When the Jan. 4 blizzard hit Chelsea and Greater Boston, it was a lot of snow – which was par for the course in January – but the eye-opener was the 14.99 foot high tide that accompanied a storm surge.
Suddenly, blizzard conditions were matched with heavy flooding on Marginal Street, Congress Avenue and Beacham Street – where the Island End River actually went over its banks and threatened the New England Produce Center, which is a key cog in the region’s food supply.
To top it all off, the Chelsea Street Bridge was actually closed because the Creek was too high to keep it open.
“It really puts a lot of things into perspective,” said Roseann Bongiovanni of GreenRoots. “It’s predicted that all the way up to the Market Basket will be under water by 2030 and beyond, but you see something like the storm on Jan. 4 and it seems like it could be 2025 or 2020, maybe sooner…There are a lot of people who think they don’t have to worry about this now because the predictions are way off in the future. Well, the Chelsea Street Bridge closed down because the Creek overflowed. Nobody would believe that would happen in 2018, but it did. It’s real. That’s what I think we should take from this.”
City Manager Tom Ambrosino said there was some significant flooding in the Island End River area, coming up by Signature Breads, the marina and to the DPW Yard. However, the Produce Center didn’t have significant flooding. At the same time, it put into perspective that such a critical facility for the food supply in New England, some mid-Atlantic states and southern Canada could be in a very risky location.
“That was a scary situation,” he said. “I know it came up very close to our DPW yard.”
There are already several grants in hand to do some infrastructure work to shore up the Island End River (about $1.5 million in one grant), but Ambrosino and Bongiovanni said the storm on Jan. 4 puts an exclamation point on getting it done faster.
“That’s been one of our focuses at GreenRoots for quite some time because it is a very key facility for the region,” said Bongiovanni. “We have been working with the Produce Center and they say the bays are high enough that the produce won’t be compromised. We know they keep about three day worth of produce on hand, but what if the trucks can’t get there for three days or more. That Center provides all the produce for a large area, and that food supply would be cut off for as long as the flooding there persists.”
Bongiovanni said they have been working with the City on some ideas.
City Planners have suggested salt marsh restoration that could naturally prevent flooding, as well as new sea walls and green infrastructure.
A more ambitious project, Bongiovanni said, is a study to create a Micro-Grid in Chelsea that would be able to power places like the Produce Center and Beth Israel Medical on Broadway if the electrical supply were cut off.
“Besides sea level rise and flooding, we want to think about what would happen if the electrical grid were down and they couldn’t power their refrigeration units to keep the produce cold,” she said.
Partners in that upcoming study include the Produce Center, the City, Chelsea Public Schools, Chelsea Housing Authority and Beth Israel. They would all host renewable energy generators that could be used just for Chelsea in an emergency.
“It’s the first stages of making the City completely energy independent,” said Bongiovanni. “That’s the kind of thing we really need to start thinking about when we see water coming up as high as it did.”
An alleged member of MS-13 pleaded guilty Jan. 11 in federal court in Boston to an immigration charge.
Elenilson Gonzalez-Gonzalez, a/k/a “Siniestro,” 31, a Salvadoran national, pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful reentry of a deported alien. U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV scheduled sentencing for April 5, 2018.
Following a lengthy investigation, Gonzalez-Gonzalez was one of 61 defendants named in a superseding indictment targeting the activities of alleged leaders, members, and associates of the transnational criminal organization, La Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13.
Gonzalez-Gonzalez is the 27th defendant to plead guilty in this case.
In December 2015, during the course of the investigation, law enforcement encountered Gonzalez-Gonzalez near Deer Island National Park in Winthrop. Further investigation revealed that in May 2012, Gonzalez-Gonzalez had been apprehended by U.S. Customers and Border Patrol agents illegally entering the United States near Mission, Texas.
At that time, Gonzalez-Gonzalez admitted that he was a Salvadoran national who had entered the country illegally and was attempting to make his way to the Boston area. He was subsequently removed from the United States in 2012 on an expedited basis. Gonzalez-Gonzalez later re-entered the United States and was charged with illegal reentry after deportation.
The charging statute provides for a sentence of no greater than two years in prison, one year of supervised release, and up to a fine of $250,000. Gonzalez-Gonzalez will also be subject to deportation upon the completion of his federal sentence. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
As Puerto Rican residents continue to trickle into Chelsea following the massive Hurricane Maria devastation, the Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) announced they would extend the time visitors are allowed to stay with residents – and also consider extensions in some cases.
Director Al Ewing said they have been working close with the Chelsea Collaborative, the City of Chelsea and the state to formulate a plan to accommodate family members that need to live with CHA residents. By rule, CHA only allows visitors to stay in a public housing unit for 21 days. After that, penalties begin to accrue for the resident.
That has been a problem statewide as wary Puerto Ricans flock to the area to live with family members while their homes and their island are repaired from the once-in-a-lifetime storm damage. With nowhere else to turn, residents in public housing have opened their homes to family, but in fact trouble looms due to the 21-day rule.
“What we have done is extended the 21-day limit allowed for visitors to 45 days,” he said. “The key is residents need to notify us who is living in the unit. Obviously we want to work with the residents and this was a terrible disaster and a terrible situation…At the end of the 45-day period, if there is a need for an extension while family members look for permanent housing, we will work with them on a case-by-case basis.”
Ewing said they have encountered some folks from Puerto Rico and one woman from Houston – which both suffered severe storm damage – and he said they have lowered the documentation threshold for them. While there aren’t many units available, he said they are taking applications.
“We have reduced the documentation because people are obviously coming here without the ability to have documentation,” he said. “We just don’t have a lot of vacancies in public housing, especially at this time of year. That’s why we wanted to especially relax our regulations for visitor stays so that people can live with family until they can find a permanent situation.”
Carmen Cruz prays for friends and family in Puerto Rico during the vigil and donation drive on Thursday, Sept. 28, to aid in the relief effort for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Chelsea Collaborative and Teamsters Local 25 organized the event, with many community partners. Teamsters Local 25 is donating trucks and drivers to transport the relief items Hurricane Maria has devastated the island, with an overwhelming majority of the 3.4 million residents still without power as of last week, and officials struggling to get food, water, fuel and needed supplies to everyone in need.
A recent report issued by the public interest group Save the Harbor/Save the Bay informs us that the beaches surrounding the Metropolitan Boston area were open for bathing 96 percent of the time during the summer of 2016 and that, barring unforeseen circumstances, the outlook should be the same for 2017.
This is quite an accomplishment, given that a generation ago, beaches in the Boston area were closed more often than not — and even when open, our beaches were not exactly inviting to swimmers and other recreational users.
We ourselves recall sailing in Boston Harbor in the 1980s and being unable to find a clean place to take a dip off our boat — and that included the outer harbor waters around the Brewster islands. There was no escape from the sliminess (for want of a better word) that essentially made the waters of Boston Harbor nothing more than a giant cesspool.
It certainly is true that the clean-up of Boston Harbor came at great expense to the ratepayers of the MWRA and surrounding sewer districts. Water and sewer rates skyrocketed on an annual basis for the 15 years of the construction phase and immediate aftermath of the construction of the MWRA’s treatment plant on Deer Island.
However, as with everything else in life, you get what you pay — there is no such thing as a free lunch, as the saying goes — so while the sudden shock of rising water & sewer rates caused some degree of hardship for some ratepayers, the bottom line is that all of us in this area had taken for granted the cheap water & sewer rates we had known for our entire lives — as well as where our water came from and where it drained out to — with no concern about the consequences of what we were doing to Boston Harbor, the greatest natural resource in our area, every time we flushed our toilets.
Moreover, as with many things when it comes to government fees and taxes, most ratepayers only looked at one side of the cost equation. We did not recognize that not only were there economic drawbacks associated with creating a polluted harbor, but that there were huge economic gains to be derived from making an investment in cleaning it up.
The magnificent and clean harbor that we have now, which admittedly was achieved at great expense, has been an economic engine for the entire area, creating jobs and adding immensely to property values not only along the immediate coast, but throughout Greater Boston, that have benefited every ratepayer.
So as we look forward to the coming summer of 2017, we can be grateful that we have a clean Boston Harbor to enjoy with our friends and families. In the 30-plus years since the MWRA has come into existence, the advantages, economic and otherwise, of achieving a sparkling Boston Harbor have extended far beyond merely being able to enjoy a swim on a hot summer’s day (which, in our view, is priceless)
At a Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) sponsored meeting on Monday night in East Boston, three proposals to develop the former Hess site on Condor Street along the Chelsea Creek were pitched to the East Boston community.
One of those proposals came from Chelsea’s Eastern Salt Company, which said it was looking to expand its operations across the McArdle Bridge to East Boston.
The industrial parcel of land that once housed storage tanks for Hess Oil is zoned as a Designated Port Area (DPA) so a majority of the activity at the site needs to be marine industrial use.
Three developers, City Wide Organics, the East Boston Community Development Corporation (CDC) and the Eastern Salt Company from Chelsea, put together solid maritime focused uses with community benefits, but the crowd seemed to be leaning towards the CDC proposal.
The Eastern Salt proposal, which got a lukewarm reception from residents of Eastie, was to place a ‘buffer’ salt pile, like the company has across the Meridian Street Bridge in Chelsea, on the Hess Site.
The salt would be barged over from Chelsea and distributed around the region during winter storms. While Eastern Salt did have community benefits like a harbor walk and outdoor green space, it was the fact that the property could generate 40 to 50 truck trips per day during the height of winter storm activity that had many really concerned.
Despite Eastern Salt’s best efforts to win the crowd over with community benefits, many residents on Eagle Hill said they did not want to look down on a 50-foot pile of salt all year long.
City Wide Organics submitted a proposal to convert the property into a organic waste recycling plant that will convert waste into renewable energy and fertilizer. They also plan to create public outdoor space around the perimeter of the plant much like the MWRA Deer Island facility in Winthrop.
The CDC proposal was pitched its director, Al Caldarelli. He said his proposal would limit traffic, cause no odor and create jobs in the community. The CDC plans to build three buildings as well as a tot lot park, harbor walk and dog park as community benefits. The three buildings would house three longstanding Eastie businesses. These businesses include John Zirpolo’s Cora Group, an expansion of Dan Noonan’s already successful shipyard and marina on Marginal Street and Peter Merullo’s Semper Diving and Marine. All three businesses have roots in marine industrial use.
Don’t hold it against him, but Mike Robbins is a New York Yankees fan.
Despite being the newest resident of the newly expanded Leonard Florence Center for Living (LFCFL) ALS Home, the Staten Island native brought with him his Yankees gear, but a great new appreciation for Boston and the community of Chelsea – even if the Red Sox don’t exactly appeal to him just yet.
“I rolled in here with a Red Sox hat on so they wouldn’t ask me to leave,” he said with a laugh at the new home recently. “I figured I’d keep it on until later this spring and then break out the Yankees hat and jersey and by then they couldn’t make me leave. I’ve never had something so great as this happen to me in my entire life. Everything just fell in line and quickly. If I wouldn’t have been able to come here, I would have probably ended up in a nursing home, and they just aren’t equipped to handle ALS. This gift that they got here required them to take some New York patients. That’s the only reason I’m here now is that family decided to fund this. Otherwise, I’d still be sitting on the waiting list. It’s like a dream to me.”
That dream for Robbins, 60, started quite some time ago when he was diagnosed with ALS and was living in an apartment in New York that wasn’t accommodating to a wheel chair. He was also heavily reliant on his daughters and felt he was taking away from their lives. All of that sparked he and his family to apply for a spot at the LFCFL, but the waiting list was daunting. While he qualified, the likelihood of him getting a spot was slim to none.
Then came along a donor from New York City who wanted to pledge $17.5 million to open another ALS home at LFCFL, with an immediate $5 million gift to fund the expansion. The commitment, said Chelsea Jewish Foundation President Barry Berman, came with a promise to raise the rest of the money over the coming years.
The expanded home will be known as the McDonald ALS Home.
Already, one home exists at LFCFL and was designed by resident and ALS patient Steve Saling. The cutting edge design leans heavily on technology to level the playing field for patients with the degenerative disease and allow them to have a high quality of life – including being able to operate the television, speak through a computer and even open the blinds with the flick of an eyelid.
Naturally, all of that comes at a price, and while the concept has been refined here in Chelsea, the price tag still remains prohibitive.
That’s why Berman was excited when the New York family first came forward.
At first, he said they wanted to fund a facility in some other location in a different part of the country, having been familiar with the work done at LFCFL in Chelsea. Berman lent a hand to help them find a place, but eventually the family changed its focus.
“They soon came to realize that what they wanted to fund is what we have here,” he said. “The other places they were looking at were going to be nursing homes with an ALS wing and not what we have here. They understood it’s extremely financially challenging to open up a new ALS house.”
In the end, they decided to give the gift to LFCFL in order to open up a new house here, replacing a short-term rehabilitation facility already within the building.
“They gave a $5 million upfront gift and through the years they are going to help me raise the additional funds,” said Berman. “One thing they wanted was that we take a couple of New York people because that’s where the money came from and where they’re from.”
When the news was announced, Saling took to Facebook and was able to fill the new house in a matter of days – showing the extreme need for such facilities.
“It filled up with Steve Saling just putting the news on his Facebook page,” said Berman. “The calls kept rolling in and in until four days later the house was filled up. Then we had to start putting people on the waiting list again, unfortunately.”
The gift allowed the home to open, and the $12.5 million will allow it to operate for 20 years.
Berman said the gift has opened his eyes to the new possibility of the LFCFL being an exclusive ALS residential facility – being on the cutting edge of such care worldwide.
“My goal now is eventually to open up three or four more homes and that this building would be a center for excellence in ALS care,” he said. “The people who made the gift may be interested in working more with us and it would be an honor to develop another home with them.”
For Robbins, the gift and his new place of residence has given him something he could never have paid for – dignity.
“The biggest thing for me is not being a burden on my daughters’ lives,” he said. “I’m in a nice place and I”m not a burden on them. They can get on with their lives and know I’m in a great situation here. To be able to use the bathroom and use the toilet with the door closed or take a shower with hot water is something I couldn’t do. I can do that now. Those things give you your dignity back. I’m just very, very fortunate and happy.”
Mike Robbins, 60, of New York City is one of the newest residents of Chelsea’s Leonard Florence Center for Living’s new McDonald ALS House. A group of benefactors recently gifted $5 million to LFCFL and a promise to raise $12.5 million over 20 years, allowing a new ALS home to be constructed and opened this month.
Michael Patrick McCarthy, 35, of Quincy, and his girlfriend Rachelle D. Bond, 40, both of 115 Maxwell St., Dorchester were arraigned in Dorchester District Court Monday morning on charges in the death of toddler Bella Bond.
McCarthy is being held without bail and Bond is being held on $1 million cash and will be due back in court on Oct. 20. Both suspects have court records that include drug arrests.
Bella Bond, known for 85 days as Baby Doe or Deer Island Doe, was finally identified last week after an acquaintance of McCarthy’s tipped off police. Bella was found June 25 by a woman walking her dog on the shore of Deer Island in Winthrop. Bella was in a plastic contractor’s bag, wearing white with black polka dot leggings and wrapped in a fleece blanket. For weeks Winthrop Police, the State Police and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office sent out composite photos of the two-and-a-half-year-old, set up a hotline, and had special billboards made with her image. On social media Bella’s image went around the world on Facebook and Twitter.
Local High School students Madelyn Fainga’a, Meghan Chavis and Danielle Eocchia sat quietly as officials spoke about Bella Bond.
No one connected to Bella ever came forward to identify her.
Monday night a vigil with 300-400 people was held at Deer Island. Guests included Gov. Charlie Baker and Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, who lives in Winthrop. There has been an outpouring of donations for Bella’s burial. Officials said her body will stay at the medical examiner’s office for a couple more weeks for further tests. After that it will be up to the biological father to decide burial plans. He did tell a reporter from the Boston Herald that he would be comfortable with her being buried in Winthrop Cemetery because his great grandmother is also buried there.
City Manager Jay Ash said that despite his disappointment with the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s (MGC) decision to award the casino license to Wynn Resorts over Mohegan Sun, he’s ready to work with Wynn and take a second look at their project and how it will affect Chelsea.
Ash and Chelsea officials were decidedly in favor of the Mohegan project, mostly because Mohegan had signed a much more lucrative Surrounding Community Agreement (SCA) with Chelsea than did Wynn. Also, officials repeatedly said Mohegan had been much easier to work with than the Wynn negotiators.
All of that if in the past now, though, and Ash said he’s ready to move forward.
“In terms of Wynn, I’m willing to take a new look at their project,” he said. “I don’t believe we’ve seen the last iteration. There are some flaws, most notably around traffic issues, that need to be resolved, and I know they are working to address them. I’m open to looking at what they come up with and especially see how it impacts Chelsea and the region as a whole. There are many benefits of having 4,000 jobs and $1.6 billion in investment less than a mile from our borders. I’m planning on continuing to work on this and hope to line Chelsea up for more benefits if and when the resort casino there does open.”
Ash also said he does plan to support a ‘No’ vote on Question 3 in the November ballot – a vote that would be for keeping the casino legislation and the Wynn project. He said that despite being frustrated with the decision for Wynn, he isn’t backtracking on the gaming industry.
“I’m disappointed with the Gaming Commission decision, but that doesn’t change the fundamental reasons why I support expanded gaming here in Massachusetts,” he said. “We’re exporting more than $1 billion in investment, tens-of-thousands-of-jobs, and $400 million in tax revenues to Connecticut and Rhode Island, and not getting anything in return. We should keep that investment, those jobs and that tax revenue here, and we should enter into what is a $50 billion industry in the country. In Boston alone, there are 20 million visitors a year. Developing out resort casinos will strengthen our tourism and hospitality industries and further broaden our economy so we are not susceptible to major downturns…In short, I think we export too much and have little to show for it, and I believe we can create an industry here that can manage the potential downside while given us additional economic and entertainment benefits.”
After mostly staying out of the casino repeal vote discussion, Wynn Resorts announced last weekend that they would become involved in the ‘No on 3’ campaign over the next month.
When the casino company won their license on Sept. 16, officials from Wynn said they hadn’t made a decision, but as a rule their organization tended to stay out of ballot box issues.
Last weekend, they changed their tune and decided to defend the coveted license they just won last month.
“We will participate with Protect Mass Jobs to provide information to voters about the impact of our industry,” said Wynn spokesman Michael Weaver. “Ultimately and appropriately, the voters of the Commonwealth will decide. They deserve to have factual information which will allow them to make an informed decision.”
Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria said he applauded Wynn for deciding to get involved in the ballot question because the question is confusing to voters.
“I think it’s absolutely necessary for everyone to get involved so people know exactly what they’re voting on,” he said. “There are people who want casinos and think they have to vote ‘yes,’ but a ‘yes’ vote is against casinos. I applaud Wynn for getting involved and I think they need to be out there to set the record straight on many facts of the Wynn site – getting the right information out there and not allowing others to distort the facts…The question is written to fool people and to trick people. These questions are long and tedious and the information needs to be out there for people before they go to the polls.”
The Everett ‘No on 3’ campaign – also called the Coalition to Protect Mass Jobs – said they were glad to see Wynn Resorts join their effort. However, they said Wynn’s resources didn’t change the strategy of reaching people face-to-face and through the grass roots.
“It doesn’t change our game plan, but Mr. Wynn definitely brings credibility and strength to the effort because he’s a guy originally from Massachusetts and is so important in the industry,” said Everett’s Michael McLaughlin. “There are things and strategies that are going to happen no matter who joins the fight. I am glad Mr. Wynn joined because I think he realizes this is about getting the right information out there about his project. It’s about his duty at this point to try to help us help his industry. I think that’s what he did by joining the Coalition to Protect Mass Jobs.”
In 1968, Arnie Casavant was laid up at the old Chelsea Naval Hospital after having been injured while in the military.
The Rhode Island native was fond of his days recovering at the hospital, but he didn’t give Chelsea much thought until a decade ago.
After a failed bid to buy a retirement condo in New Hampshire one day 10 years ago, Casavant and his wife, Kathleen, were driving back down Rt. 1 to Boston in a kind of funk.
As they approached Chelsea, Casavant suggested they take a spin through the old Naval Hospital to change the pace of the day. They never found the Naval Hospital, as it was long gone by then, but they found Chelsea and they stayed.
Now, over the past 10 years that they’ve lived here, Casavant has found his artistic stride and at the Art Walk this weekend he’ll be presenting art and teaching art.
“Moving to Chelsea and starting to paint more coincided with me attending my first Art Walk,” Casavant, 66, said this week. “Fortunately for me it was a stepping stone. I had a show at Spencer Lofts and Pearl Street Gallery as a result of the Art Walk. It just spiraled from there. I started painting a lot more after and it turned into a whole new career. I have a studio in [the South End] in Boston and I am in a gallery in Cape Cod. The success I’m having now started because of the Chelsea Art Walk and the folks I met there.”
This year at the walk, Casavant will not only be showing his work at several of the nine venues, but also he’ll be teaching drawing at the Community Garden on Sunday.
That will be nothing new for him.
Casavant moved to Chelsea from “the ‘Burbs” he said after teaching art in Easton, MA for 30 years. So, teaching drawing will be nothing new for the retired teacher and budding artist.
“I’m excited this year to be offering a drawing workshop at the Community Garden,” he said. “It’s going to be about two or three hours helping adults learn to draw. I think we’ll add something really special to the Art Walk. There’s nothing better than to help adults find out what they want to focus on artistically.”
Casavant’s focus, however, is no secret, and many might have met him on the streets as he has painted urban scenes “on location.”
One of the things that attracted him to Chelsea were those gritty and vibrant urban scenes. He has taken to the Mystic/Tobin Bridge, the industrial oil tanks, and even the colorful fruit stands in and around Bellingham Square.
His favorite, however, is the Bridge.
“It’s always there for me to paint,” he said. “I’ve probably painted it more times than I can recall.”
Often, Casavant can be seen throughout the streets of the city painting on the sidewalk or in a park with his easel. He’s not shy, he said, and enjoys it when people come up to him and ask him what he’s doing.
“Chelsea has provided me with a lot of paintings and when I have a show in Chelsea, it’s so well received and people really come out to see it,” he said. “I think people in Chelsea have a lot of pride in their community. Many times I’m painting and and old timer will engage me in a conversation and tell me about how the City used to be. They’re interested in what I’m doing and they love the city. There may be some rough edges to Chelsea, but the heart of the community has a lot of pride.”
While many trek off to Florida or up to Maine for their retirement years, Casavant said he and his wife have found the perfect retirement enclave in Chelsea.
“Painting has added so much to my life and Chelsea has had so much to do with that,” he said. “Here we are 10 years later and we love the city and the proximity to Boston. We just can’t go back to the ‘Burbs. We can’t do the Applebee’s on Friday night with the kids and then the Mall on Saturday. We did all that with our son and we can’t go back.”