Odor control facility will be going underground

If you make a stink, it will sink.

That could be the lesson the owners of the Bayside Expo Center take to heart this week after the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority board of directors voted, 7-3, to sink underground a controversial odor control facility on Columbia Point.

The facility—which will filter air exuding from a 2.1 mile-long storm water storage tunnel—has been at the center of a spat between the MWRA and Corcoran Jennison Companies. Corcoran is planning a mega multi-use development next door and feared the facility would emit a foul odor during heavy rains.

CEO Joe Corcoran Jr. said this week that he was surprised by the vote, but happy to hear about it. Dorchester pols sympathetic to Corcoran were pressuring the board, but MWRA director Fred Laskey said it was simply a matter of locating some potential sources of alternate funding. One of the objections the MWRA previously cited for not redesigning the facility was a $3 million rise in total cost that would have been passed on to the ratepayers. Corcoran refused to pay more than a fraction of that cost.

"This has been a highly debated issue and the board voted to put it in the ground," said Laskey, who in the past vociferously objected to Corcoran's suggestion to sink the facility. "We have no commitment for federal stimulus money, but we do have a slew of options that we are going to submit for—through the state revolving fund and the federal energy grants. That would give us some alternatives financially."

Laskey also cited potential legal roadblocks that could have arisen when the MWRA applied for approval for the project with the Boston Conservation Commission and the state's Chapter 91 process, both of which help regulate waterfront development.

The MWRA had delivered its Notice of Intent to the Boston Conservation Commission earlier this year, but just last week, on March 19, advised the commission of its change of plans.
"We as a staff are now working overtime to meet that federal court order so the project is completed by March, 2011," said Laskey.

The Combined Sewer Outflow project is a result of a 1980s-era court order to clean up the Boston Harbor, partially by eliminating sewer outflows into it. During heavy rains, storm runoff mixes with raw sewage in some of Boston's more antiquated sewer systems and into the harbor.

The odor control building in question would sit on the up-end of a 2.1-mile long, 17-foot wide tunnel that could store up to 18 million gallons of the mixed sewage and water. It is the largest of several tunnels and the last to be built before the court-ordered deadline. The water would then be pumped to Deer Island for treatment.

"First of all I would say hallelujah," said state Sen. Jack Hart. "This is something that I have worked on personally for better than two years and at times becoming agitated about the MWRA's reluctance to do this thing because of its importance to the Corcoran family aesthetically and practically as well."
Catherine O'Neill, who worked for two years on drumming up support for Corcoran's cause as the company's spokesperson, was among a flurry of lay-offs made earlier this year due to the economic downturn.

"The MWRA board of directors made the right decision for the residents of the city of Boston, especially the residents of Dorchester," said O'Neill in an email this week. "It was a difficult negotiation lasting almost two years and in the end, the right thing happened."

Hart said Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary Ian Bowles was instrumental in "making it happen." State Rep. Martin Walsh and District 3 City Councillor Maureen Feeney were also actively advocating to sink the facility.