Guest Op-Ed: We Should Carefully Consider Any Construction That Occurs

Eversource is coming back again to the community to sell the idea of a high voltage electrical substation on the banks of the Chelsea Creek and a ball-toss distance from the American Legion Playground on Condor Street. On the evening of Tuesday, February 5th at East Boston High School the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) will host a Public Comment Hearing to provide an opportunity for residents to hear about the changes in the project and provide feedback. For some in the neighborhood this might be the first time hearing about this potentially explosive proposal. So what are the changes and why are we having this meeting?

Eversource has been planning this project for quite some time. The process has been held up at the EFSB by the project’s impact on the operations of the neighboring, long-time local business Channel Fish. The EFSB’s provisional thumbs up on the project was given back in November 2017 with one of the provisions being that Eversource would work with the City to move the substation site to the other side of the City Yards property. Now that this change has been enacted the EFSB has to again review the project for its environmental impacts, given the new location.

The gestation of this project began as far back as 2010 and the official process really got underway at the end of 2014. All these years later we have a different Mayor, different State Representative and Senator, and a different City Councilor. We have also had Condor Street closed due to coastal flooding three times last winter. Things change, and not just project locations. Our understanding of flood risks change, data on electricity usage and need change, and more instances of spectacularly exploding substations are reported in the media. The most recent one happened shortly after Christmas, when the entire Manhattan skyline turned blue when a substation in Astoria, Queens exploded.

This map shows the degree of coastal flooding in the immediate area as a result of a 100-year storm in 2070 given a 36-inch sea level rise. These are the time frames that encompass the operational lifespan of infrastructure that is being considered. These data are sourced to the City of Boston’s own Climate Vulnerability Assessment and reflect what we witnessed firsthand on Condor Street last winter, under current conditions. The mapping analysis shows the new site of the substation in the flood zone.

We should carefully consider ANY construction that occurs along our coastal areas and even more so critical infrastructure that we, as Eversource rate payers, will be paying for. If you look at your electrical bill you’ll see that about half of it is for the electricity you use and the other half (more than 50% on my bill) goes to pay for transmission and distribution, including questionable projects such as this one. February 5th will be your opportunity to have a say about the projects YOU are paying for – both literally, in your electrical bill and figuratively, in the added risk in our community.John Walkey is the Waterfront Initiative Coordinator for GreenRoots, a Chelsea-based organization, and a resident of Eagle Hill, East Boston.

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