Eastern Minerals will soon begin dismantling six oil tanks on Chelsea’s waterfront, the start of a project that will provide the firm with a second salt pile and the city with a new public park.
Through an agreement negotiated between Eastern Minerals and the city five years ago, the salt storage firm agreed to invest in public improvements in return for being able to expand operations at its Marginal Street facility.
In addition to the planned park, the company helped pay for construction of an artificial turf soccer field and will be installing planters along Marginal Street. It also will maintain funds to support public events on the waterfront and sidewalk and landscaping improvements in the adjacent neighborhood.
It took five years of permitting, but company and city leaders say they are pleased the project is finally moving forward. Demolition of the oil tanks is to get underway in the next month or so, clearing the way for the park, to be known as the Publicly Organized Recreation Territory, or PORT.
“I’m both anxious and excited to see the PORT project get underway and ultimately completed,’’ City Manager Jay Ash said in a prepared statement. “Anxious because we’ve been working on the possibility of this park for several years, and excited because PORT will activate that stretch of the Chelsea waterfront that has been closed to the community for generations.’’
“We are really happy the permitting is now in place,’’ said Joe McNamee, Eastern Minerals manager. “It’s been an interesting project and I think it will be a really good result in the end.’’
Founded in the 1950s, family-owned Eastern Minerals has operated a salt storage facility at 37 Marginal St. since the 1970s, according to McNamee. The firm stores about 200,000 tons of salt on the 5-acre site next to Chelsea Creek. The salt, most of it from Mexico and Chile, is sold to state and local governments for winter road treatment.
In 2005, Eastern Minerals acquired the 4.7-acre former Coastal Oil site at 99 Marginal St. to store an additional 100,000 tons of salt.
One of the oil tanks was removed in 2010, and the six remaining tanks will now also be taken down, according to Marie Law Adams, a partner with her husband, Dan Adams, in Landing Studio, the architectural firm that is designing the park and other work at the site.
The new park is scheduled for opening this fall. Also at that time, Eastern hopes to have its new salt pile in operation. Another related feature of the project, construction of a new headquarters building, is set for completion in the fall of 2013.
The park will be built on a 31,000-square-foot area that will be opened up by the removal of the oil tanks. That permanent space will be augmented during the warmer months each year by 25,000 square feet of adjacent space, when salt is moved to the main section of the pile on the western end of the site.
The permanent park area will include a playground and an amphitheater, as well as benches, lighting, bicycle racks, and parking.
Some components of the oil terminal, including the geodesic domes of three of the tanks and retaining dikes, are being incorporated into the park to give it the flavor of the working waterfront.
Adams said visitors to the park will be able to view ships being unloaded and other operations at the salt facility, “giving them a better understanding of the industries that occupy Chelsea Creek.’’
The salt pile has been a source of contention over the years, with some residents pressing Eastern Minerals to enclose it within a shed.
McNamee said the company does not intend to build a shed either for its existing or planned salt piles. He noted that the industry standard is not to use a shed for salt stored next to a body of salt water, and that Eastern Minerals would be put at a competitive disadvantage if it had to invest in the cost of doing so. He added that his firm manages its salt in “an environmentally sensitive way’’ that complies with the law.
Eastern in 2008 secured approval of its site plan from the Planning Board and a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
It later received approval from the state for a change in the waterways permit for the site. The final regulatory hurdle was cleared recently when both the Zoning and Planning boards approved revisions to the plans.
William Willis, a Planning Board member who lives across the street from Eastern Minerals, thinks the project will be a good outcome for the city. Because he is an abutter, Willis did not participate in the board’s review of the project.
“I think with the expansion of the salt pile, the inclusion of the park at the eastern end is a very nice amenity,’’ Willis said. “And I think they are making an honest effort to buffer their activity from the adjacent residential areas.’’
Also taking a positive view of the project is former city councilor Marilyn Vega-Torres, who represented that area of the city until leaving office in January after choosing not run for reelection.
“I think they put forward a really nice project for the community. Quite honestly, I can’t wait for it to be done,’’ she said.