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Judge halts blasting in Boston Harbor tomorrow over fears it could collapse trench for new electrical service to Deer Island

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.

PDF icon Judge's complete order51.48 KB


"doh!" - Homer Simpson voice.
The Order is dated January 15, 2018. No one over at DC caught that?

Voting closed 12

The date is correct further down in the order.

Voting closed 7

Not really relevant at this point, but was it really easier to run an electric cable under the harbor than by land?

Voting closed 6

They can lay one cable if by land, two if by sea.

Voting closed 29

Have you looked at a Map recently?

Follow the most direct route from South Boston to Deer Island by land -- you'll see that it involves many miles of digging though very congested areas as well as crossing both the Charles and Mystic Rivers and even possibly Chelsea Creek. The most direct land route would probably be a decade in permitting.

After that process was complete and Eversource and the MWRA had the necessary approvals -- Well, there would undoubtedly be lawsuits by many interested parties. Some of whom might actually have legitimate concerns, while others would just be doing what they do best -- make work for lawyers.

In the end the Rate Payers for Sewage and the Rate Payers for Electricity would all be paying a whole lot more for a project which just involves a bit of digging in the bottom of Boston Harbor

Voting closed 5

Why does electricity have to come from South Boston?

Voting closed 5

Is not to complete the respective projects, but to stretch them out and extort more money from the public. There can be no other root cause.

Voting closed 4

Any big brains out there know if dredging the harbor helps or hurts with the rising sea level/flooding?

It would be quite the trade-off if it will make flooding worse down the road.

Voting closed 7

rising sea level? Honest question.

Voting closed 3

I suppose theoretically it could alter the geometry of the harbor to cause some sort of amplification of tidal currents to worsen storm surge or something, but I wouldn't rate that as particularly likely.

Alternatively: by deepening the harbor, and thus the ocean as a whole, it should help alleviate sea level rising! I'd estimate somewhere around a picometer of mitigation!

Voting closed 5

“Deepening, streamlining and widening the shipping channel over time had caused a dramatic change in the hydrodynamics of the estuary.”

“Dredging smooths the bottom of a channel, eliminating natural obstructions like dunes, rocks, grasses and oyster beds that impede flow, transforming it from a rough off-road trail into a slick NASCAR raceway. Without that drag on water flow, less energy is lost, increasing the incoming tide and storm surges.”


Voting closed 10