On the heels of a successful online Boston City Council hearing called by City Councilor Lydia Edwards regarding Eversource’s plans to place a substation at the City Yards in West Eagle Square, local activists have filed a civil rights complaint against state energy agencies.
Edward’s hearing was an effort to bring transparency for Eastie residents about the project, many of whom feel their voices have not been heard due to a lack of language translation at numerous community meetings and hearings.
Edwards said Eversource has excluded our Spanish speaking neighbors from this process and hasn’t treated the Eastie community with respect.
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.
However, a little over a week after Edwards’s hearing, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), GreenRoots and Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR) officially filed a Title VI civil rights complaint against Massachusetts energy agencies.
The complaint says state agencies like Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), who in 2018 ruled in favor of placing the substation at the City Yards, failed to provide proper translation and interpretation services in proceedings regarding a proposed substation.
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.
“For me and my neighbors this project will impact where we live and where our children play, and yet none of us had any idea that this project was going on,” stated Noemy Rodriguez, a Community Organizer with local Environmental Justice organization GreenRoots. Continuing in her native Spanish the eight-year resident of East Boston added, “Even when we did get engaged in the process, interpretation to a language we could understand was either poorly done or not done at all. It all seemed so unimportant to them; they did not take us into consideration.”
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.
“Preventing residents from commenting on a project that will have enormous impacts on their community is not only shameful but a form of discrimination,” said Director of CLF’s Healthy Communities and Environmental Justice program Amy Laura Cahn. “East Boston and Chelsea already experience some of the worst air quality and pollution in the state and adding yet another industrial facility will only compound these injustices. State leaders need to be held accountable for silencing community concerns to push this project through.”
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 very state agencies responsible for environmental and community protection have for years ignored residents’ demands to be included in the planning process, neglecting to translate vital documents or extend comment periods to allow non-English speaking residents to contribute,” said Lauren Sampson, attorney and coordinator of LCR’s Race & Climate Justice Project. “We cannot exclude these communities from environmental decision-making processes while asking them to bear these environmental and health burdens.”
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.