One thing the Trump shutdown didn't end was a plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to set off explosives at the bottom of Boston Harbor tomorrow to deepen a shipping channel. It took a judge to do that.
In an order today, US District Court Richard Stearns agreed with a request from Eversource to put off the blasting for at least nine days, to give Eversource and the corps a chance to try to figure out if there's a way to let the company finish installing the new cable from South Boston to Deer Island while letting the corps' channel-deepening project continue.
Both sides say any delays in their respective projects could cost ratepayers or taxpayer tens of millions of dollars.
Ironically, the reason an Eversource subsidiary is putting in a new electric line across the harbor is because the one originally installed to power the processing of Boston-area sewage in 1989 and 1990 wasn't deep enough under the harbor bottom as required by the corps to permit the very deepening it is now overseeing so that bigger cargo ships can dock at Massport's Conley Terminal in South Boston.
The corps, joined by Massport, sued Eversource and the MWRA to get them to move the cable.
Eversource settled the suit by agreeing to do so, but the company says it still needs another three months to finish the work.
In his order, Stearns lays out the basic issues and his reason for granting a nine-day delay in blasting:
The Eversource defendants maintain that the Blasting Project poses a substantial risk of collapsing the trench or creating fractures in the basement rock that will make compliance with the court’s scheduling order impossible. They also assert that the Blasting Project’s disruption of their present work schedule will result in project delay/stand down costs in excess of $50 million. The ACOE, for its part, argues that the geological risks to the New Cable trench are minimal, and in a Declaration submitted today by Matthew Tessier, the Chief of the Navigation Branch, the ACOE states that it will incur similar stand-down costs if the Blasting Project is delayed. Both sides complain of a lack of communication over coordination of the competing projects.
At the hearing held today, January 15, 2019, the court noted that the dispute unfortunately places two worthwhile and critical public interest projects at odds with one another. Maintenance of the health of Boston Harbor is dependent on the ongoing operations of the Deer Island treatment plant, any disruption of which the installation of the New Cable is meant to prevent. The Deep Draft Project, for its part, is intended to facilitate the access of larger, more modern ships to the Harbor, and as such, is important to Boston’s continued economic development. These interests converge in the long run, as the New Cable project not only insures uninterrupted electric service to Deer Island, but also sinks the existing transmission line to a depth that will allow the Deep Draft Project to proceed.
As became clear at the hearing, the court does not have enough information (nor do the parties) to make a final decision that suggestion by the Eversource defendants of a plan that may achieve a workable solution acceptable to both parties. Consistent with this suggestion, the court orders as follows: the ACOE will postpone the Blasting Project for nine (9) days from today’s date, that is, through January 24, 2019. The court further orders the parties to meet during the interim to discuss their respective project concerns and schedules, the costs and benefits to the public and the parties of delaying the New Cable project and/or the Blasting Project, the mitigation measures that each side can undertake, and the substance of a mutually agreeable plan to achieve the parties’ respective goals at the least onerous private and public cost.