Friday, October 16, 2009

Shenigans with the Fenway project

Massachusetts DoT (Department of Transportation) officials have secretly re-designed and re-negotiated the Fenway Center air rights proposal’s design and business deal, without any public comment, review, or disclosure.

Throughout 2008, the original proposal was published for review, discussed at many public meetings, and subject to public comment periods. But the new proposal was never published, no public meetings were held, no public comments were solicited, and DoT quietly approved it behind closed doors.

The Fenway Center Citizens Advisory Committee never saw the new proposal that DoT approved on 15 October 2009. And most Citizens Advisory Committees seats are owned by development teams, which dictate to the mayor whom he can appoint.

Since 1997, the only independent public body dedicated solely to reviewing air rights proposals has been the Metropolitan Highway System Advisory Board. Having been dissolved as part of statewide transportation reform, the MHS Advisory Board held its final meeting on 14 October 2009. DoT approved the new Fenway Center the next day, which prevented Board members from taking any action on the new proposal that DoT approved without their knowledge.

DoT omitted three unresolved issues from its press release:

1. No fair market value. DoT is not charging fair market value for the Fenway Center air rights property.

2. Private projects paid for with public subsidies. No one knows whether air rights development costs more, less, or the same as land-based development, but DoT is subsidizing private developers with public funds anyway. The total taxpayer-funded bailout is $162 million, and growing.

3. Toxic site. The air above and within a few blocks of the I-90 corridor is heavy with fine and ultrafine particulate matter air pollution, which causes increased rates of birth defects, incurable illness (heart disease, lung disease, cancer), and early mortality. On 14 November 2008, Environment Secretary Ian Bowles ordered the developer to: (1) quantify the risks of building Fenway Center’s homes and offices inside the toxic air zone above the corridor, and (2) propose appropriate mitigation. That Final Environmental Impact Report, required by state law, was never published. Building homes and offices that expose occupants to serious illness is reckless public policy, because it harms the health of the occupants, raises the cost of health insurance for everyone, and increases the expenses borne by Medicare, Medicaid, and state-subsidized health care programs.

DoT just rendered the original 2008 public process pointless, by replacing it with a private process from which the public was excluded.

Ned Flaherty

15 October 2009

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