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Park set to open this summer at former oil farm in Chelsea

An artist’s rendering of the amphitheater envisioned for the future PORT park in Chelsea.

Landing Studio LLC

An artist’s rendering of the amphitheater envisioned for the future PORT park in Chelsea.

This summer, local residents will be able to picnic, play, and savor the views along Chelsea Creek once marred by a field of oil tanks, as a result of an agreement between Chelsea and a road-salt storage company.

Eastern Minerals is constructing a new park on part of the former Coastal Oil property along Chelsea Creek, adjacent to the company’s salt storage facility on Marginal Street. The project is part of a deal with the city that enabled Eastern to use another portion of the former Coastal site to store a second salt pile.

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Eastern began dismantling the six remaining oil tanks at the Coastal Oil jet fuel and liquid asphalt terminal last spring, and completed the work in July. Since then, contractors have prepared the site, and added the second salt pile, and are now building the park area, which has been designated officially as the Publicly Organized Recreation Territory, and is known as the PORT.

While the process of dismantling the oil tanks was more complicated than Eastern expected, the project is now on pace to be completed this summer, according to a company official.

“Overall I think it’s turning out really well. I think we are on track now, as good weather comes this spring, to be able to put things together and open to the public,” said Joseph McNamee, Eastern Minerals’ manager.

While Eastern has been criticized by residents who wanted to see the company keep its salt pile in a shed, the prospect of having a new waterfront park is being welcomed by the city.

“We’re all anxious to see the final product because we’re so excited about the plans that Eastern Minerals have advanced,” City Manager Jay Ash said in an e-mail. “I’m especially looking forward to the waterfront access there; as a kid growing up blocks away from there, I didn’t realize that we were in a waterfront community because those oil tanks blocked our views and access.

“Now with the tanks down, I can see the potential, but I really won’t experience how spectacular it will be until I actually get on there,’’ he added. “It can’t happen fast enough, but once it does, I know we’re going to have a waterfront park that is second to none.’’

Eastern Minerals, a family-owned business begun in the 1950s, has operated its salt storage facility at 37 Marginal St. since the 1970s. The salt, primarily from Mexico and Chile, is sold to state and local governments for wintertime road treatment.

In 2005, through the legal entity Rock Chapel Marine LLC, Eastern acquired the 4.7-acre Coastal Oil site at 99 Marginal St. to store an additional 100,000 tons of salt, on top of the 200,000 tons it stores at 37 Margin St.

Under its six-year-old agreement with the city, Eastern Minerals pledged to invest in public improvements in return for the expansion of its operations.

Those investments have included helping fund the construction of an artificial-turf soccer field in nearby Highland Park, and the installation of planters along Marginal Street.

When the park is done, Eastern has committed to maintaining two funds to support public events on the waterfront, and landscaping improvements in the adjacent neighborhood, according to Dan Adams; he and his wife, Marie Law Adams, are partners in Landing Studio LLC, the architecture firm that designed the park and other work at what is now called the Rock Chapel Marine site.

Eastern removed the first of seven oil tanks in 2010, but the overall project took five years to fully permit.

The park is being created on a 31,000-square-foot parcel opened up by the removal of the oil tanks. During the warmer months each year, a large part of the salt-pile area will also be available for use. 

Adams said environmental tests found low levels of petroleum in the soil, and the company has followed state-mandated requirements for mitigating the contamination. The measures include adding a 3-foot barrier of clean soil in areas where there will be plantings, and a foot of clean soil below areas that are paved.

The permanent park area will include a playground and an amphitheater, along with benches, lighting, bicycle racks, and parking. Adams said parts of the old oil terminal have been incorporated as striking features in the park.

“From our perspective, we saw a lot of old components of the oil terminal that were very well constructed and very durable materials, in really good condition,” making them good candidates for reuse, he said.

Recycling also offered a way of creating a new space for the public while preserving the site’s historic character, and affirming the continuing importance of industry in the local economy, Adams said.

As an example, several of the raised steel platforms that the oil terminal had used for loading trucks and barges will now serve as public viewing platforms. The amphitheater is being constructed from the outer shell of an oil tank.

The park will also feature shade trellises built with some of the aluminum geodesic domes from the old tanks placed atop 16-foot-tall columns.

“We are preserving the working landscape while incorporating new recreational opportunities for the community,” Adams said, noting that parkgoers will get a real-time glimpse of the site’s industrial legacy by looking down at Eastern’s workers loading and unloading salt.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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