Commonwealth Magazine

THIS END OF SESSION The season is one in which the Legislative Assembly’s aversion to transparency and penchant for backroom deals become the mortar and pestle of terrible political decisions at the expense of the public interest.

The economic development bill passed by the House of Representatives is the latest example. Quietly hidden in the bill was an amendment that would exempt a huge tract of land in Everett from state laws that govern waterfront development and protect the public trust. Report by the Boston Globe’s Andrea Estes and Matt Stout revealed that the amendment arose out of behind-the-scenes discussions aimed at advancing the billionaire Kraft family’s interest in developing a football stadium on the site.

The land in question is the site of the Mystic Generating Station, a critical real estate feature on the City of Everett waterfront, and the scale of this redevelopment project would impact Everett residents and workers. and on residents of the surrounding Charlestown, Chelsea, Somerville, and Malden neighborhoods.

Why was the parcel removed from waterfront regulation and a designated port area in the rush to end the session without public input? Mystic’s factory won’t be decommissioned until at least 2024, so it’s not an emergency. And aside from the merits of a football stadium, no public argument has been made to exempt any appropriate redevelopment on the site from laws prioritizing dependent water uses with public access to water.

Affected communities should have a voice in the future of the site and should have the influence that current law provides to protect their interests in the redevelopment process. At the very least, they should be informed that waterfront access rights are being sacrificed on the altar of an influential developer.

The amendment passed the House without committee intervention and with little or no debate in the hall. If the amendment passes as part of the final economic development bill, it will extinguish public trust rights to the land, exclude the public of Everett and surrounding communities from an essential part of the redevelopment process. and will permanently prevent all Commonwealth residents from exercising their constitutional rights to access the Site.

The State Waterfront Development Act (Cap 91) codifies the Commonwealth’s constitutional responsibility to preserve and protect the rights of the public to trust lands and to ensure that private uses of tidal areas and waterways serve an appropriate public purpose. Water-dependent and non-water-dependent projects on wetlands are subject to licensing to ensure they meet certain standards that preserve and promote public access and benefit. This amendment would allow the redevelopment of this site to bypass this long-standing process.

Residents of Everett and surrounding communities have long been excluded from access to the waterfront due to its historically industrial nature. Allowing redevelopment of this property to circumvent the Port Boundary Amendment process and the Chapter 91 review process that would otherwise ensure long-awaited public access and benefits to area residents is impermissible.

The law applies to all other waterfront developments in Massachusetts. Yet this amendment would deprive residents of the ability to meaningfully participate in and meaningfully influence the redevelopment process, access water in accordance with their public trust rights, or benefit from site redevelopment.

We have already started to see a worrying trend of Commonwealth waterfront privatization and the loss of waterfront industrial jobs in recent years. Allowing this amendment to stand would set a dangerous precedent and seriously undermine the state’s public trust responsibilities. It jeopardizes public access to the waterfront across the Commonwealth by signaling to developers that legislative exemptions to state law are an acceptable route to increasing private land values ​​and private profits at the expense of residents. .

Now that the basis for this amendment has been unearthed, it is time for the best nature angels in the Legislative Assembly to prevail. The Senate must refuse any similar amendment in its chamber, and members of both chambers should give a nod to restoring public trust by omitting this thoughtless provision when reconciling Senate and House bills. .

Bradley Campbell is the president of the Conservation Law Foundation.

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