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State board OK’s controversial East Boston substation; foes vow to appeal

The site of the proposed East Eagle Street substation is shown in East Boston.
The site of the proposed East Eagle Street substation is shown in East Boston.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

A controversial East Boston electric substation project proposed by Eversource received a crucial approval from a state board on Monday, a decision that advocates say they hope to appeal to the state’s highest court.

The Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, which passes on proposals to construct large power plants, electric transmission lines, natural gas pipelines, and natural gas storage tanks, approved a change to the project Monday that moved the proposed structure 190-feet westward — a decision that allows the utility’s plans to proceed.

A spokesman said the approval included several conditions, including requiring Eversource to enter into good-faith negotiations with neighborhood representatives before construction begins.

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Critics of the substation, planned for East Eagle Street, were not satisfied with Monday’s decision. They have maintained that East Boston, which is home to Logan International Airport, is already burdened with environmental problems, and they question whether the infrastructure is necessary.

They are also concerned that the site will flood, which they fear could lead to an explosion or fire. The project would be located near Chelsea Creek.

Eversource, the utility behind the project, has said it needs the $66 million substation to meet the growing demand for electricity in East Boston. The company has said the substation’s design exceeds local and federal flood-elevation standards and that the structure would be built to withstand 500-year floodwaters and would take into account rising sea levels.

The board’s approval requires Eversource to create an emergency response plan for the substation that will include steps to take for floods and fires, according to the state. The authorities are also requiring the utility to review city and state projections for sea level rise every five years.

Eversource spokesman Reid Lamberty said the utility was pleased with the board’s ruling.

“The substation will address local demand for electricity, while helping the City of Boston achieve its carbon reduction goals and enable a cleaner community,” he said in a statement. “We will continue to collaborate with municipal officials, elected representatives, community organizations, and our East Boston neighbors throughout the planning and construction process.”

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The substation would be connected to existing substations in Everett and Chelsea via transmission lines under Chelsea Creek, an estuary of Boston Harbor. A knoll separates the site from the creek. Across the street are a playground, basketball courts, and a ball field.

One vocal opponent of the project, John Walkey, an East Boston resident who works for GreenRoots, a Chelsea-based environmental justice group, said Monday’s decision “wasn’t a surprise.” He called it a regulatory failure, because the board “is basically enacting what the private sector wants.”

“We knew that these kinds of things usually go Eversource’s way,” he said.

Walkey said his group plans to appeal of the decision, which he said could send the matter to the Supreme Judicial Court. The project still needs another environmental permit from the state, Walkey said.

Paula García shared Walkey’s disappointment. The Cambridge-based senior energy analyst for the climate and energy program of the Union of Concerned Scientists said the board’s decision ignored the “will of the people most impacted” and showed a “disregard for advancing energy justice.”

The board, she said, failed to consider “local alternatives that would have advanced clean energy and reduced carbon emissions, including residential solar power and energy storage.”

“Despite opposition by local, state and federal leaders, and input from community members and technical experts and 11 hours of testimony against the Eversource substation during a hearing earlier this month, the Massachusetts Facilities Siting Board has voted in favor of the interests of a utility company at the expense of East Boston residents’ health and wellness,” she said in a statement.

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The matter has become a broader political issue. On Monday night Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey said, “There was no energy justice . . . in today’s decision.”

“East Boston already bears a disproportionate burden of industrial infrastructure and the associated environmental and health risks, and today’s decision will only increase that,” she said in a statement. “We must chart a new course where communities can meaningfully participate in EFSB proceedings and where energy and environmental justice are central to decision-making.”

At its Wednesday meeting, the Boston City Council is slated to discuss a citizen petition for a nonbinding ballot measure that would ask voters if they support relocating the planned substation, such as to Logan Airport.




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