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Residents, environmental activists protest East Boston substation

People holding up a sign with a heading that says "Peligro Danger," surrounded by other protestors holding signs
Residents in East Boston protesting against Eversource. Construction for the company’s $103 million electrical substation has proceeded despite 84% of Bostonians voting against the measure in 2021. Residents and activist groups like Extinction Rebellion have expressed concerns about energy use and flooding. COURTESY OF EMILIA WISNIEWSKI

East Boston residents and environmental activists continue to gather in protest Wednesday over the construction of a substation near the Chelsea Creek. Residents repeatedly raised concerns about the location of the substation, as it is being constructed in a high flood-risk area of the Chelsea Creek, which is near a playground and 8 million pounds of jet fuel.

The substation was being built by energy provider Eversource to address electric capacity constraints existing in Chelsea and East Boston. East Boston is the only neighborhood without an existing substation, wrote Eversource spokesperson Chris McKinnon in an email.

“Throughout this robust public process, we have worked diligently to demonstrate that the project exceeds safety and environmental standards and have provided the community with access to information regarding this project,” wrote McKinnon.

The protest was partly organized by the global environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion, an international movement that pushes companies and governments towards “meaningful action” to lessen the effects of climate change, said Jule Manitz, a Chelsea resident and Extinction Rebellion volunteer.

During their Jan. 17 protest, police interference broke out and arrested six protesters before the protest officially started.

“This kind of action, using civil disobedience, is really having the purpose of elevating the attention to the problem,” said Manitz. “These arrests on the sidewalk holding up a sign — that’s not a crime.”

Massachusetts State Representative Adrian Madaro of East Boston wrote in a statement that he stood with the residents in opposition to the substation. 

Throughout this entire failed process, the concerns of the neighborhood have not been addressed, and the community has been bypassed every step of the way,” he wrote.

“Environmental Justice communities deserve to have our voices heard, and East Boston residents should come first and foremost in the decision on siting this substation.”

Citizens called for Mayor Michelle Wu and Governor Maura Healey to meet with the community and work to end the substation’s construction. Both have previously stated their disapproval for the construction. 

“This particular spot was actually in the city’s open space plan for a park for a number of years,” said John Walkey, a Green Roots organizer and East Boston resident. “[The construction spot] was promised to the community to be open space, so to switch it around and then have it become more industrial infrastructure just is not fair to the community.”

The construction of the substation was featured on the Boston ballot in Nov. 2021, where 83.75% of voters opposed its construction. Construction plans still went forward.

“Everybody in the city realizes that every one of our elected officials … have said we can’t have this here,” said Heather O’Brien, a nonprofit program manager and protestor. “They’re against this (and) will do everything they can to stop it.”

The next steps for activists are to continue protesting and appeal the permit until it reaches the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Activists also plan to work with local legislators to propose reforms for the Energy Facility Siting Board.

 “The way they do business now is just not in alignment with the environmental justice principles of Maura Healey,” said Walkey.

Emilia Wisniewski contributed to the reporting of this article

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred to the Chelsea Creek as the Chelsea River.  The previous headline also  referred to the project as the Chelsea River substation versus its appropriate title, the East Boston substation. 

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  1. Bravo activists! Thank you for not letting this be swept under the rug. The fact that the construction site was supposed to be a park and that 87% Boston residents opposed its construction should have stopped the project from moving forward. East Boston has less green space than any other Boston neighborhood. These residents deserved their promised park, not more infrastructure that serves MassPort built on a flood plain.

  2. Thanks for coming out to East Boston and doing your part to bring this injustice to light