Environmentalists, activists, residents and
elected officials on both sides of the Chelsea Creek are standing in solidarity
with one another in firm opposition to Eversources plan to place a substation
at the City Yards in East Boston along the Chelsea Creek.
On Tuesday night in Eastie the the state’s
Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) held a public meeting to discuss
Eversource’s Notice of Project Change that moves the proposed substation from
the eastern corner of the City Yards in East Eagle Square to the western
corner. The original location on the eastern portion of the city-owned parcel
was approved by the EFSB last year.
In its Notice of Project Change
Eversource seeks approval to move the
Substation 190 feet to the western side of the City Yards lot. The scope of the
upcoming meeting is limited to Eversource’s
proposed relocation of the substation from its current site on the
eastern side of the city parcel to its new proposed location.
Eversource said the two 115-kV transmission
lines that would connect to the substation would no longer be routed along
Condor and East Eagle Streets if the substation is placed in the western
portion of the parcel.
Local environmentalists from Eastie and
Chelsea have called on the EFSB explore alternatives to placing Eversource’s
proposed substation along the Chelsea Creek.
For two years local environmentalists on the
Eastie and Chelsea sides of the Creek have launched a visual, media and talking
campaign against Eversource’s plans to place the substation at the City Yards
in Eagle Square.
At Tuesday night’s meeting Chelsea City
Council President Damali Vidot attended the meeting and gave testimony in
opposition to the substation.
“I’m here tonight to express my opposition,”
said Vidot. “Although I represent Chelsea, a community of 40,000 low income,
hardworking immigrants and people of color who are always the afterthoughts of
corporate greed and irresponsible planning, I am here today as an ally with my
brothers and sisters of the Eagle Hill East Boston neighborhood whose
demographics are reminiscent of home. Planes, a salt bile, fuel and now a high
voltage electrical substation–I am tired of communities like Chelsea and East
Boston forced to bear the burden of environmental injustice at the hands of
greedy corporations. We are environmental justice communities and the civic
engagement in this neighborhood, or lack thereof, is a blatant disregard and
inconsideration of the densely populated areas of hardworking men and women
forced to bear the environmental ignorance of others for the sake of protecting
Vidot called for an independent study to see
whether or not a substation is even needed in the area and, if so, does it need
to be placed an area susceptible to future climate change issues and sea level
U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who
represents both East Boston and Chelsea, sent a video testimony from her office
in Washington D.C.
“I’m your sister in solidarity,” said
Pressley. “This at its best is boor urban planning and at its worst and
injustice. It is unconscionable that a community already overburdened with
environmental injustices would be put in harm’s way and have those existing
health hazards exacerbated. The community should be a part of planning and I
know when we organize we win and this is a fight like so many others we are
taking on and I stand with you.”
Last year the EFSB ruled in favor of placing
the substation at the City Yards. However, the final ruling came with some
provisos. According to the state board the EFSB vote to approve the substations
and 115 kV underground cables in Eastie, Chelsea and Everett came with some
conditions. The EFSB directed Eversource to enter into discussions with the
City of Boston regarding the possible relocation of the new substation and the
related cable on the Chelsea Creek site.
Local activist John Walkey, who lives in
Eastie and works with Greenroots Chelsea argues that the project represents an
increased risk in both communities already bearing a huge environmental burden
in the region by playing host to Logan International Airport, highways and jet
fuel storage tanks along the Chelsea Creek.
Walkey made a push for the EFSB to see a
more logical place to site the substation.
“If only there was a place in East Boston
with restricted access that would a more appropriate location. Maybe a place
that already had millions of dollars invested in raising the ground level so it
is more flood resilient. Maybe a place that already much more secure with state
police oversight and very limited access. Maybe a place that takes up over a
third of the land mass in East Boston. And just maybe a place that is going to
be a consumer of over half the electricity that goes through the substation
anyway. Obviously the (Logan) Airport is a far more logical place,” said
As part of its decision the EFSB directed
Eversource to provide an update to the board on the status of discussions
between the community and city before construction on the substation commences.
This has given additional time for Eversource, the City of Boston, and
residents to iron out the alternative locations for the substation.
The substation was initially slated to be built
on an Eversource-owned parcel on Bremen Street. However, under the former late
Mayor Thomas Menino Boston executed a land swap with Eversource. Eversource
have the City of Boston the Bremen Street parcel so the city could build the
new East Boston Branch Library in return for a city-owned parcel in East Eagle
On Wednesday morning local environmentalists from East Boston and Chelsea gathered at Boston City Hall to
Local environmentalist John Walkey talking about the proposed Eversource Substation. Walkey works with Chelsea-based Green Roots–an environmental justice organization that works on environmental issues on the Eastie and Chelsea sides of the creek.
deliver 700 postcards to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh asking for the mayor to meet with residents on both sides of the Chelsea Creek to discuss alternatives to placing Eversource’s proposed substation along the creek.
For two years local environmentalists on the East Boston and Chelsea sides of the Chelsea Creek have launched a visual, media and talking campaign against Eversource’s plans to place the substation on a City of Boston-owned parcel at the City Yards in East Eagle Square.
Last year the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) ruled in favor of placing the substation at the City Yards. However, the final ruling came with some provisos. According to the state board the EFSB vote to approve the substations and 115 kV underground cables in Eastie, Chelsea and Everett came with some conditions. The EFSB directed Eversource to enter into discussions with the City of Boston regarding the possible relocation of the new substation and the related cable on the Chelsea Creek site.
“We are here to deliver more than 700 postcards to Mayor Martin Walsh from local residents and environmental organization,” said local environmentalist John Walkey, who works with Chelsea-based Green Roots. Green Roots is an environmental justice organization that works on environmental issues on the Eastie and Chelsea sides of the creek. “The residents and organizations are all asking for the same thing–to meet with the residents from East Boston and Chelsea hear our concerns about the substation project.”
Walkey argues that the project represents an increased risk in both communities already bearing a huge environmental burden in the region by playing host to Logan International Airport, highways and jet fuel storage tanks along the Chelsea Creek.
“It’s not really clear if this project is really needed given the current electricity demand data we received from ISO New England (an independent, non-profit Regional Transmission Organization that coordinates, controls, and monitors a multi-state electric grid),” said Walkey. “We feel it is not a wise use of the coastal zone given what we know about climate change and coastal flooding. This project precludes any other more appropriate use of the waterfront that could be more climate resilient and provide a better benefit to the community.”
Walkey added that Mayor Walsh has been very receptive to the group’s concerns but while they have met with Walsh Administration staffers they have not met directly with the mayor.
“We are here to bring home this idea that we just want to sit down and talk,” said Walkey. “We are not demanding anything ridiculous. We just want to voice our concerns and have the mayor hear them.”
Another local environmentalist, Sandra Nijjar, said she is concerned about the location proposed because it is adjacent to the American Legion Playground where children play as well as jet fuel storage tanks and the Chelsea Creek.
Resident Paul Shoaf Kozak echoed Nijjar’s concerns. Shoaf Kozak lives across from the proposed substation and said from an environmental standpoint it makes no sense.
“I can testify that this past winter the streets around the substation flooded twice,” he said. “Condor Street, which runs perpendicular to the proposed substation, flooded two times during last winter’s blizzards. The elevation of the proposed substation is only 11 feet above sea level so it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out this could cause a potentially hazardous and very dangerous situation during a flooding event. We are requesting that the mayor simply hear our concerns and include the community in the decision of where to place the substation.”
As part of its decision the EFSB also directed Eversource to provide an update to the board on the status of discussions between the community and city before construction on the substation commences. This has given additional time for Eversource, the City of Boston, and residents to iron out the alternative locations for the substation.
Walsh has maintained that the city is in the process of working with Eversource to ensure the substation is in the best possible location for the residents and businesses in Eastie and those along the Chelsea Creek.
The substation was initially slated to be built on an Eversource-owned parcel on Bremen Street. However, under the former late Mayor Thomas Menino Boston executed a land swap with Eversource. Eversource have the City of Boston the Bremen Street parcel so the city could build the new East Boston Branch Library in return for a city-owned parcel in East Eagle Square.
Local environmentalist John Walkey talking about the proposed Eversource Substation. Walkey works with Chelsea-based Green Roots–an environmental justice organization that works on environmental issues on the Eastie and Chelsea sides of the creek.
Resident Paul Shoaf Kozak said from an environmental standpoint it makes no sense placing a Eversource Substation on the Chelsea Creek.
Environmentalists from East Boston and Chelsea gathered at Boston City Hall to deliver 700 postcards to Boston Mayor Martin Walsh asking for the mayor to meet with residents on both sides of the Chelsea Creek to discuss the Eversource Substation.
Local environmentalists outside Boston City Hall Wednesday protesting the proposed Eversource Substation along the Chelsea Creek.
By Seth Daniel
Chelsea GreenRoots is leading the way in jump-starting a renewal of Chelsea-Eastie activism on the Chelsea Creek – sending out teams to help build up momentum on the Eastie side for Creek activism.
GreenRoots Director Roseann Bongiovanni said the organization began trying to revitalize the interest in Eastie back in August after getting a grant to do some organizing.
“We can only be more powerful with one voice like we were in the past,” she said. “Overall, since we started, folks have been receptive because they know this is for East Boston residents and will be led by East Boston residents. It goes back to the holistic look at the Chelsea Creek on the East Boston and Chelsea side.”
For many years, the former Chelsea GreenSpace and the Eastie Neighborhood of Affordable Housing (NOAH) combined efforts to form the Chelsea Creek Action Group – or CCAG. Together, that group fought of what they believed to be environmental threats to the Creek, including a power plant, CAD cells buried in the riverbed, and the Hess tank removal. They also advocated successfully for the Urban Wild location on the Eastie side, and held social events like the River Revel.
However, about two years ago, a lot of the leadership in Eastie shifted to other matters and concerns in the neighborhood, leaving Chelsea holding up one side of the Creek.
Recently, though, Eastie’s Magdalena Ayed spun off environmental work in her organization HarborKeepers.
That began to develop some interest again in the Creek activism in Eastie.
This year, GreenRoots got a grant to do work to re-activate the grass roots base in East Boston and to institute Eastie leaders to begin leading the revived organization.
“That was very important that this was for East Boston and we were just helping to get it started for them,” said Bongiovanni. “We didn’t want it to seem like Chelsea was coming over and telling East Boston what to do.”
First, they visited 12 groups, including the many neighborhood organizations in Eastie, and spread the word about trying to revive interest in Creek activism.
Right now, John Walkey of Eastie and Indira Alfaro of GreenRoots are canvassing Eastie to get more people involved.
Bongiovanni said getting both sides organized again is very important to the health of the Creek.
She said there is also a great opportunity to learn from one another.
“You see gentrification along the Creek a lot more in East Boston and we are hoping to learn from what they have gone through,” she said.
Bongiovanni said the missing link on the Creek still is Revere, but she has hopes that some organizing can be done there as well.
As Chief Brian Kyes stood at the podium in Boston’s Federal Court last Friday after an historic roundup, four years in the making, of key MS-13 gang members in Chelsea, Eastie, Everett and Somerville, he thought of one innocent single mother who had simply looked out the window of a battered women’s shelter when she heard fighting.
For that short peak, she got a bullet in the head – premeditated and, as charges suggest, with extreme violence carried out by two MS-13 members from a clique in Somerville.
“My thoughts after this operation are with a young mother of three – Katerin Gomez – who was murdered on Oct. 18, 2014 by what we believe to be members of this gang,” he said. “This is someone that has nothing to do with gangs. Nothing at all. She heard noise outside, went to look out the window and that’s when she was hit in the head with a stray bullet…The greatest point today is this is not where it ends.”
In an unexpected and shocking roundup of El Salvadoran MS-13 gang members in Everett, Chelsea, East Boston, Somerville, Revere, and elsewhere, federal, state and local officials announced Friday morning that they believed they had put a significant dent in the alleged murderous and criminal gang known in Spanish as ‘La Mara Salvatrucha.’
Around 5 a.m. on Friday, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials, Homeland Security, State Police and local police began arresting targeted members of the gang – that following an investigation that has been underway since 2012 and the recent indictment of 56 local members on RICO charges ranging from murder to drug trafficking.
More than 400 law enforcement officials made some 37 arrests on Friday, 14 of those listed as being from Chelsea. Some 15 of those indicted were already in custody on federal, state or immigration charges, including one man from Chelsea. Authorities also announced the arrest of the gang’s East Coast leader, Jose Martinez-Castro, of Richmond, VA.
Perhaps most important in Chelsea was an accountability for a rampage of violence that the gang has inflicted mostly on Chelsea soil, though many times the players and conflicts come from cliques in Everett, Somerville and Eastie.
Five murders were charged, including two in Chelsea and three in Eastie. Of those in Eastie, two of the victims were young teens from Chelsea – one a 15-year-old from Chelsea High School, Irvin De Paz. There were also 14 charges of attempted murder leveled against gang members, and a shocking 10 of those attempted murders occurred in Chelsea in 2014 and 2015. Drug Trafficking charges of five kilograms of cocaine were also leveled against the gang in Chelsea.
“Our goal is to stop the violence and the danger and fear they enact upon these communities,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz at a press conference on Friday.
“Violence and its impact is real and seen in East Boston, Chelsea, Revere, Everett and Somerville,” said Hank Shaw, FBI special agent in charge. “Today’s operation made the kind of impact where approximately one-third of the MS-13 membership in Massachusetts has been or will be taken off the streets.”
Officials who investigated the murders, particularly that of De Paz and Eastie’s Wilson Martinez, said they were some of the most grisley scenes they had ever witness – noting that charges included murder with “extreme atrocity.”
“In my 30 years of law enforcement, a majority of which has been on the gang unit, I’ve never seen a more violent gang than this,” said State Police Lt. Frank Hughes. “The violence is unimaginable and the brutality they inflict on each other is unspeakable. Anyone who feels they will fill the void left by today’s operation – we’re on you.”
Shaw said the murders were often “machete attacks involving slow, painful deaths.”
VIOLENCE NOTED IN CHELSEA
As a result of the investigation, five very troubling murders were tied back to MS-13.
In Chelsea, the murder of Katerin Gomez in Oct. 2014 was tied to Somerville clique members Hector ‘Cuervo’ Ramires and Bryan ‘Chucky’ Galicia-Barillas. The indictment charges that the two men with extreme atrocity and cruelty murdered her as she looked out the window.
Javier Ortiz was murdered on Dec. 14, 2014 by Chelsea clique members Hector ‘Vida Loca’ Enamorado, Luis ‘Brujo’ Solis-Vasquez of the Everett clique, Noe Salvador ‘Crazy’ Perez-Vasquez of the second Everett clique and Jose ‘Smiley’ Miguel Hernandez, also of the second Everett clique in Chelsea. The murder came as a result of an altercation with Ortiz the night before. Following the murder, the indictment indicates, Enamorado and Solis-Vasquez were congratulated for the murder at a meeting of the East Side Locos Salvatrucha (ESLS) in Everett. Two ESLS leading members, allegedly, were beaten by the gang members as discipline for not helping the two killers the night before.
In Eastie, on Constitution Beach, Wilson Martinez was killed in Sept. 2015 with extreme atrocity by one member from the Everett clique and two members from another clique, as well as a juvenile. The indictment alleges they were encouraged beforehand by Perez-Vasquez to murder more rival gang members in order to get promoted. All of those that participated in the murder were promoted within their cliques – one getting a 13-second “beat in” by numerous clique leaders on Deer Island Dec. 6, 2015.
In particular, the murder of De Paz, who was only 15, of Chelsea, was tied to the two violent strains of Everett MS-13 cliques.
The Everett-based ESLS and the Everett-based ‘Everett Locos Salvatrucha (ELS) had encouraged Everett’s Joel ‘Animal’ Martinez to murder De Paz in order to be admitted to the gang. The leader of ELS, Noe Salvador Perez-Vasquez, gave the initial encouragement, it was alleged.
The murder took place on Sept. 20, 2015 in Eastie. After the murder, the ELS clique disciplined Martinez by beating him at a meeting and refusing him entrance.
However, after that, on January 8 of this year, the ESLS clique allegedly initiated Martinez in a meeting at an Everett auto body shop. After he was beaten for 13 seconds, he was welcomed into the group – according to the indictment, which was established using wiretaps.
Finally, just a month ago, on Jan. 10, in Eastie, Christopher Perez-De La Cruz was allegedly murdered by members of two Somerville cliques. That murder, it was alleged, came due to a call from the East Coast leader in a December 2015 meeting in Richmond, VA for cliques in Massachusetts to be more active in killing rival gang members.
The attempted murders in Chelsea were as follows:
- March 28, 2014, Hector ‘Cuervo’ Martinez attempted to murder one victim with a knife.
- April 6, 2014, Rafael ’Tremendo’ Leoner-Aguirre attempted to murder two victims by attacking them with a machete.
- April 16, 2014, Aguirre, Josue ‘Gallito’ Morales, and Kevin ‘Blancito’ Ayala attempted to murder two men with a gun, hitting one of the victims.
- May 29, 2014, Daniel ‘Roca’ Menjivar and David ‘Cilindro’ Lopez attempted to murder one victim by stabbing him with a knife and shooting him with a gun.
- Sept. 8, 2014, Angel ‘Bravo’ Pineda and Jose ‘Little Crazy’ Vasquez and Bryan ‘Chucky’ Galicia-Barillas attempted to murder on victim by stabbing him with a knife.
- Around April 2015, Menjivar, Lopez, Galicia-Barillas and Aguirre and a man only known as ‘Violento’ attempted to murder one victim with a machete. That victim had been an MS-13 member, and a green light was given to kill him by a leader of the gang in Arizona – as he was suspected of working with law enforcement.
- May 12, 2015, Jose ‘Muerto’ Hernandez-Miguel and Luis ‘Brujo’ Solis Vasquez attempted to murder a man with a knife.
- May 26, 2015, Galicia-Barillas and Domingo ‘Chapin’ Tirol attempted to murder two men by stabbing them with a knife.
- Aug. 23, 2015, Edwin ‘Sangriento’ Gonzalez attempted to murder two men by attacking and striking them with a machete.
- Dec. 27, 2015, Joel ‘Animal’ Martinez and Mauricio ‘Tigre’ Sanchez attempted to murder one victim by stabbing him with a knife.
“There was a time when rival gang members stay out of each other’s way – one went one way and the other went the other way,” said Kyes. “It’s getting to the point now that if there are two rival gang members and I see you walking down the street with the wrong hat or shoes, I might kill you by stabbing you or with a gun. This is the way these kids operate. That’s the message they get from the hierarchy.”
RECRUITING IN THE SCHOOLS
Most shockingly, federal officials detailed the fact that the gang was allegedly recruiting members from inside local high schools and middle schools – including Everett High School, Chelsea High School and East Boston High School.
“During the course of this investigation, it is alleged that MS-13 actively recruited prospective members, known as ‘paros,’ inside local high schools from communities with significant immigrant populations from Central America, including Chelsea High School, East Boston High School and Everett High School,” said Ortiz. “Prospective members were typically 14 or 15 years old. Under the strict rules of MS-13, as communicated to the local ‘cliques’ by the leaders of MS-13 in El Salvador, these prospective members must engage in significant violent criminal activity on behalf of the criminal organization, usually the killing of a rival gang member, in order to become a full-fledged member of MS-13, known as a ‘homeboy.’”
In order to recruit, the gang was involved in the three local high schools – both during school and after school – to get students to join the gang. Younger prospective gang members were often encouraged to commit more violent crimes to move up in rank.
Supt. Mary Bourque sent a letter home to parents and students following the raids on Monday.
“I want to reassure you that our schools are a safe place for students to learn and thrive,” she wrote. “We acknowledge that gang activity has taken place outside our schools and in our community. So that you are aware of our work, once we become aware of any student who begins to be enamored with gang life or ultimately becomes gang affiliated, we work closely with the Chelsea Police Department and their extended network to counsel the student and family to a better choice. We encourage you to reach out to us if you become aware of gang activity in your neighborhood or with your child’s friends. Our Chelsea way is to ‘Welcome and Educate.’ Let us not have a few tarnish all the good that we do each and every day in our schools.”
Chief Kyes and City Manager Tom Ambrosino said they will be vigilant to make sure gangs don’t return to the schools or the school kids looking for recruits.
“Schools are supposed to be a safe place for learning and gangs have no place in schools,” he said, noting the coordination that the Chelsea Police has with CHS when it appears a student is headed down the wrong path or may need help.
TRANSNATIONAL CRIMINAL ORGANIZATION
Additionally, Homeland Security officials announced that they were holding 10 individuals who weren’t facing charges, but had significant ties to the gang and were not in the country legally.
According to court documents, in 2012, MS-13 became the first, and remains the only, street gang to be designated by the United States government as a “transnational criminal organization.” MS-13 is one of the largest criminal organizations in the United States, and is an international criminal organization with over 6,000 members in the United States, with a presence in at least 46 states and the District of Columbia, as well as over 30,000 members internationally, mostly in El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.
In Massachusetts, MS-13 is largely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from El Salvador and has members operating throughout the Commonwealth, with higher concentrations in Chelsea, East Boston, Everett, Lynn, Revere, and Somerville.
Violence is a central tenet of MS-13, Ortiz said, as evidenced by its core motto — “mata, viola, controla,” translated as, “kill, rape, control.”
During the course of this investigation, she said, this violence was directed against rival gangs, particularly the 18th Street gang, and anyone who was perceived to have disrespected MS-13. The 18th Street gang, another criminal organization in Central America with members living in the United States, has been a longstanding rival of MS-13. MS-13 members and associates often commit murders and attempted murders using machetes, knives, and chains in order to intimidate rival gang members – weapons that were confiscated and in full display on a table in front of Ortiz during the press conference.
The indictment further alleges that members of the MS-13 organization in Massachusetts sell cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, and commit robberies, in order to generate income to pay monthly dues to the incarcerated leadership of MS-13 in El Salvador. This money is allegedly used to pay for weapons, cell phones, shoes, food, and other supplies for MS-13 members in and out of jail in El Salvador. It was alleged that the money is typically sent from wire transfer stores right in the communities.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz details the charges and atrocities unveiled by MS-13 in East Boston, Everett, Chelsea, Somerville and elsewhere during a press conference to announce the surprise round up of some 37 gang members on Friday morning by 400 law enforcement officials. A host of charges were levied against 56 members who were indicted on charges ranging from murder to drug trafficking to attempted murder.
The Record performed an investigative report in 2013 about the amounts of wire transfers in 2012 from stores in Chelsea, East Boston, Everett and Revere. The paper found that $247 million left those communities in one year, with $72 million of that money going to El Salvador.
Fewer things are more frustrating for Chelsea drivers than seeing the gates go down on the Chelsea Street Bridge.
Were it a few minutes of idle time, folks might tolerate it.
However, one could have a five-course picnic on the side of the road, clean up the mess, and get back in the car within the time it takes the $185 million vertical lift bridge to go all the way up, allow marine vessels to pass under and then come back down.
Consequently, rather than waiting, most drivers make quick U-turns and head to alternative routes. Those that wait it out, are most certainly late to work or to airline flights – and to add to the misery – many times the bridge goes up at the most inopportune times, such as morning and evening rush hours.
From Chelsea to Eastie to MassPort and even far-flung territories like West Revere, people are speaking out against the inconvenience of the relatively new state-owned bridge that serves only to accommodate vessels going to three large oil companies – Gulf, Irving and Global.
This week, City Manager Tom Ambrosino said he plans to to convene a meeting of stakeholders on the inconvenience of the bridge.
“In conversations with MassPort, I have committed to convening a meeting of stakeholders to talk about the operations of the bridge,” he said this week. “I’m looking to try to convene for that in September or October. We want to talk specifics of the operations of that bridge.”
Ambrosino said the movement on the frustrating issue came when MassPort indicated the airlines at Logan were growing very angry about how the bridge was delaying the arrival of employees. Most airline workers park at the MassPort Garage in Chelsea and then take buses to Logan that utilize the Chelsea Street Bridge. When the bridge is up, the employees are not able to get to work on time in large numbers.
“I think MassPort is concerned about the timing,” he said. “The airlines have been complaining that their employees cannot get to work.”
But they’re not the only ones complaining.
Roseanne Bongiovanni of the Chelsea Collaborative said she has heard of some people taking the bus to Revere to avoid the bridge.
“Yes, there are definitely concerns and complaints from Chelsea residents about the length of time it takes for the bridge to ‘open and close,’” she said. “Some have told me that they take the bus into Revere to get onto the train there rather than trying to cross the bridge during rush hour traffic to commute into work.”
Eastie Sen. Anthony Petruccelli said earlier this summer that he is pursuing the idea of putting some restrictions on the times when the bridge can go up. He said he would hope that such restrictions could at least cover morning and evening rush hours.
“I’ve heard the complaints,” he said. “We are trying to get to the bottom of the problem. We have had some calls that the bridge is being opened too often during morning the rush hour commute. My office has been working with MassDOT but as of right now there are no regulations that prohibit the bridge from opening and closing during any time of the day.”
Petruccelli said he and his office have researched bridge operations elsewhere that do have opening restrictions placed on them and these restrictions are imposed by the U.S. Coast Guard.
“My office is looking at a bridge we found in Fall River that has restrictions similar to what we want to have here,” said Petruccelli. “However, there will always be allowances granted for opening, even with restrictions.”
The issue was first brought to MassDOT’s attention by Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina back in February. In a letter to MassDOT Acting Secretary Frank DePaola, LaMattina expressed his concerns about significant traffic delays that the residents and business owners have been experiencing with the new Chelsea Street Bridge.
“When the new bridge was completed recently the community was informed that traffic delays associated with the new structure would not be longer in comparison to those of the old bascule bridge it replaced,” wrote LaMattina. “However that does not seem to be the case from direct observation of the new bridge’s opening cycles due to a number of factors, some of which appear to be maritime related and others the result of MassDOT bridge procedures.”
While LaMattina said he understands that the installation of a new, complex structure such as the Chelsea Street bridge requires a suitable break-in period to implement new procedures and equipment, he believes that an adequate break-in period has passed for the new bridge and that MassDOT should take whatever steps are necessary to reduce the current unacceptable level of delays from the new Chelsea Street Bridge as soon as feasible.
John Vitagliano, who was a community relations outreach specialist for the bridge during its construction, said he has noted tremendous concerns and will be working with Ambrosino on the solutions.
“There definitely are a lot of concerns from a lot of people,” he said. “We’re just starting to go down this road now in Chelsea and the City of Boston. There are solutions that are out there and the current situation is not something that can continue…I don’t know if vessel restrictions are applicable to this bridge. We’re just starting to think about that. We’ll look at it and see what restrictions would make sense. We just don’t know yet. We do have precedent though with the Fore River Bridge in Quincy for rush hour restrictions. They have restrictions on some vessels, but not all vessels.”
Three key problems, Vitagliano said, are that the bridge has a much more complex operating system that takes longer to cycle through, the bridge is much wider and it takes longer to get people off of the span, and there are more restrictive safety requirements put in place before the bridge can be raised. Those safety requirements come as a result of the tragic killing of a woman on the McArdle Bridge last year as it raised while she was still walking on it.
Just a few weeks after the Boston Herald endorsed the Mohegan Sun project, the Boston Globe surprised everyone with a comprehensive endorsement of the Wynn casino project in its edition on Sunday, Sept. 9.
“…a rival plan in Everett looks much more in keeping with the law’s intent,” read the editorial. “If commissioners are determined to green-light a site for casino development this week, despite the looming referendum, they should choose the Everett option. It provides an economic and environmental boost to what may be the most downtrodden corner of Greater Boston, and enjoys far greater community support than the rival plan for a Mohegan Sun casino at Suffolk Downs.”
The Globe’s endorsement – which covered an entire page of the paper – went on to say the Mohegan casino should have been done with after last November’s failed referendum in Eastie.
“The defeat of the initial casino plan at the site last year should have been the end of the proposal, and the hastily revised plan and Suffolk Downs’s new partnership with Mohegan Sun does not cancel out the clear verdict of voters in East Boston last year on a materially similar proposal,” it read.
The Globe’s seal of approval prompted a lengthy letter from Revere Mayor Dan Rizzo on Monday about what he considered inaccuracies with the editorial.
“The Globe editorial board would be more honest with its readers by stating that it does not want to see a resort-style casino built in eastern Massachusetts, rather than encourage a license for an applicant with a track record of dramatically over promising and then disappearing,” he wrote on Monday. “The more people know the truth, the more they like Mohegan Sun’s plan.”
Wynn had no comment on the Globe endorsement when contacted, or to the Herald’s endorsement of its rival project.
Senator Anthony Petruccelli, with help from Chelsea Senator Sal DiDomenico and Senator Patricia Jehlen, added language last week during a late night session to amend the state’s Chapter 91 law. The amendment’s language would block Global Oil’s proposal to bring 1.8 million gallons of ethanol by train twice a week through parts of Chelsea and store the fuel at their facility on the East Boston/Revere border.
Because the facility is along the Chelsea Creek, Global needs a Chapter 91 license to modify the facility in order to store ethanol along the banks of the Creek.
The amendment was passed and is now in Conference Committee where it will be debated.
The language inserted into the Chapter 91 law states that “an ethanol storage or blending facility that stores or blends or is intended to store or blend more than an average of 5,000 gallons of ethanol per day and is located within one mile of a census block that has a population density of greater than 4,000 people per square mile shall not be granted a license under this chapter. For the purposes of this section, ethanol shall be defined as any mixture composed of not less than 30 percent ethanol”.
Petruccelli called the passage of the amendment a ‘huge win’ for environmental activists in Chelsea, Revere and Eastie that have worked to block ethanol trains from coming to the area.
“Senators DiDomenico, Jehlen and I drafted the ethanol amendment with the belief that public safety is among our top priorities,” said Petruccelli. “I worked tirelessly on this amendment in order to protect the residents of the First Suffolk and Middlesex from the dangers of such a volatile substance. I am enthusiastic at the adoption of our amendment and the prospect of working with the Senate and House leadership and the bill’s conference committee to ensure its final passage.”
Residents in Chelsea, Eastie, and Revere have long expressed concerns over Global’s proposal to bring 60-car trains carrying 1.8 million gallons of ethanol, a highly flammable material, two times or more per week along commuter rail tracks to its terminal on the East Boston/Revere line.
Global’s plans were slowed last year at the state level by legislation co-sponsored by Petruccelli and DiDomenico. Petruccelli and DiDomenico, became the first elected officials to file any significant legislation to slow Global’s plan to begin shipping ethanol on from upstate New York via train through densely populated areas in Chelsea Everett and Revere. Petruccelli and DiDomenico added an amendment to a state transportation bond bill that prohibited the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from issuing Global a Chapter 91 license to build the ethanol storage facility on the Eastie/Revere line until a comprehensive safety study is completed.
MassDOT’s Ned Cod briefed residents on the study, which was completed in the winter.
However, there were many unanswered questions in the study—questions residents at several community meetings felt should be answered.
With the study completed, activists seemed to have run out of options to block Global’s Chapter 91 license from being granted-until last week’s amendment was passed.
Broadway in Chelsea is a hub for small businesses, but
it’s also a hub for shipping cash out of the community to
foreign countries. Money Transfer stores on the Broadway
corridor accounted for the transfer of $42.6 million in 2012.
In four of the poorest communities in Massachusetts (Eastie, Revere, Chelsea and Everett), money transfer stores in 2012 helped residents send $247.08 million in cash to several foreign countries around the world.
The process of sending money from the U.S. to foreign countries is nothing new, and there is certainly nothing illegal or wrong about it, but the vast amounts of money leaving the local economy leaves serious questions about the impact of such widespread practices on local businesses during tough economic times – not to mention that the large sums are being sent from areas that statistics show are terribly impoverished.
Others, however, argue that the practice – known as remittances – helps family members who are left behind in Third World countries and who struggle to survive. Many of those are children, family and friends, and it is argued that they would not make it without remittances. International Policy organizations – such as the World Bank – hail remittances as the quickest way to transform the economic stability of developing countries and prevent suffering.
LOTS OF MONEY LEAVING COMMUNITIES
The Independent News Group (ING) analyzed state statistics on money transfers for the year 2012 and for the areas of East Boston, Revere, Chelsea and Everett. The statistics are gathered annually by the state Division of Banks and are simply activity reports that list each store’s address, the total dollar amount sent during the year, the numbers of transactions and the destination country.
In that four-community area, the paper found that $247.08 million in cash was sent to numerous countries – with El Salvador ($71.6 million), Brazil ($47.6 million) and Colombia ($45.45 million) being the top recipients.
As it was, East Boston had the highest number of transactions and the highest amount sent. The breakdown went like this:
•East Boston, 293,853 transactions, $112.32 million
•Everett, 142,654 transactions, $59.56 million
•Chelsea, 162,544 transactions, $52.79 million
•Revere, 63,631 transactions, $22.39 million
Statewide, the ING estimates that more than $2 billion per year is being sucked out of local communities. A Boston Globe story in 2010 reported residents statewide sent $1.8 million overseas in 2009.
The top Money Transfer stores locally were on Bennington Street in Eastie, Superley (21 Bennington St.) and Teleonda (202 Bennington St.), both owned by Humberto Grajales. Combined, the two stores sent $25.62 million overseas, primarily to El Salvador and Colombia.
Though the paper did visit both stores and leave messages for Grajales, he had not contacted a reporter by press time. In fact, the paper visited seven of the leading transfer stores locally, and found no one who would return a message or comment on their local transfer business.
As context to the overall situation, all four cities have some of the highest rates of poverty and highest numbers of people on public assistance.
In Chelsea, the public school statistics this year indicate that 88.9 percent of students in the schools are classified as low income. In Revere, some 76 percent of students are classified as low income.
Recent statistics from the state Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) show that 23,961 people in the four communities are on some sort of public assistance, with the numbers being Chelsea (6,995), Revere (6,353), Eastie (5,636) and Everett (4,977).
SENDING MONEY IS SENDING LOVE
Money Transfer stores dot the landscape of virtually every city in the area, usually occupying storefronts, offering accompanying services and – typically – smelling of flowery incense.
Some like Chelsea’s Spectrum Communications are simple corridors with gumball machines and a transfer agent sitting behind a secure fiberglass window.
Others like Eastie’s Aries Communications are more elaborate with flat-screen televisions, a jewelry store, a cell phone dealer and comfortable waiting areas. In Revere, there are large volume check cashing businesses that offer one-stop shopping – where you can cash a check, send a remittance and pay an electric bill. Still others, like Everett’s Petionville Bakery & Restaurant are mostly places to eat, but with a transfer station sitting separately off to the side.
Posters trumpeting ‘Envios Dinero (Send Money)’ dot the walls of most stores informing customers of the various service fees to each country. Currently, there are no fees or taxes imposed by Massachusetts or the U.S. government, but transfer businesses typically will charge a flat rate per transaction – such as $8 per $1,000 sent to El Salvador.
Most stores also have posters from major transfer companies appealing to the sentimentality of those who have left home, such as the current MoneyGram poster in almost every store that reads, “Our feet may leave, but our hearts are always home. Send cash to mom on Mother’s Day, arriving the same day.”
While most Money Transfer stores are locally owned, the actual money wiring services are operated by a handful of large companies like Western Union, Continental Exchange Solutions, MoneyGram, and New Age Financial Services. While immigrants over the centuries have always sent cash home, the new systems operated by these companies have been modernized to the point that it has become extremely easy, very reliable, and incredibly fast to send cash. In most cases, money brought to a local store in the morning can be hand delivered later that afternoon to the front door of a family member in a foreign country.
Fatou Fatty, director of Women Encouraging Empowerment, an immigrant education and civics organization in Revere, said the topic of remittances doesn’t come up often in her classes. It’s something she said makes people nervous.
“Most don’t even talk about it because it’s very sensitive,” she said. “Once you start talking about money, you will drive people away and we don’t want that to happen. A lot of people are sending money and mostly it’s because they have families and kids they leave behind. There are a lot of positives that come from sending money, like investing in businesses.”
However, others have a different view, such as Lucy Pineda – a Revere resident who runs the Latinos United in Massachusetts (LUMA) office in Everett. Pineda – who has been in the United States for 26 years – said the vast amounts of remittances being sent from the U.S. has changed her native country of El Salvador for the worse.
“My family was from the country and they worked really hard on a farm, getting up at 3 a.m. every day and working until night,” she said. “Right now, the new population [in El Salvador] dresses better than me. They look like they don’t want to work. They are just waiting every week for our money to come to them. People say we don’t work hard in America, but people there don’t want to do anything anymore. That’s the bad part of it. I built a house there and I can’t get anyone to clean it or paint it because they don’t want to work. They just wait every month for the money to arrive.”
Conversely, in America, she observed that many immigrants severely deprive themselves to send all of this money back home.
“People don’t have a better life – a better life for themselves here,” she said, estimating that most families send between $300-500 per month. “Maybe they don’t buy furniture or take very good care of themselves because they are sending all of their money back home.”
SOCIAL SECURITY SOUTH OF THE BORDER
International organizations, such as the World Bank, praise the kinds of remittances sent from the four communities here, as well as those sent from all parts of the developed world to individuals in the Third World.
“Remittances, the money sent home by migrants, are three times the size of official development assistance and they provide an important lifeline for millions of poor households,” read a World Bank report from 2012. “Remittances to developing countries are estimated to reach $372 billion in 2011. The overall economic gains from international migration for sending countries, receiving countries, and the migrants themselves are substantial. Remittances can have profound implications for development and human welfare. Remittances can contribute to lower poverty and to the building up of human and financial capital for the poor.”
The newspaper contacted the Embassies of Colombia and El Salvador for a discussion on how important remittances are to their countries and peoples. New El Salvadoran Ambassador Ruben Zamora said it is something that is crucial to the country.
“Remittances to El Salvador not only represent an economic phenomenon, but also are an element that has social and political implications,” Zamora said. “They are important for our country because they generate cash flow to the people that need it most. We could say that this is a kind of social security for these people, with the advantage that this money does not go through any red tape. Of course that remittances have enabled a consumption capacity in the sectors of the population who receive them, but also imply that El Salvador is exporting labor, usually the most capable, the most qualified, who is in search of a better situation for their family. Due to the large number of Salvadorans living in the United States, we can say that remittances are an element that greatly configures El Salvador.”
DRAINING MAIN STREET
While some see remittances as positive, others ask at what cost to the local communities – the local businesses on every community’s Main Street. Naturally, with large immigrant populations sending so much disposable income out of the community, remittances are seen as money that isn’t being spent at local stores, restaurants and markets.
“People have a right to do what they want with their money, but this aspect should be and is an important consideration in immigration policy reform,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) – a conservative leaning organization in Washington, D.C. “You do have this when there are a large number of foreign workers in the economy. You will see a large portion of money is sent out of the country. That money sent out has a negative consequence. It doesn’t help the local economy because that’s money that is no longer in circulation in the local businesses. It’s money that isn’t stimulating the job market and creating local jobs at local businesses. It is also depriving state and local governments of revenues from sales taxes…While the money earned here is flowing out of the country, if the worker brings their families with them, the community also has to pay for education for the kids, and if they need medical attention, pay for the health care also. Both are huge costs to the community. Communities are losing revenue on one end with remittances and having to pay for all the social costs at the same time.”
Pineda interjected that immigration reform could help stem the tide of some of the remittances, as undocumented workers tend to send everything home because they cannot open bank accounts.
“If you’re an undocumented worker, you work and send money to El Salvador because you don’t have any legal documents to open a bank account,” she said. “You wouldn’t trust a bank to give you your money back if you have no documentation. This community sends all their money there because they can’t open an account. If we have immigration reform, they will leave the money here and buy houses, buys cars and other things – really have a life here.”
Several local Chambers of Commerce were asked to comment on the situation as well, noting that their memberships were perhaps losing out on millions of dollars in business each year due to the volume of remittances here. Such is the often-unspoken negative side of large, new immigrant populations. While those workers earn millions from the local economy, they often don’t spend that money in the same local community – but rather ship the lion’s share of it out of the country.
Chambers in Everett and Eastie took the matter under consideration, and are deliberating a position.
Revere Chamber of Commerce President Bob Upton said his organization had no official position, but his personal opinion is he hopes more of that money could stay in Revere.
“Obviously, we wish they were spending their money in Revere – spending it locally,” he said. “If in fact that is going on, that they’re sending so much money out of the country, then it’s not helping local commerce. I think it’s part of an education process. In Revere, we encourage the Spanish-speaking population, the Arabic speaking population and the Portuguese speaking population to learn about the Chamber and do business with Revere businesses. We really do that and have a grant from Speaker Bob DeLeo to help with that. Here, just the sheer volume of dollars is certainly something for businesses to pay attention to.”
THRIVING AMIDST STRUGGLE
Last Thursday, just off of Broadway in Chelsea, a steady stream of residents filed into the Spectrum Communications store and the Latino Express store – two Money Transfer locations on opposite sides of Everett Avenue.
Speaking in Spanish mostly at Spectrum, one person after another handed over hundreds of dollars in cash to a woman stationed behind a fiberglass window in a store that was nothing more than an empty corridor.
By the end of the day Thursday, that money probably arrived at someone’s doorstep in any number of points around the world.
Just around the corner, though, one can find a promising restaurant that failed quickly, and up Broadway several blocks one can also find the empty shell of an award-winning small BBQ restaurant – a restaurant that left Chelsea for South Boston and has found success there.
Top 5 Money Transfer Locations in Chelsea:
Spectrum Communications, 18A Everett Ave., $10,692,300
Broadway Laundry, 899 Broadway, $8,408,676
Caribbean Liquors, 399 Broadway, $8,271,382
Latino Express, 7 Everett Ave., $8,254,447
Telepage Corp., 132 Pearl St., $6,865,152
Suffolk Downs COO Chip Tuttle describes the new 3D model of the $1 billion Caesars Resort at Suffolk Downs. The model will be on display in the Topsider Room at Suffolk Downs and East Boston resident can view the model on Tuesday, April 9 from 6-8 p.m. and again on Saturday, April 13 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Owners of Suffolk Downs unveiled its 3D model of the $1 billion Caesars Resort at Suffolk Downs last week to the media. On Monday, the East Boston Times sat down with Suffolk Downs’ COO Chip Tuttle to get a sneak peak at the model and updated renderings before it begins a tour through the community and City of Revere.
“The plan is to start everything at once; the Route 1A improvements, a complete renovation of the clubhouse and grandstands and the new construction of hotel, casino and parking structure as well as a third party hotel that we are currently in conversation with hoteliers with that right now,” said Tuttle. “In June 2012 we introduced the concepts of Caesars Resort at Suffolk Downs but since then there have been significant updates to those concepts especially in regards to landscape design.”
Tuttle said the idea to create a 3D model of the proposed resort was to bring the development to life from two-dimensional renderings to a model that people from Eastie and Revere can relate to.
“I think this gives people a better perspective of where the building sits and how we can transform this property from asphalt into something that is truly stunning and lot nicer than the landscape that currently exists,” said Tuttle.
For example, Tuttle pointed to the hotel and garage in relation to model views on top of Orient Heights hill.
“Now people can see clearly that when they view the development from East Boston the garage is pretty much hidden and you will have this view of a hotel and second hotel behind it,” said Tuttle. “When we talk of 160 acres of developable land it’s a bit daunting to explain where things are in relation to the neighborhoods that border the property. Part of this 3D model gives people the opportunity to ask questions. And by looking at the design this way will help people frame questions in relation to what they are looking at.”
With a birds eye view of the entire proposed resort, Tuttle said now people can see the vision Suffolk Downs is trying to create.
“Now one can see that from four different entrances you get this great sense of arrival at the resort,” said Tuttle. “From the MBTA station you will walk up to an active courtyard with a café and the second hotel in the background, from Route 1A you will obviously enter the resort looking at the main hotel, circular driveway and fountain. For those wishing to self-park there is the garage and entrances either through the glass catwalk into the casino or out through another active courtyard that has retail space and a small plaza.”
The model was designed by architect of record Elkus Manfredi of Boston and created by GPI Models of Somerville
The model will be displayed in the Topsider Room located on the third floor of the Clubhouse at Suffolk Downs. Updated renderings of the development will also be on display.
Eastie residents can view the model on Tuesday, April 9 from 6-8 p.m. and again on Saturday, April 13 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Residents are welcome to stop by at any time during each two-hour period.
Tuttle said the specific community day designations are a suggestion and residents of the communities of Eastie and Revere should feel free to come to any of the open houses.
Residents planning to attend are encouraged to RSVP online at www.friendsofsuffolkdowns.com/events or by calling 617-646-1363.
Following the open houses, the 3D will be taken on the road through Eastie and Revere so residents can view the model and updated renderings at various accessible locations within the neighborhoods.