A crowd of Chelsea business owners and elected officials gathered on Tuesday afternoon to give input to the state Department of Transportation (DOT) for its study on transporting Ethanol through Chelsea on the commuter rail tracks.
First and foremost was the news that the DOT has extended its study period and did not turn in its report on Feb. 9th before adequate public input had been gathered.
“The deadline has been extended so we can get more public comments at meetings like this before we finish our report,” said Paul Nelson of the DOT. “It was originally scheduled to be delivered on Feb. 9th. We’ll now be submitting it to the Legislature on March 23rd.”
That was a big relief for several concerned citizens, legislators and city officials who had grown frustrated with the timing and process within the Legislature-mandated report. Originally, Nelson had told City Manager Jay Ash at meeting of officials in Revere that the report would be submitted on Feb. 9th prior to getting public comment.
At that time, Ash had indicated he would probably not support any report that came out before the public could have a say.
With that dispute out of the way, Ash, members of Chelsea Green Space and elected officials were able to brief business owners about the basics of the plan and why it is important.
“We think it is important to reach out to all of you as to what is being proposed and how it might affect your businesses,” said Ash. “If there was a derailment there could be large evacuations for a period of time. If your business is near the railroad tracks, you might want to begin thinking about what your business would do and how it would react if a derailment occurred. MGH, our major healthcare provider, abuts the tracks. If something would happened on the railroad tracks, what would MGH do? That’s the kind of question we have to ask.”
State Rep. Gene O’Flaherty said the state delegation stands with those who are concerned about the proposal – which is put forth by Global Petroleum and would transport huge quantities of Ethanol at night by train over the commuter rail tracks through Chelsea and to its Revere terminal.
Permits for the proposal are being held up at the state level until the conclusion of the DOT’s study and its consideration by the State Legislature, which commissioned the report.
“Questions still remain,” said O’Flaherty. “Many of the concerns haven’t been allayed. If anything, they’ve been heightened. We still stand firmly in opposition to this proposal. We’ll continue to use our legislative skills to get the answers our constituents demand. Commerce and business have to go on, but we have to draw a line at public safety in our community.”
State Sen. Sal DiDomenico said his support was a no-brainer, as most of his district is directly affected and his own home is very close to the tracks. He said it was similar to when a gasoline tanker truck turned over in Everett on Rt. 16 and caused a fatal explosion.
“Some 40 cars exploded,” he said. “Senior citizens in a high rise tower had to be carried out of their homes and evacuated over a 10-foot high fence to safety. What would happen if, God forbid, something happened on the railways? In some cases, they are 10 feet from houses.”
Roseann Bongiovanni, of Chelsea Green Space, gave an official presentation about the dangers of what could come if Ethanol transport did commence, noting that there have been derailments on the commuter rail tracks just this year.
“Some people say that we are anti-business,” she said. “In this case, I want people to know we are not anti-business. Ethanol is already being brought to the facility by barge…The company wants to bring it in by train to significantly increase the amount of Ethanol coming in and increase the amount of money in their pockets…We’ve asked them why they don’t want to continue bringing it in by barge. They’ve simply said, ‘We don’t want to.’”
Those in attendance included numerous businesses, including representatives from Chelsea Bank, the New England Produce Center, the Wyndham Hotel, the Residence Inn, the Salvation Army, The Neighborhood Developers, National Grid, MGH and the MWRA.
Superintendent Mary Bourque also attended, as did many members of Chelsea Fire, Police Chief Brian Kyes and Emergency Management Director Allan Alpert.
Alpert also asked a compelling question.
“Where is everyone going to go at 2 a.m. if there is a mass evacuation?” he asked. “Where will we put all the people and who is going to pay for it? You can’t just call the two hotels at 2 a.m. and tell them we need to house 40,000 people in your establishments.”
Nelson also gave a presentation and hinted at a few problems they have concluded in their study. Those problems included lack of enough alcohol-resistant foam in the area (which is required to extinguish and Ethanol fire), lack of training for responding to an Ethanol disaster, and poor accessibility to the commuter rail tracks for first responders on the proposed corridor.
The final report will be submitted on March 23rd.