A coalition of activists from Chelsea, Revere, East Boston and Everett joined together at the Williams School in Chelsea last Thursday night to update residents on Global Oil’s plan to begin shipping ethanol into the area via train and storing the hazardous material at its facility on the East Boston/Revere line.
While Global’s plans have been slowed recently at the state level by legislation co-sponsored by Chelsea Senator Sal DiDomenico, local environmental activists are leaving nothing to chance and are continuing to keep the issue at the forefront of their agenda.
DiDomenico along with East Boston Senator Anthony Petruccelli became the first elected official 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 Everett, Chelsea and Revere. DiDomenico and Petruccelli added an amendment to a state transportation bond bill that would prohibit the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from issuing Global a Chapter 91 license to build the ethanol storage facility on the Revere/Eastie line until a comprehensive safety study is completed.
The measure was passed during the last legislative session with help from Representative Gene O’Flaherty in the House.
At last week’s meeting both DiDomenico and O’Flaherty reaffirmed their commitment to fighting the proposed ethanol-shipping plan.
“We have a strong team working up at state house on this issue and for us this issue is second to
none,” said DiDomenico. “This is a regional issue that affects many cities and towns so we were able legislatively to temporarily stop what is happening.”
What concerns DiDomenico the most is that in some cases the trains that would haul the ethanol into the area pass some 15 to 20 feet from homes, schools and parks.
“What is unfortunate for the people trying to make this happen is that we have seen what can happen if one of these trains derails,” said DiDomenico. “So you can rest a sure that the people representing you are making sure we have the answers and are 100 percent committed to working hand in hand with the impacted communities to find ways to stop this from happening.”
O’Flaherty said at the meeting that Global’s proposal caught elected officials a little off guard.
“When we are being preempted by other authorities or uncertain about the public safety ramifications of a particular project we can pass legislation to do a study to slow down the process,” said O’Flaherty. “There are a lot of uncertainties if one of these trains should derail and there is an accident. In terms of these ethanol trains we need more answers such as what would be required by first responders—police, fire, etc.—and what exactly they would be facing in a hypothetical situation like an ethanol fire. We think those questions deserve answers.”
At the meeting, activists pointed to the legislation and subsequent study Global would have to conduct before moving forward. The study would include safety and environmental impacts along the proposed train route and subsequent storage facility. This would include the proximity to homes, nursing homes, schools and day cares along the train route as well as studying the proximity between residential areas and the proposed ethanol storage facility.
Activists pointed out that during a recent City of Boston hearing on the issue, the Boston Fire Department stated that a special foam being handled by a specially trained firefighting force is the only way to put out a ethanol fire. However, the BFD did not elaborate if they currently have the capability of fighting an ethanol fire.
At the meeting a map of Eastie, Chelsea, Everett and Revere showed just how many people would have to be evacuated in order to contain an ethanol fire. If a train derailed in Chelsea mostly all of Chelsea would have to be evacuated with parts of Eastie, Everett and Revere suffering impacts that would force thousands from their homes.
In Eastie, places like Byron, Moore and Bennington Streets in St. Mary’s Parish and the backside of Eagle Hill would suffer immediate impacts.
Again, activists pointed to incidents in Rockford, Illinois and rural Ohio as examples of how ethanol trains, or ‘bomb trains’ as they’ve been dubbed by opponents, wreaked havoc in largely unpopulated areas. The activists wondered what would happen in more densely populated areas and the type of devastation that would ensue if a train derailed here.
In 2009 an Ethanol train derailed and exploded in Rockford, Illinois. The accident killed one and hurt nine others in the rural town. It took 24-hours for the fire to be contained forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people from their homes.
While most Ethanol trains do operate without incident every day around the U.S., on some occasions trains have had accidents in which the Ethanol product has exploded in a chain reaction, causing great fires.
Most of those explosions have happened in remote, rural areas because Ethanol isn’t typically transported through dense, residential urban neighborhoods.
Global’s plan, however, would call for ethanol trains traversing through residential areas on the commuter rail tracks in 25 cities and towns, including Eastie, Revere and Chelsea.
The trains would come down the commuter rail line from Ayer/Ft. Devins during the night hours when the commuter trains are not running. It would pass through the western suburbs and into Boston, where it would then transfer onto the Chelsea line and end up on the Eastie/Revere line, backing into the Global Oil terminal.
No one is exactly sure what the plan is for bringing in such large quantities of the product. Many companies do ship ethanol into the area by truck and by sea barge, but Global’s plan, by far, exceeds any quantities now coming in.
Each train would carry around 1.8 million gallons of Ethanol and there are expected to be at least two trains per week. Each tank car on the train holds 30,000 gallons.
Some believe Global will be using the Ethanol to blend much larger quantities of gasoline in order to supply a recent acquisition of hundreds of Exxon Mobile gas stations throughout New England.