Don’t ever count out a community organizer.
More than two years ago, Roseann Bongiovanni and several other members of the Chelsea Collaborative heard about a plan by Revere’s Global Petroleum to steer trains through the heart of Chelsea at night, trains that carried the potentially dangerous and explosive material called Ethanol.
No one in Chelsea really even thought about Ethanol until that time, but Bongiovanni couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Pondering what might happen if thousands of sleeping Chelsea residents were rousted out of bed by an exploding train carrying the destructive force of a bomb, Bongiovanni knew she couldn’t derail her commitment to the issue.
Often, she was alone in the fight, advocating against what seemed to be insurmountable, but she never doubted for a minute that she or the other advocates would win.
This week, after two years of turmoil, Global’s plan came to a screeching halt as the company informed state leaders and local advocates that it was abandoning its proposal to bring in approximately 180 million gallons per year of Ethanol to Revere via trains on the commuter rail – trains that would have passed through Chelsea, Everett, Somerville, Cambridge and Revere.
Global officials confirmed the news late on Monday afternoon.
“I am confirming we will be withdrawing our application to the DEP for the permit,” Global attorney and spokesman Ed Faneuil told the newspaper. “By withdrawing the application [to the DEP] we are withdrawing the application to receive Ethanol by rail at the facility [in Revere]…We are thankful to the communities of the Commonwealth for their input during the permit process and the folks on the Hill for considering our application and the officials at the various state agencies for reviewing our permit. We want to look forward to serving the energy needs of the Commonwealth in an ongoing basis.”
Never a ‘Done Deal’
Bongiovanni teamed up with Revere’s Ed O’Hara and others on the effort and held countless meetings on the issue over the past two years.
“I knew we were going to win the battle, but I didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” she said. “We called Global right off because we wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth and they literally said to us, ‘We surrender.’”
O’Hara said the past two years of fighting Global’s plan should be a reminder of what the people can do when they persist and push those who tell them to give up.
“Nothing is a done deal,” he said immediately upon learning the news. “No. Nothing; if the people rise up. This one goes against the president of the United States’ policies – the biofuels he favors. That’s why people said over and over that nothing could be done. That’s why it was a done deal. Never accept anything as a done deal; that’s the lesson here. I’m not saying you should go crazy nuts about everything, but something like this – yes. It’s the people that have the power and no one else. That’s something we can never forget.”
Defeating a Giant
The news is being hailed as one of the largest grass-roots victories in decades, and folks like O’Hara in Revere, Bongiovanni in Chelsea, Gail Miller in East Boston and Boston Environmental Attorney Staci Rubin are at the nucleus of the victory.
“It’s a big win for our community,” said Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett). “People really didn’t give us a shot at it and we came through. It was David vs. Goliath and we were David. It shows that anything is possible when a group of people come together as one. This is a victory over a Fortune 500 company that wanted to bring Ethanol trains into our backyards – literally in some cases – and everyone told us we couldn’t stop it and we did.”
Added Sen. Anthony Petruccelli (D-Eastie), “It’s not every day you get to take on a Fortune 500 company and win. This was a big ‘Wow.’ It’s an unbelievable turn of events. To their credit, Ed Faneuil and Global Petroleum recognized the concerns at the end of this thing and in a class act move, withdrew their request…It was a great effort by a lot of people from different cross-sections of different communities – and I definitely want to give a nod to Ed O’Hara for his efforts.”
Bongiovanni said she also wanted to give credit to those that rose up along with her to continuously oppose the plan for such a long period of time.
“This was about multiple communities coming together,” she said. “Dozens of leaders from Chelsea, Revere, Cambridge, Somerville and East Boston worked on this. This is what happens when people realize the magnitude of power that’s in community organizing.”
Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash said he was pleased to see the threat of Ethanol trains coming through Chelsea was abated.
“We will continue to fight to keep out threats as we continue to build upon all the strengths we have in this community and our entire region,” he said. “There is plenty of bad stuff rolling on rail lines around the country. In the big picture, that should be looked at as well. We said here that just because it has always happened that way doesn’t mean that it should be expanded.”
Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo said he applauded the victory.
“I applaud everyone involved that expressed their opposition that ultimately led to the withdrawal of Global’s petition for a Chapter 91 license,” he said on Monday. “In particular, Senators Petruccelli and DiDomenico, both of whom co-sponsored legislation making the application process nearly impossible for the applicant. Obviously, from my perspective as Mayor, we have to be sure we’re ready for any and all hazardous materials coming in and out of our city, whether by rail, by truck, by boat, or otherwise. We’ll continue to do all we can to ensure our residents safety by monitoring and conducting our Emergency Preparedness planning and development.”
Revere Fire Chief Gene Doherty – who, along with former Revere Mayor Tom Ambrosino, uttered the infamous “done deal” phrases – said he was taking a measured approach to the enthusiasm.
“I would have to see their alternative plan,” he said. “I will be very concerned if there is an increase in tank truck deliveries. The odds relative to spills are far worse for over the road transport versus rail.”
History of the Project
Petruccelli and DiDomenico said they were in the midst of celebrating a legislative win on the Ethanol issue Monday when Global representatives paid them a visit. Faneuil told the state senators in a face-to-face meeting that Global would withdraw their request for a Chapter 91 waterways license from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and thus abandon the plan to bring in Ethanol trains to Revere.
From there, the news spread like wildfire.
Bongiovanni said there is a press conference wrap-up scheduled for Wednesday at the Chelsea Commuter Rail stop, where Ethanol trains would have rolled through twice a week.
The two-year saga began in April 2011 at a heated Revere Conservation Commission meeting where Bongiovanni, the Chelsea Collaborative and members of the Friends of Belle Isle Marsh expressed major concerns. At that time, Global indicated they were interested in bringing two, 60-car trains into the terminal per week – which would result in 180 million gallons of Ethanol per year. Global’s plan was to bring it at night over the commuter rail lines from the Devens Intermodal.
Not long after that, the Revere City Council held an informational meeting in which Revere resident Rita Falzarano – who is also involved with the Chelsea Collaborative – spent about an hour alerting councillors and the public to the possible threat.
That’s when O’Hara got involved, noting the “done deal” statement. Initially, he fought for a non-binding ballot initiative on the 2011 ballot – a question that he prevailed in overwhelmingly.
For nearly two years, Global was silent on the issue while advocates, officials and lawmakers wrote letters, held meetings and even conducted a controversial six-month state Department of Transportation study on the transport of Ethanol by rail.
Budget Amendment Sealed Deal
The breakthrough for the community in the fight came just after Memorial Day this year when Petruccelli and DiDomenico were able to re-write the Chapter 91 regulations within the State Budget – a re-write that served to basically block Global from getting its waterways license.
“We were up against the federal railroads and pre-emptive statutes that really didn’t allow local government and state government to intervene,” Petruccelli said. “That’s why we had to come up with a creative approach that was very respectful and very calculated and that’s how we proceeded.”
That budget amendment is still on the table – having passed the legislature last weekend – and is currently awaiting approval from Gov. Deval Patrick. Many are still fighting for the amendment, despite Global’s withdrawal. There is a sense that Patrick might veto the amendment, but it is still up in the air.
However, with it in place tentatively – along with a legal setback in a lawsuit Global had filed against the DEP for delaying their license – Global seemed to want to fold its cards.
Faneuil said he wanted to stress that the company had no hard feelings and believed everyone had conducted themselves professionally. For Chelsea and Revere, which both have Global terminals, it was rather odd to be at odds with the oil giant – as they have existed for years on very good terms.
“I want to mirror those comments made about Global to reflect the interactions that Global had with the entire community and the legislators, with all of them being gentlemen and gentleladies during the entire engagement,” he concluded.