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‘The project is idiotic’: East Boston residents encourage city authorities to derail substation proposal

East Boston residents last year turned out to protest a proposed Eversource electrical substation when Mayor Martin J. Walsh visited the area to break ground for a new police station on East Eagle Street.
East Boston residents last year turned out to protest a proposed Eversource electrical substation when Mayor Martin J. Walsh visited the area to break ground for a new police station on East Eagle Street.Lane Turner/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Citing environmental and public safety concerns, a pair of city councilors and a group of East Boston residents Wednesday encouraged city authorities to reject a crucial wetlands permit that would allow a controversial electric substation project sited near a creek in the neighborhood to move forward.

Hours before the city’s Conservation Commission discussed the project, City Councilor Michelle Wu said the proposal, which calls for an Eversource station to be built near the Chelsea Creek, was an “injustice we cannot allow to stand and that we have the power to stop."

“This is not a done deal,” said Wu, who is running for mayor, at a news conference near the site of the proposed substation.

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Critics of the project have said that East Boston, which is home to Logan Airport, is already heavily burdened with environmental problems and question whether the infrastructure is necessary. They are also concerned the site will flood, which they fear could lead to an explosion or fire.

Eversource, the utility behind the project, has stated the $66 million substation is needed to meet the growing demand for electricity in Eastie and has dismissed the flooding concerns.

Under the proposal, the East Eagle Street substation would be connected to existing substations in Everett and Chelsea via transmission lines that run under Chelsea Creek, an estuary of the harbor. A knoll separates the site from the creek. Across the street are a playground, basketball courts, and a ball field. On the other side of the site, a little more than a football field away, sit large tanks containing jet fuel.

Reid Lamberty, an Eversource spokesman, said in a Wednesday statement that the utility looks forward to the Conservation Commission “making an expeditious decision that will allow us to proceed with this much-need project that will improve reliability for customers.”

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“This substation is needed to support the reliable delivery of electric power to meet the region’s current and future demands,” he said. “We have provided all of the information requested by the Boston Conservation Commission to complete its review, working closely with the City of Boston and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection throughout this process and will continue this collaboration through construction.”

At the news conference, City Councilor Lydia Edwards, who represents the neighborhood, said it would hurt public safety and welfare locally.

“This is harmful to our neighborhood,” she said. “It is not helpful in any way, shape, or form.”

Kannan Thiruvengadam, an East Boston resident, said the project would represent a retrogression for the city if it is allowed to move forward.

“You don’t need to put it near water, put it somewhere else,” he said.

Sandra Aleman-Nijjar, an East Boston mother of two who runs a local soup kitchen, said the proposed substation was unnecessary.

“This is not fair,” she said. “This is wrong in every aspect of the word, in every sense of it.”

John Walkey, who lives in Eastie and works for GreenRoots, a Chelsea-based environmental justice group, had similar sentiments, saying the justification for the project is “shaky and not clear.”

“The project is idiotic,” he said on Wednesday.

Earlier this year, Walkey said Condor Street, which runs along the site, flooded last summer; he recalled helping push someone’s car out of the flood waters after the vehicle’s engine got wet. He also said that during the “bombogenesis” of 2018, police shut the street down on multiple days because of flooding. Floods, he said, could shut down the substation or, worse, cause a fire or explosion, with ratepayers footing the bill for repairs.

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The city’s Conservation Commission discussed the proposal during a 3½-hour meeting Wednesday evening. The commission is slated to further discuss the matter, specifically the project’s “order of conditions,” on Nov. 4. The state-level permitting process for the proposal is ongoing.



Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.