One Last Hurdle

The largest threat yet to the completion of Harvard's $110 million Medical Area power plant came last week from a most unlikely place.

Down in Boston's Combat Zone, across the street from a theater showing "Behind the Green Door" and in the same building as a state agency on communicable diseases, you can find the offices of the state Division of Air and Hazardous Materials--the site of some hasty tactical retreats last week by power project planners.

Last week the director of that division, an overworked environmental engineeer named Anthony Cortese, told project officials that if they did not agree to place specific pollution controls on their plant, the division would not let the plant be built.

After an attempt to mollify division officials by offering to set up pollution monitoring stations, project officials agreed to the controls.

State environmentalists then gave the plant preliminary approval. Residents of Boston's Mission Hill neighborhood, the utility company Boston Edison and other opponents of the plant have until the end of the month to unearth new data if they are to convince the division to change its mind.

Until the financial decision from the state environmentalists comes down, probably in December, Harvard has a go-ahead to work on just the foundation. But because most of the structure will be underground, that permit allows Harvard to complete a substantial part of the plant.

Construction work seems to have a clear path ahead now, but there are still possible obstacles in the offing. A suit to stop the plant, brought by Boston Edison, is still awaiting a verdict from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

Members of Residents United to Stop Harvard may seek to schedule a hearing soon on their separate environmental suit against the project, seeking to gain a preliminary injunction.

And at least one more city agency, the Boston Public Improvements Commission, must still approve the project, because its power transmission lines must cross Boston public streets.