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MassPort is set to take over vacant park parcel

Posted by Cara Bayles  December 10, 2010 06:19 PM

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About 13 acres set aside as parkland in 1994 will likely become a byway for trucks entering and exiting a container terminal

The land includes a parcel that the state Legislature passed from the Department of Conservation and Recreation to the Massachusetts Port Authority in July. The lot is on the Reserved Channel about 500 feet away from East First Street, behind the MBTA's emergency back-up power plant.

The MBTA is giving MassPort 3.7 more acres on the east side of its power plant, which will connect the other parcel with East First. The DCR will give the MBTA a 1.5 acre sliver of land abutting the west side of the MBTA's property (about 800 feet down from the corner with L Street).

That means MassPort will gain nearly 17 acres, which will be used to create a new access road for the Conley Container Terminal. The recreation department will turn over about 15 acres that was given to its predecessor, the Metropolitian District Commission, as park land.

"It wasn't a mandate, they didn't say, 'Create a park here.' They gave it as park land in an effort to keep it from being developed," says conservation and recreation spokeswoman Wendy Fox.

The transfer also calls for a 100-foot "buffer zone" along East First Street to help reduce noise and visual impacts for nearby residents. Utility vehicles will be able to cross the buffer zone access road, but freight cannot.

Matt Brelis, a spokesman for MassPort, said that the 100-foot buffer zone, which spans nearly 2,000 feet along East First Street, would have a park land designation.

"It's not an even acre-for-acre swap, but it's not as if we're grabbing parkland away, either," Brelis said.

Fox said that the land is in a historically industrial area. "I don't think anyone at DCR sees it as a loss," she said.

"That piece of property is not near any other DCR parkland, it's not contiguous, so it's not a priority property for creating a park," Fox said. "There are enough contaminants in the soil, that for DCR to create an urban park would require an estimated several million dollars in remediation efforts, which the agency doesn't really have."

Fox didn't know exactly what contaminants remain, but the area has raised concern among health advocates. The adjacent power station on L Street and East First came under fire in the early '90s, when residents claimed it was contributing to the area's high rates of lung cancer and respiratory illness.

The plant was also once believed to have caused a high rate of scleroderma -- an autoimmune disease -- in South Boston, though recent studies suggest the disease is more likely to be genetic than environmental.

Lisa Langone, also with MassPort, said in an e-mail that the haul road will reduce visual and noise impact associated with the Reserved Channel. She added that during a community meeting in February 2010 and during a Castle Island Association Meeting in June, MassPort "received support by South Boston residents for the planned project."

The Castle Island Association and nearby neighborhood civic associations did not respond to requests for comment.

The land transfer has been sanctioned by state law, and will officially go through when an engineering study is completed, the road's layout is finalized, and a budget for the project is established, according to Langone.

E-mail Cara Bayles at carabayles@gmail.com.

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