Last Tuesday, Acting Mayor Kim Janey publicly joined East Boston’s long battle against Eversource’s plans to build a substation at the City Yards along the Chelsea Creek in East Eagle Square.
Joined by the city’s Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, and GreenRoots advocate Noemy Rodriguez, Janey urged Eversource to justify or cancel its proposed electrical substation in East Boston.
“As Mayor of Boston, I will not remain silent when the people of East Boston are crying out,” said Janey. “From what I have seen, the substation plan is based on flawed projections and flawed priorities. I urge Eversource to prioritize environmental equity and the wellbeing of East Boston residents over their profits.”
Despite widespread community opposition as well as opposition from over a dozen Massachusetts elected officials the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) unanimously approved Eversource’s highly controversial plan to build a new substation back in February.
The substation was approved to be sited at the City Yards back in 2017. The proposal voted on by the EFSB was to allow Eversource to move the proposed substation to western edge of the City Yards and further away from American Legion Playground.
In a marathon meeting on February 25 that lasted several hours and included the adoption of several amendments to Eversource’s plan such as a safety plan, flood zone management and community mitigation the board eschewed Eastie’s already overburdened industrial infrastructure and rubber stamped the plan.
Despite state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides saying at Monday’s 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.
“Environmental justice says we need to ask hard questions about who is asked to carry the burden and who receives the benefits,” said White-Hammond. “I stand with the Mayor and the residents of East Boston to protect those residents who already experience so many burdens. In addition to questioning whether we really need this facility, we need to understand whether or not this facility is in alignment with very real changes that are happening on our planet. I look forward to continuing to work with the community to ensure environmental justice for all residents of Boston.”
With Eastie being a state designated Environmental Justice Community local activists that have been fighting the substation plan for years now, like GreenRoots, want the City Yards and adjacent American Legion Playground to remain ‘environmentally friendly.
“Families in East Boston have been through a lot this past year and we hope that our parks can remain an environmentally safe and inviting space for our children,” said GreenRoot’s Rodriguez. “We carry enough of an environmental burden already; if actually needed this substation should be placed somewhere else.”
On Tuesday, City Councilor Lydia Edwards thanked Janey for echoing the calls of the community and elected officials over the past year to stop the proposed Eversource substation but asked Janey use the power of her office to take action to achieve that goal.
“I’m grateful that Acting Mayor Janey has lent her voice to our community’s cause,” said Councilor Edwards. “We’ve been fighting this substation for years and it’s wonderful to have a partner in the mayor’s office join us in this fight. I’m hopeful that Acting Mayor Janey will explore all options to stop this proposal from moving forward.”
During a budget hearing on Monday, Edwards asked White-Hammond what specific actions the administration planned on taking to prevent the substation from being built.
White-Hammond responded that her team will be talking to the Attorney General’s office and Department of Environmental Protection staff to review options available to them.
“While reaching out to Attorney General Healey’s office and DEP staff are great first steps, I want the administration to take some meaningful action including endorsing the ballot question that East Boston residents have worked to put on the ballot in the fall,” said Edwards.
Ten East Boston residents have gathered the required signatures to place a question on the ballot in this fall’s municipal election that will ask voter’s citywide whether they support the community’s efforts against the substation.
Edwards is also asking Janey to prioritize environmental justice regulations for the Conservation Commission, that the City join pending federal civil rights lawsuits regarding the lack of language access during the process (or draft amicus briefs in support of the plaintiffs), and to postpone any city reviews of necessary permits until those lawsuits are resolved.
“Unfortunately the state has decided that this proposal should move forward,” said Edwards. “But East Boston isn’t going to back down. We’re going to continue fighting the substation until we’ve run out of options. We still have some good options available to us and I hope that the administration will take advantage of them. I’m so grateful for the activism that the neighborhood has shown over the last few years. It’s an honor to represent a community with such a long legacy of environmental activism.”