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Beyond The Big Dig
About this project

What happens to the ribbon of land being created by the depression of the Central Artery may be the most important development decision to face Boston in a generation.

Turf battles

Key legislator questions need to create trust for Big Dig land

By Thomas C. Palmer Jr., Globe Staff, 9/21/2002

With opposition growing to the creation of a public trust to control the Surface Artery land left behind by the Big Dig, a key legislator yesterday said a new organization may not be needed.

Senator Robert A. Havern III, an Arlington Democrat who is cochairman of the Legislature's Transportation Committee, said the matter of who should own and control 30 acres from Causeway to Kneeland streets may be too complicated to resolve now.

''In my opinion, the trust document we put together only complicated it more,'' Havern told the transportation group MoveMass at a breakfast meeting yesterday.

But a top city official disagreed, saying there will be no way to maintain the new parks without a trust.

''The conversation seems to be focusing excessively on governance,'' said Boston Redevelopment Authority director Mark Maloney. ''The other side is funding.'' If state officials ''aren't going to be sure the parks are funded, we won't have good parks,'' he said.

Over the summer, state and city officials failed to establish by law a nonprofit organization, headed by seven political appointees, to manage development parcels and open space in the corridor above the new Central Artery tunnels.

Although the area for parks or open space, excluding sidewalks, is only about 10 acres, Havern said, ''In some ways, the trust document looked like we were trying to recreate the United Nations.''

Maloney agreed that the proposed legislation was complex.

''It solved complex problems,'' Maloney said. ''The legislation can be simplified, but I don't want to see it eviscerated.''

Havern cautioned that he was speaking only for himself, not for other legislators. But his message was an echo of what was said Thursday at the first of three public hearings on how the Surface Artery should be managed.

''Instead of having a park-management organization, we're creating a redevelopment organization,'' Rob Tuchmann, cochairman of the Mayor's Surface Artery Restoration Task Force, told a sparsely attended session of the Transportation Committee.

The legislation Tuchmann referred to was written during the spring and summer but was not shown to the public or even to groups involved in Surface Artery planning until about two weeks before the end of the legislative session.

It was supported by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran, and Acting Governor Jane M. Swift, but questions were raised immediately about the proposed trust, including whether it might turn into another semi-independent agency with political problems, like the Massachusetts Turnpike and Port authorities.

Although Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham in the end endorsed creation of a trust, Havern acknowledged yesterday that many in the Senate had not been as enthusiastic about it.

Tuchmann proposed removing the half-dozen development parcels in the corridor from the equation and allowing a trust to focus exclusively on the open space.

''The power in the trust would become much less pronounced,'' he said. The Turnpike Authority and the BRA could manage parcels slated for development, he suggested.

In fact, in the absence of a trust, the Turnpike Authority and the BRA have been attempting to work out a memorandum of understanding that would outline how the design and construction of open space would proceed.

Maloney said the city is awaiting an answer on the latest draft, which is in the Turnpike Authority's hands.

''We don't think the turnpike has the capacity to design or oversee the parks even on an interim basis'' without BRA assistance, Maloney said.

But Havern said yesterday that he would knock heads together if the two organizations don't agree on a process.

''I hope they do it voluntarily,'' Havern said. ''But if they don't, I will file legislation next week requiring the turnpike and the BRA to cooperate on the Surface Artery. After 15 years, we don't want 10 acres of gravel out there.''

Richard Dimino, president of the Artery Business Committee, agreed with Havern.

''The trust concept may not be necessary at this time, and may not in fact be politically viable, particularly in light of a transition of a new governor and new Senate president,'' Dimino said. ''Instead, a formal agreement between the BRA and Mass. Turnpike Authority teaming up with the guidance of a panel of experts could work toward successfully overseeing the design process.''

The Turnpike Authority, with responsibility for managing the Central Artery/Ted Williams Tunnel project and finishing the Surface Artery strip, is proceeding on its own to select design teams.

Havern's counterpart on the Transportation Committee, Representative Joseph C. Sullivan, a Democrat from Braintree, seemed discouraged at the lack of progress toward a governing body but was not yet ready to give up.

''This is a continuation of what we started a few years ago,'' he said at Thursday's hearing. ''We're going to continue to stay with it till we get it right.''

Yesterday, Sullivan said he would prefer to amend the legislation to accommodate the objections currently being heard and pass it.

''My sense is that a singular entity would be able to offer a total commitment to this jewel that is being created,'' Sullivan said.

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

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