Rail plan for ethanol is decried
Hearing set for tonight as group seeks support
Eight firefighters are seen dousing a couple of rail cars, as bright flames and a plume of dark smoke engulf parts of the freight train in a still image stamped with the message: Ready for ethanol in Chelsea?
The deliberately shocking image is being used in fliers distributed by Chelsea Green Space, the environmental justice component of the nonprofit Chelsea Collaborative, to sway public opinion against a proposal by Global Partners LP to ship ethanol to its petroleum storage terminal in Revere by way of a commuter rail line used by the MBTA.
The fliers, printed in English and Spanish, implore residents to “Stop this Train!’’ and to attend a public hearing being held by the state Department of Environmental Protection at 6 p.m. Thursday in the City Council chambers at Revere City Hall.
The Waltham-based company applied for a waterways permit with the state to be allowed to conduct water-dependent industrial activity at its bulk storage tank farm at 140 Lee Burbank Highway in Revere, abutting Chelsea Creek. The estimated $2 million project would include upgrading a rail car unloading facility at the Revere terminal and splitting a spur connected to the rail line into two adjacent tracks that would hold up to 20 rail cars for unloading ethanol and other fuels.
Revere Fire Chief Gene Doherty said he has confirmed with the state Department of Fire Services that Global is proposing shipments of an estimated 1.7 million gallons of ethanol every three to five days in 60-car trains. He said that State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan told him that Massachusetts already receives ethanol shipments by rail on a regular basis, from Albany, N.Y., and Vermont into Worcester, and with some then rolling into Rhode Island. Connecting rail shipments to Revere would involve either the Route 2 or the Route 3 corridors and could affect about 40 communities, including Chelsea, Everett, and East Boston, Doherty said.
“I would rather not have the ethanol come in, but I know it’s coming. It’s inevitable,’’ Doherty said. “Railroad is a federal jurisdiction and the federal government dictates what goes on the rails. . . . local jurisdictions have no say, and we’re there.’’
Edward Faneuil, executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary at Global, said he is aware of the Thursday hearing and plans to attend, but he declined to comment on the company’s proposal or the concern of residents about transporting millions of gallons of highly flammable ethanol in densely populated communities.
Revere resident and former city councilor Edward O’Hara found out about the proposal eight months ago, while watching a Revere City Council meeting on television. He said he was so alarmed that something with such potential to affect public safety was never brought to the attention of residents that he decided to take action. Last November, Revere voters approved a nonbinding question drafted by O’Hara opposing Global’s proposal. He is now pushing the City Council to publicly support the results of the vote, after seeing that the Chelsea City Council passed a resolution Feb. 27 publicly opposing the proposal.
Councilors in Revere’s Legislative Affairs Committee, at O’Hara’s behest, voted Monday night to recommend next week that the full council publicly affirm the vote.
“This is all a terrible, terrible thing, the way this went down,’’ O’Hara said. “It’s important that the city of Revere also oppose this. We’re up against the federal government here. . . . The people of this city never got a chance to hear about it or meet about it.’’
Chelsea City Manager Jay Ash said he is “gravely concerned’’ that ethanol-filled trains might be running through the communities, and he sent letters Monday to more than a dozen mayors in cities that could be affected by the train route, asking for their support and inviting them to the Thursday hearing.
Ash said he has spoken with state and federal elected officials about his concerns, pointing out that Global could still expand its ethanol operations in a safer manner, such as transporting it by trucks, which would involve smaller shipments, or by barges, which would be monitored by the Coast Guard.
“We’re all concerned of the movement of hazardous cargo in densely populated urban areas,’’ Ash said. “We need a rational plan in this post-9/11 era for the movement of hazardous cargo.
“Is it rational to have 1.8 million gallons of ethanol to be moved in unsupervised rail? The impact [of an accident or attack] could paralyze the entire region.
“I understand the limited scope of the hearing, but I would hope the company would be more transparent about what it’s going to do and how it’s going to do this.’’