution settlement that federal lawyers won from ExxonMobil in 2009. Exxon pleaded guilty to a criminal violations of the Clean Water Act after a spill was discovered in 2006 and attributed to the oil giant. The spill leaked more than 15,000 gallons of diesel and kerosene into the Mystic River.

The Chelsea Creek Action Group (CCAG) responsible for the Urban Wild project, was hoping to buy the site from the BRA with some of these funds and develop a mirror of the Urban Wild.

However, there seems to be little appetite from the city to hand over the parcel for $400,000 less than it paid for. Environmentalists though complain the city is ignoring what the community really wants in their neighborhood.

At one community meeting regarding the site, a majority of residents who spoke voiced distrust with the city and expressed concerns over the possibility of increased traffic on Condor Street if the site was redeveloped as an industrial use.

One major traffic concern residents expressed was if there was more boat trips that would cause an increase to the number of times the Meridian Street Bridge opens for boats. These residents said they would welcome another park instead of an active port area along the Creek.

With that said, the city, who was an active partner with CCAG during the development of the Urban Wild might be weary of the length of time and amount of red tape that had to be cut to finally get the park. It was a twenty-year undertaking of several organizations to turn the rugged, unsightly terrain on the Chelsea Creek waterfront into an aesthetic park with environmental, recreational, educational and economic benefits.

In pursuit to restore the Creek and add essential green space throughout the neighborhood CGAG, approached the city in 1998 after years of failure to assist in their dream to transform a small section of the Creek into four acres of recreational and educational park space along Condor Street.

In 1999 the city’s Parks Department took a major interest in the project and together with CCAG and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), began to formulate a plan and action strategy for the renovation of Condor Street.

The project was given a major funding boost when the EPA announced it would fund a major portion of the restoration effort in the form of a Supplemental Environmental Protection grant.

In July 2002, construction began on the Urban Wild. Old bruised barges, contaminated soil and abandoned tankers were replaced by a magnificent park and salt marsh where residents can troll, sit and watch tankers and tugboats pass by, bike, roller blade, observe birds and check out art work by local artists.

This time around the city might be ready to go for the easier development and keep an already industrialized site just that. But as a compromise with environmentalists in the neighborhood, the BRA has submitted for federal wetlands conservation funds totaling $1.6 million to improve wetlands and bird habitats east of the Hess site.

So far the BRA has secured breaches in the fences on both sites and cleaned the property to industrial standards.

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