2020 was a very unusual and challenging year in many ways. It was a year in which we needed to address racial inequities, a global health crisis, and continue to stare down the existential threat posed by climate change. We have learned many lessons from the past year; among them, that our mental and physical health is enhanced by the availability of quality open spaces where we can safely recreate and congregate. The 43 miles of completed Harborwalk, the linear pathway that allows for access to much of Boston’s waterfront, and the parks along it were among the open spaces to which residents turned for solace and exercise, but we know that it is not uniformly welcoming or prepared for the impacts of climate change.
At Boston Harbor Now, we are committed to creating a welcoming, accessible, and resilient waterfront for all now and in the future.
One of the primary ways that Boston Harbor Now has advocated for the waterfront is by shaping development proposals by submitting public comments on projects as they work their way through state and local permitting processes. Last year, our Planning and Policy team submitted eighteen comment letters to local and state government agencies regarding private development proposals, utility infrastructure siting decisions, and proposed changes to our state transportation system. Each of these letters focused on minimizing the impacts that these projects would have on our most vulnerable populations. In some cases, this meant preserving transit service for workers. In others, it meant ensuring that destinations were being created along our shared waterfront that are accessible and welcoming to all, and where you could spend a day without spending a lot of money. Another comment letter pushed developers to consider the impact that their resilience measures would have on protecting other people and buildings in their neighborhoods.
The projects at 5 and 15 Necco Street, once slated to be the headquarters for General Electric along the Fort Point channel, have been updated to include additional coastal adaptation measures along the elevated site and planted slopes that can be adapted when flooding is more regular in the area. The full build out will include promised kayak storage and rental facilities and a community space that will replace a proposed museum. Construction will begin this year.
Significant new open spaces are being designed in conjunction with other waterfront developments. The BPDA’s Fort Point 100 Acre Open Space plan is available for public review through February 5th and will guide the creation of park spaces being developed with the 244-284 A Street project. An even larger development, Dorchester Bay City, will be shaping the waterfront along the northwest corner of Columbia Point near Carson Beach and Moakley Park. We submitted comments on both of their Article 80 (City) and MEPA (Massachusetts Environmental Protection Act) filings. The Chapter 91 process for these developments is likely to take place in the coming year.
With our focus on expanding and improving water transportation, we were concerned in January that a proposed seaplane service would disrupt ferry service at Long Wharf. We never could have anticipated that the MBTA would temporarily halt their ferry services (March to June) and then propose more long term reductions (starting this spring). We have been actively advocating to preserve these routes and to ensure their return when the Commonwealth moves beyond the pandemic and tourism and office work return.
There are also more controversial projects that we have been monitoring carefully. Residents of East Boston remain heavily opposed to the Eversource Substation at the edge of Eagle Hill and have asked for additional outreach and language access at meetings as well as a restart of the siting process. The proposed Pinnacle Development that would replace the Harbor Garage at Central Wharf is in compliance with the Downtown Municipal Harbor Plan, but that plan is being scrutinized in court and the neighbors, including the New England Aquarium, remain strongly opposed.
All of our comment letters from 2020 are available online along with letters from past years. We welcome your thoughts and insights as we continue to work towards and look forward to a brighter, more accessible, and more resilient future.