Nearly ten years after Eversource first proposed building a new power substation in East Boston, the city Conservation Commission could finally vote on whether to approve the project off Condor and East Eagle streets, next to Chelsea Creek.
The company says it has to build a new substation in East Boston because a substation in Chelsea that now feeds the neighborhood is at capacity and cannot supply enough power for the rapidly growing neighborhood - including the giant Suffolk Downs development that could go up over the next 20 years.
Opponents, who include City Councilors Lydia Edwards (East Boston, Charlestown, North End) and Michelle Wu (at large) say the company has failed to prove that need really exists and that the particular site would be vulnerable to flooding and would pose new dangers to a neighborhood already overburdened with regional infrastructure, such as Logan Airport and all the trucks barrelling through the neighborhood.
If East Boston really needs a new substation, they argue, Eversource should work with Massport to put the thing next to an existing Logan substation 1,600 feet away, not in the middle of a residential area and next to an urban wild. John Walkey, of the local environmental group GreenRoots, said Massport is already working to "weather harden" its facilities and already has 24-hour security.
At a meeting on Nov. 4, the commission will decide whether to grant the permission Eversource needs through an "order of conditions" or reject the plans, which Eversource could then appeal to the state. The commission could also vote to do nothing, but Eversource could appeal that as well.
At a three-and-a-half hour hearing on Zoom tonight - a continuation of one that began in February - Eversource officials said the only real issue for the commission is whether the plantings the company has proposed on the northern side of the site, along Chelsea Creek, are good enough to help screen the facility, because the bulk of the substation would be on land well away from the banks of Chelsea Creek.
The company said that the state has already told the company that it agrees the substation would be "water dependent," so that it can be built near the water - although they acknowledged state officials have yet to give a final sign off for the roughly two years of construction to begin.
Company officials said the site is above the 100-year-flood plain and that they would design the equipment to survive a 500-year flood.
City councilors and residents, however, suggested Eversource, at best, does not know what it's talking about - that the site flooded just from yesterday's rains - and that they worry what happens if the facility shorts out, given that it's near a playground, a proposed Boston police station and Logan fuel tanks.
Edwards and Wu pleaded with the commission to go beyond plantings and think about the health and safety of East Boston residents, and to either reject what Edwards called "a money grab" by the company or delay the hearings so that residents could continue to make their case and get more data from Eversource. However, the commission declined to do that because that would require seeking permission from Eversource for more time and Eversource officials signaled they felt the three public hearings on the station they've already attended were enough.
"They are not welcome here in East Boston," Edwards said, demanding the company answer the question of why they are so intent on building on that site when "no one in East Boston wants you here." Company officials declined to answer that question directly except to reiterate their assertion that East Boston needs a larger, more reliable electricity substation.
Eversource's Bob Clarke added, "We do care and we have tried to work with the community." He acknowledged, "this infrastructure isn't popular it's not popular in any community," but reiterated what he said was the pressing need for it.
Commission member Mike Wilson said the whole thing has left him dismayed, in large part because the longer it's gone on, the farther the two sides seem to have grown. He added that he is struggling with the idea that the commission only needs to consider plantings, because the commission itself is an abutter of the site - through its ownership of the Condor Street urban wild on the banks of Chelsea Creek.
"I don't see how, as a good neighbor, I would accept what they are proposing," he said.