AS FUEL costs rise and community opposition becomes ever more vocal, the value of Harvard's Medical Area Total Energy project seems more and more questionable. Because of design problems that led Harvard to fire the engineering firm it had originally hired to design and construct the plant, construction is more than a year behind schedule, and the new firm's redesign of the plant entailed a doubling of the projected construction cost. It now appears that even that new estimate may be too low.
Although work on the plant's block-size foundation is already well underway with requisite approval from the state Department of Environmental Quality Engineering, the department must still approve the rest of the revised plans, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) has yet to grant the revamped project the requested special tax treatment and special variance for the plant's high noise level.
Boston Edison is disputing the claims of project engineers that the plant will provide savings to the hospitals it will serve--each side has produced its own cost study with results favorable to its own interests. And residents of Boston's Mission Hill neighborhood, adjacent to the construction site, are contesting in court the state environmental quality agency's finding, implicit in its approval of the foundation, that overall the plant will not have a significantly adverse effect on the local environment.
The proliferating questions about the project now make it appear to be more of a boondoggle than a boon to the community. Although much damage to the community has already been done by the excavation of a city block, still more serious damage, in the form of noise and air pollution, could result from the plant's operation. If the BRA really has the community's interest in mind, it should reject the plans, and Harvard should consider an alternative use for the enormous hole it has dug in Mission Hill.