Elio LoRusso, a candidate for the Ward 1 Alderman spot, has started an online petition against the possibility of freight trains carrying ethanol crossing through Somerville.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is close to allowing such trains to travel through the city, as they have released an impact study that summarizes the proposed route.
MassDot was given the task of conducting the impact study to assess the safety risks by state legislators, but had no means to stop the ethanol train. Now, the only thing standing in the way of the ethanol trains is Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s (MDEP) approval.
Paul Nelson, project manager at MassDOT, said that they are “in kind of a tough position.”
“We really don’t have any regulatory authority. All the legislation is at the federal level. We’re basically preempted from doing anything,” he said.
The Fortune 500 Company Global Partners wants to use Somerville and Cambridge MBTA rails to ship these ethanol trains to facilities in Revere.
Ethanol trains are on the receiving end of much heat due to incidents like the one that occurred last July in Columbus, Ohio. Such a train derailed and exploded, killing one person and forcing every home and business within a one-mile radius to be evacuated.
In a statement, LoRusso said people in Somerville are concerned for their safety – “and rightly so.” He called on the MDEP to prevent the trains from ever reaching Somerville’s borders.
“I hope people will join me in signing this petition,” he said, “so the state knows that Somerville is united in opposition to this.”
The Ward 1 candidate, though, is not the only one concerned and opposed to the trains. On May of last year, the city’s incumbent aldermen already joined in their disapproval of the measure.
“I don’t think they should be doing it at all,” said Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz. “They shouldn’t be doing it through dense, urban, heavily populated cities.”
Likewise, Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville) called the proposal “dangerous.”
“What’s happening, in my view, is that a terrible and dangerous proposal is moving ahead with inadequate oversight,” she said. “I would speculate that people are feeling justifiably alarmed.”
Finally, the Somerville Transportation Equity partnership president Ellin Reisner said that Somerville would not benefit at all from this deal.
“Global Oil Company will receive all the benefits in transporting ethanol by train,” she said, “but the cities and towns and its residents will receive all the risks.”
For now, Somerville residents will have to sit and wait for MDEP’s decision – and hope that it swings their way. –Lucas Parolin