scorecardresearch Skip to main content
Yvonne Abraham

Piling on the burdens in Chelsea and East Boston

The site of the East Boston Public Library, which opened in 2014, was part of the land swap.File photo

Are we really going to force yet more potentially hazardous ugliness upon the people of Chelsea and East Boston? Don’t they already host enough of the awful infrastructure others don’t want to look at, without a new electrical substation as well?

On Condor Street in Eastie, it’s easy to see both the mess we’ve visited upon these communities, and how much better it might be.

Every few minutes, low-flying jets scream on their way out of Logan. A few steps away, the unsightly, back-of-house operations that make a metropolis work are dumped along the banks of the Chelsea Creek: Huge salt piles that serve hundreds of towns, giant fuel tanks, warehouses, parking lots, rusty metal outcroppings.


But turn away from the water, and you will find the Condor Street urban wild, a pretty little parcel of meadow grasses and salt marsh set by the water’s edge, and American Legion Playground, with its gorgeous ball field, and spots to sit and see the sky.

Eagle Hill has earned a lot more of that.

Instead, it seems likely it will get a new electrical substation, courtesy of Eversource. Its $62 million cost will be borne by ratepayers.

The plant is a couple of state approvals from coming to pass, despite the efforts of local environmental activists — led by Chelsea nonprofit GreenRoots — to stop it. And the neighborhood is getting zero help from City Hall because the mayor is legally required to sit this one out.

There is a lot here to trouble neighbors, and the rest of us. The proposed site is flood-prone now, and will be much more so in coming decades with sea levels rising. Eversource says the design of the plant takes account of flooding projections, but those opposing the project have done their own projections, and say Eversource is underestimating the danger here — especially in the long term.


They worry about the risk of fire or explosion, especially given the fact that the substation would be just 800 feet from a tank filled with millions of gallons of jet fuel, and on the edge of a neighborhood full of wooden-framed houses that would be very hard to evacuate if a disaster struck.

GreenRoots’ experts question whether the substation is really necessary, given that energy needs appear to be decreasing, statewide.

Eversource says the substation is vital, because one over the creek in Chelsea is nearing capacity, and development in East Boston and other growing neighborhoods brings the potential for overload.

“We understand the concerns,” said Bob Clarke, the company’s director of siting. “But these stations are in every community you can think of. . . . It has been vetted extensively . . . and we do believe that this is a good location.” He says the plant is super firesafe.

He might be right. But why is it this already hard-pressed community that has to test his assertions?

You may be wondering where the mayor is in all of this. Boxed in, is where. The deal to put a substation here was seeded in 2010, when Eversource — then NStar — did a land swap at the request of then-mayor Tom Menino. The energy company turned over a parcel it owned on the East Boston Greenway for what would eventually become a gleaming new public library. In return, the city gave the company land on East Eagle Street.


Now that bill has come due, and the people who have to pay it are on their own. They’ll get no help from their mayor, because, as part of the final land transfer last year, Walsh agreed that the city would not get in the way of the project, or support those opposing it.

The state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board is currently deciding whether the substation can go ahead. GreenRoots, other environmental groups, and elected officials including Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley have called on Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides to reopen the question of whether the plant is necessary.

The people of Eagle Hill deserve at least that. Lord knows, they’ve given enough.

Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at and on Twitter @GlobeAbraham