By Seth Daniel, Chelsea Record
As the discussions in East Boston are winding down on the Terminal E modernization and expansion project at Logan Airport - a project that most certainly will bring more planes over Chelsea - many are questioning what Logan Airport has done for Chelsea lately.
While some city councillors are wondering aloud why MassPort didn’t approach the City to perform more soundproofing and remediation for the expansion, others in the City are in the midst of careful negotiations with MassPort regarding unrelated items like the Eastern Avenue Airport Overlay District.
“All I know is we’re going to get more planes,” said Councillor Roy Avellaneda. “I, like many of my colleagues, were really just finding out about this project and it was by a coincidence that I found out through a friend in East Boston. In 2006, they didn’t soundproof certain areas of the city and they ended up sending over 50 to 75 percent more flights than they said they would. They left those neighborhoods feeling under siege by the increase in flights overheard. Those neighborhoods deserve to be soundproofed. We got left out before and we’re going to get left out again. If they increase the numbers of flights with this expansion of Terminal E, I can only imagine things will get worse in Chelsea.”
Avellaneda points to programs in Eastie where they got extensive soundproofing, news parks and other amenities in a comprehensive mitigation package announced a few weeks ago as part of the Terminal E expansion process.
Avellaneda said he believes Chelsea should get more soundproofing, especially in the Admiral’s Hill area and Bellingham Hill areas.
Meanwhile, City Manager Tom Ambrosino and the Chelsea GreenRoots organization have been in separate negotiations with MassPort over the Airport Overlay District on Eastern Avenue - negotiations that have been ongoing for about a year or more and might be close to a resolution.
The Airport Overlay District was established in the 1990s for MassPort to provide accessory uses such as the employee parking lot, the Park N’Rides, the freight forwarding companies and the rental car lots. In exchange for hosting that district, Chelsea was given a Payment in Liu of Taxes (PILOT) of $500,000 per year. That was upped to $600,000 in the 2000s. However, it expired in June 2015, and Ambrosino said he has been hard at work negotiating with MassPort to re-up that agreement.
“It’s been drawn up as a economic development agreement,” said Ambrosino. “The agreement expired though and I’ve been trying to get them to extend it for another five years. It has nothing to do with Terminal E though…I know that councillors are looking for more money, but the City has no leverage to demand more from MassPort. We really have no standing either on the Terminal E project…I recognize when you see the amount of mitigation and parks given to Boston, you get envious. They build parks and give money to non-profit groups, but we’re not Boston. They don’t need us for permitting or for approvals on anything. To the extent that we get anything from them is pretty good because I think they’re trying to be a good neighbor.”
Ambrosino and others, such as Roseann Bongiovanni of GreenRoots, believe that making reasonable requests of MassPort through the Overlay District negotiations are likely to get Chelsea some tangible assets for putting up with the airport rather than delving into the Terminal E expansion. That is in contrast to some councillors like Avellaneda - who believe a tougher approach might be better.
As part of the Overlay District negotiations, Ambrosino said he has agreed not to sue MassPort over anything like Terminal E expansion. He said he is comfortable with that, but Avellaneda said he isn’t.
Avellaneda said he doesn’t think the City should give up its right to sue on Terminal E via these unrelated agreements.
Ambrosino said he finds any such talk of a lawsuit to be a waste of time and money. “I would not recommend that anyone spend any money on a lawsuit to pay lawyers to fight the Terminal E project,” he said. “That would be my position. At the end of the day, you’re not going to get anywhere. You’re just going to make lawyers rich on the taxpayer’s money… Could we hire a lawyer and waste a half-million dollars suing MassPort? Yes. But if the Council does that, I will strongly advise them that it’s foolishness.”
Bongiovanni said her organization had long been talking to MassPort about social justice and environmental issues, and combined discussions with Ambrosino last year on the Overlay. It all began though, she said, several years ago when MassPort dredged it’s South Boston cruise terminal and wanted to dump the contaminated soil in underwater vaults that are buried under the Chelsea Creek. After several larger “asks” of MassPort and about two years of meetings, Bongiovanni said they are close to finding an agreement for the Creek, which for MassPort purposes only, would be tied to Terminal E.
“We do have a deal on the table that’s pretty good for the residents of Chelsea in terms of parkland and recreation and environmental opportunities,” she said. “The airport will still be there. We’re right next to it. We will face the impacts of that the rest of our lives as long as Logan is there and planes are taking off and landing. All we can do is make that a little more palatable for residents with things like waterfront parks.”
Meanwhile, Avellaneda said he hopes that something comes of all of the discussions, and he firmly believes that the airport is just as intrusive in Chelsea as it is in East Boston.
“Anyone at MassPort who doesn’t say we are on par with Eastie or at least in a close second place to East Boston, they are being disingenuous to the residents of Chelsea,” he said.