Neighbors assured: Protocols in place in case a real emergency occurs at LNG facility

The iconic tank as seen this week from Tenean Beach. Bill Forry photo

False alarm triggered big response in November

The emergency response triggered by a false alarm at the rainbow gas tank last November proved that everything worked according to plan, a National Grid representative told Clam Point Civic Association members at their monthly meeting Monday night.

Coincidentally, spokesman Joseph Carroll said, the Boston Fire Department had conducted drills at the LNG storage tank in the days leading up to the false alarm on Nov. 29.

During that week, as maintenance crews were spraying foam on exposed pipes to maintain a constant temperature, a worker inadvertently left an empty can of the foam on a tank that was so cold it caused the can to collapse and spew out a weak yellow foam. Crews were also using steam in that area of the facility at the time, Carroll said.

At around 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 29, an operator saw the foam spray coupled with the steam on a surveillance camera and thought that it showed flames on the tank. He immediately hit a button that shut off all the valves, sounded an alarm triggering an evacuation, and called the fire department, Carroll said, bringing scores of firefighters to what turned out to be a false alarm.

There were no injuries, and a thorough investigation was conducted that evening, he added.

After the briefing, association members said that they felt reassured by the level of precaution at the gas tank, but they also asked what would happen in a real emergency. Residents in Clam Point are separated from the National Grid complex only by the expressway and Morrissey Boulevard.

In what Carroll called “the unlikely event” of an emergency at the site, the protocol would include police going around with loudspeakers and reverse 911 calls to the neighborhood instructing everyone to shelter in place.

“It makes me feel better about what had happened,” one neighbor said.

The iconic, 150-foot tall tank is the canvas for the world’s largest piece of copyrighted art. The “Rainbow Swash” design includes giant stripes that are the work of Corita Kent, an artist commissioned to cover the top and sides of the old Boston Gas tank on 1971.

Also on the agenda for Monday’s meeting was an update on a 12-unit residential building development proposed for 1 and 3 Elm Street, which is a dead end road abutting the Red Line train tracks. The developers made a presentation to the group last November, but the association held off a vote because they said there was not enough time to do it properly. Due to a miscommunication, there were no representatives of the developer at the December meeting.

Some in Clam Point have voiced concern over increased density to the neighborhood, lack of privacy for neighbors, and what they felt were insufficient parking allocations, particularly on narrow Elm Street. The association did not take a vote on the Elm Street project on Monday because representatives from the developer were not present.

The next step in the process is a hearing at the Zoning Board of Appeal, without a civic association vote, said David Cotter, the mayor’s Dorchester neighborhood services representative, who encouraged concerned residents to contact the ZBA and submit letters and emails for consideration. ZBA meetings are also open for public testimony.

Cotter did not know the date of the ZBA meeting to discuss the Elm Street proposal, but he said that “it’s not in the immediate future.”