Hi, I'm back.
[EDIT] Sorry, but I had it wrong when I described one of the locations proposed for the heliport. It's not on Fish Pier but on the pier that goes out from behind the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion.
It was a packed house at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center (BCEC), on Wednesday night, as the local community gathered for a public hearing on a proposal to build a heliport facility somewhere in or near the South Boston Waterfront / Seaport District / Fort Point Channel.
Approximately 150 people turned out to listen to local and state officials and to offer their own thoughts on the idea. Boston City Council President Michelle Wu was chair of the hearing, in the stead of District 1 City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, parks, recreation, and transportation chairman on the Council, who was unable to attend.
The meeting was called by City Councilor-at-Large Michael Flaherty, who lives in South Boston, and was in attendance, as was District 2 City Councilor Bill Linehan*, who is also a resident of the neighborhood. (As am I, obv.)
The idea of building a heliport came about last year when Boston and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts officials were negotiating a package of incentives to convince General Electric (GE) to move its world headquarters from Fairfield, Connecticut to Boston. Successful in its bid, the city and state are now looking for a suitable location, logically expected to be close to GE’s new building off Necco Court, in the Fort Point.
Boston had a helistop until ~1999, when it was torn down in preparation for the construction of the BCEC. There was also one on Nashua Street, apparently. Neither are around, any longer. There are five privately-owned helipads located around downtown Boston, at hospitals including Tufts Medical, Boston Medical, Brigham & Women’s, Mass General, and at the Boston Globe and WBZ-TV.
The new heliport, if built, wouldn’t be for the exclusive use by GE but by anyone willing to pay the landing fees. (Presumably, other corporations, private individuals, and local radio & TV news stations.) Helicopters used to provide tours would not be allowed, however, according to the proposal.
The first half of the meeting was filled with remarks from the city councilors (District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson arrived later, gave his comments, then departed), and information presentations by City of Boston Economic Development Chief John Barros, Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, Thomas Glynn of the Massachusetts Port Authority, among others.
The audience seemed to be made up mostly of South Boston residents; namely, from the Fort Point Channel. This was obvious after Secretary Pollack announced that there were no plans to build the heliport in their neighborhood, and loud sighs of relief were heard while cheering and clapping broke out.
Pleasing everyone, the assembled officials were able to explain the differences between a helipad, helistop, and heliport (but not hellagood). A helipad is the actual landing surface that a helicopter lands on (usually with a big “H” on it). A helistop has a helipad where helicopters can land and take off, but helicopters aren’t stored there and no maintenance or refueling is performed. A heliport has a helipad for landings and takeoffs, plus a “hangar” (for lack of a better term) and facilities for maintenance and refueling. Think of a helistop as bus stop and a heliport as a bus station.
While officials at the meeting didn’t explicitly say which of the two (helistop or heliport) was the preferred type of facility, it was pretty clear to me that they’re looking to go all-in on this, with a heliport.
There will be an estimated 14 trips a day, to begin with. Which means, 14 take-offs and 14 landings, or 28 total. That seemed to surprise a lot of people, who figured it was going to be only GE and maybe a couple of other companies, each day.
Nothing final has been decided but one proposed location for the heliport would be near the Boston Fish Pier, perhaps built on the water.
EDIT: No, according to overheard projections reposted on Twitter by a DOT official, this proposed location would be at the end of the pier where the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion is currently located.
Once the officials were done with their presentations, audience members were able to go up to the podium and speak (it was a public hearing, after all). Approximately 20 people stood up. To a person, neighbors who spoke were against the proposal. The number one concern was noise, which makes sense.
While many in the audience were relieved to hear that any proposed location of the heliport would be further away from their homes than they first feared, a lot of concern was expressed by those who perceive that the city and state have been taking advantage of them, as well as those who thought the benefits of the project - financial growth - didn’t outweigh the costs - noise, inconvenience, congestion, aviation fuel odors and spillages, potential terrorist attacks (srsly).
More than one person wondered aloud why South Boston residents had to deal with broken down trains, crowded buses, and long lines while company executives would be able to hop on a helicopter for a quick ride to Logan or down to Manhattan.
One speaker toward the end pointed out that it took an hour and a half before the words “South Boston” were uttered by anyone, even though it was his neighborhood that was being affected by it. “I feel like I’m at a Benghazi hearing where they won’t utter the words ‘Radical Islam’.”
A representative from the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion spoke about how having the heliport located at the Fish Market would mean the end to summer-evening performances, and to many hours of paid work by local residents. “Imagine Tony Bennett or Bonnie Raitt trying to sing over that,” he said. (Personal preference: all the better!)
Several people rose in support. Two were involved in aviation. One spoke on behalf of the New England Helicopter Council. (BREAKING: there’s something called the New England Helicopter Council; who knew?) Also, a guy who uses helicopters for medical flights, who needs a facility in-town, but not one owned by the hospitals.
I had originally expected to speak in support of the proposal, regardless of its location, but everyone’s comments had a strong effect on me, and I am now opposed.
I rose to ask several questions. I wanted to know why Logan Airport had been ruled out as a location. There was some talk of it being too expensive and also difficult since helicopters had to contend with airline traffic congestion, something that apparently won’t be a problem across Boston Harbor ... Also, will there be / has there been any conversations with the Boston Globe about their location, especially now that the newspaper is relocating and selling its land.
Then, I pointed out that having a heliport in the Seaport - sorry; South Boston Waterfront - was going to have a serious, negative effect on anyone living there, or planning on moving there. If I was working as a real estate broker with a buyer, I would say in no uncertain terms, “Don’t Buy Here”, at least not until it’s up and running and we can see what the effects will be.
No matter what mitigation is possible, it seems impossible that the heliport won’t cause inconveniences for residents of the neighborhood. Bad for potential buyers, and bad for homeowners who already live there who can’t sell because of the uncertainty. [We rent, so I’m not too concerned for myself. If the heliport was so noisy I could hear it from D Street, we’d move.]
The city has kind of cornered itself, here, in my opinion. For the past 15 years, the city’s leadership (mostly under Mayor Menino) was to turn the SBW Seaport into a “Live, Work, Play” neighborhood with a third made up of residential, a third of commercial / retail, and a third .. I don’t remember, either “parks and open space” or “other”.
Trying to make that work has turned out to be more difficult than perhaps originally expected. It’s to be expected - residents, in general, will have many more concerns than office workers or restaurant-goers. The IndyCar race imploded precisely for this reason - neighbors didn’t want to deal with the perceived negative effects, especially when they didn’t see any benefits.
Yes, most residents in the SBW Seaport realize they live in a city and that they will encounter problems / issues they wouldn’t expect if they lived in the suburbs, but things like suddenly plopping down an aircraft facility in your backyard would give anyone pause.
The state has set a deadline of the end of this year to collect public input with a location selected in January 2017. They mentioned something about a group being appointed to make the decision, although details were not provided.
*Interesting to see several attendees at the meeting. It's open gossip that District 2 City Councilor Bill Linehan might be either retiring or moving on to another position with the city, opening the seat up for the first time in over a decade. Seen in the audience was Ed Flynn, who spoke on the proposal, Dan Manning, and Michael Kelley. Two other potential candidates were not seen.