(Boston Natural Areas Network/Schneider Studio)
Ongoing negotiations between city and state officials have reached a consensus on the most likely route to extend the East Boston Greenway from Bremen Street Park to Constitution Beach, but some local residents feel shut out of the conversation.
A Massachusetts Port Authority official came before the Boston Conservation Commission on Wednesday night to present an update on the negotiations, in what has become almost a ritual since the commission instructed the agency at its March 23 hearing to work with the community to reach an accord.
Dozens of community members and five local nonprofit groups had told the commission they would not support Massport’s plan to build a new, more environmentally friendly bus depot at the northern edge of Logan International Airport unless a long-sought continuation of the existing greenway path was included in the plan.
This week, Tom Ennis, a senior planner for Massport, said negotiations between that agency, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority had been productive. Though no plan can be finalized without a formal agreement between all government entities that own parts of the route, Ennis said planners had generally agreed that a route between the new depot site and the MBTA Blue Line tracks northwest of the site was the most viable option.
Commissioner Vivien Li asked Ennis whether beginning construction on the depot before the route plan is settled would obstruct the construction of the pathway. He said it would not because the consensus route goes through a buffer area already set aside north of the depot.
Depot construction is scheduled to begin around Aug. 20 and expected to take 12 – 18 months. Ennis said a time frame for the pathway has not been discussed but guessed that construction would take from six months to one year.
As in past meetings, tensions between Massport and the commission were evident, with Chairman Charles Button and Commissioner Stephen Kunian pressing Ennis on details of the plan and the negotiation process. When Ennis offered caveats about the number of approvals needed for the path, Kunian accused Ennis of hedging rather than committing to a plan.
“I think you’re hearing hedging only because I can’t speak for the city,” Ennis said. “[I can’t] say that the city is going to allow Massport to build this on [the city’s] own property, even though I suspect that they will. I can’t say for sure that the MBTA will say, ‘Yes, you can build this greenway on our property.’”
Kunian had further questions for Ennis after Gail Miller, president of Airport Impact Relief Inc., told the commission she was concerned that East Boston residents hadn’t been invited to participate in the negotiations.
Gretchen Schneider, an architect hired by the Boston Natural Areas Network to design the greenway extension, has participated in some meetings between Massport and the BRA, but no representatives from the several local groups advocating for the extension has been invited.
“I’m not necessarily criticizing the movement forward,” Miller said. “I’m assuming it’s going fast. We’re just not at the table.”
Asked by Kunian why a representative from the East Boston Greenway Council has not been included in the negotiations, Ennis responded, “Talk to the BRA.” Ennis had said earlier that Massport is following the city authority’s lead in the negotiation process.
“Do you have an objection?” Kunian asked.
“[I have to] talk to Lowell before I can answer that,” Ennis said. Lowell Richards is Massport’s chief development officer. Richards had spoken for the agency at previous commission hearings but was unable to attend the July 13 hearing.
Kunian said the community should have been involved with the negotiations from the start to ensure that the government agencies did not agree among themselves on a plan and then present it to residents as a “fait accompli.”
The commission agreed to send a letter to Massport, the BRA, and the MBTA encouraging them to include a member of the Greenway Council or another community organization advocating for the greenway in the negotiations. The letter will also request that representatives of all three agencies appear at the commission’s Sept. 21 meeting for a further update on planning.
Previous coverage on East Boston Greenway negotiations:
Commission calls on Massport to work with East Boston residents
After a tense hearing, talks on greenway extension will continue
East Boston moves one step closer to a greenway connector
Progress seen on plan to extend East Boston Greenway
Email Jeremy C. Fox at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)