East Boston, Chelsea Stand In Solidarity Over Proposed Eversource Substation

Environmentalists, activists, residents and elected officials on both sides of the Chelsea Creek are standing in solidarity in firm opposition against Eversource’s plan to place a substation at the City Yards in East Boston along the Chelsea Creek.

Activists from Chelsea and East Boston stood in solidarity with one another Tuesday night to oppose the proposed Eversource Substation along the Chelsea Creek

Last week in Eastie, the state’s Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) held a public meeting to discuss Eversource’s Notice of Project Change that moves the proposed substation from the eastern corner of the City Yards in East Eagle Square to the western corner. The original location on the eastern portion of the city-owned parcel was approved by the EFSB last year.

In its Notice of Project Change Eversource seeks approval to move the Substation 190 feet to the western side of the City Yards lot. The scope of the upcoming meeting is limited to Eversource’s proposed relocation of the substation from its current site on the eastern side of the city parcel to its new proposed location.

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.

Local environmentalists from Eastie and Chelsea have called on the EFSB to explore alternatives to placing Eversource’s proposed substation along the Chelsea Creek.

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

At the meeting, U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who represents both East Boston and Chelsea, sent a video testimony from her office in Washington, D.C.

“I’m your sister in solidarity,” said Pressley. “This at its best is poor urban planning and at its worst an injustice. It is unconscionable that a community already overburdened with environmental injustices would be put in harm’s way and have those existing health hazards exacerbated. The community should be a part of planning and I know when we organize we win and this is a fight like so many others we are taking on and I stand with you.”

Last year the EFSB ruled in favor of placing the substation at the City Yards. However, the final ruling came with some provisos. According to the state board, the EFSB vote to approve the substations and 115 kV underground cables in Eastie, Chelsea and Everett came with some conditions. The EFSB directed Eversource to enter into discussions with the City of Boston regarding the possible relocation of the new substation and the related cable on the Chelsea Creek site.

Sen. Joseph Boncore thanked the members of the Eastie and Chelsea communities for standing up for environmental justice.

“You really need to reexamine the location,” Boncore told the EFSB. “East Boston is an environmental justice community, and a high level of scrutiny should be applied to your review of this proposal and consider that the site is in a residential neighborhood and right next to a park and on the water. I would ask you to listen, a lot of people showed up to this meeting and (their opinion) is the temperature of this neighborhood on this issue.”

Rep. Adrian Madaro said he was not only at the meeting as an elected official, but as a resident of Eagle Hill–just a few blocks from the proposed site.

“I certainly share many of the concerns (with the community),” said Madaro. “I want to thank all the residents here because we finally have a vehicle to express our opinions. The proposed location is next to the American Legion Playground where I grew up playing basketball. I hear all the time from families who are concerned about the potential impacts of siting a substation directly adjacent to one of the most highly frequented parks in East Boston. What does that mean for the safety of children and families that play and recreate at the playground? This proposal is also in the midst of a flood zone and East Boston is susceptible to climate change and extreme weather events.”

Madaro pointed out that twice last year the area where the substation is proposed flooded during extreme weather events.

Councilor Lydia Edwards said she believes in process and the dignity that process gives to a community. However, she questioned whether or not the community process was flawed when it came to siting the new substation.

“If the process is one that is not trusted then you provide no dignity to or respect to those living in the community,” she told the EFSB. “That is my concern. From the beginning the approval of this substation to today the process has been flawed. My community has not felt heard or valued. The community has felt this has been Eversource’s process and not the community’s.”

Local activist John Walkey, who lives in Eastie and works with Greenroots Chelsea argues that the project represents an increased risk in both communities already bearing a huge environmental burden in the region by playing host to Logan International Airport, highways and jet fuel storage tanks along the Chelsea Creek.

Walkey made a push for the EFSB to see a more logical place to site the substation.

“If only there was a place in East Boston with restricted access that would be a more appropriate location. Maybe a place that already had millions of dollars invested in raising the ground level so it is more flood resilient. Maybe a place that already is much more secure with state police oversight and very limited access. Maybe a place that takes up over a third of the landmass in East Boston. And just maybe a place that is going to be a consumer of over half the electricity that goes through the substation anyway. Obviously the (Logan) Airport is a far more logical place,” said Walkey.

As part of its decision, the EFSB directed Eversource to provide an update to the board on the status of discussions between the community and city before construction on the substation commences. This has given additional time for Eversource, the City of Boston, and residents to iron out the alternative locations for the substation.

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 have the City of Boston the Bremen Street parcel so the city could build the new East Boston Branch Library in return for a city-owned parcel in East Eagle Square.

Longtime community activist Fran Riley equated stuffing the substation between beautiful community green space like American Legion Playground and the Condor Street Urban Wild is like stuffing ‘liverwurst into an Italian Cannoli.”

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