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Officials Irked by Land Deal

Despite protests, board approves Harvard bid

Despite urgings from the most powerful officials in the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts to hold off on the sale, the members of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (MTA) voted yesterday to allow their head to accept Harvard’s $75 million bid for a 91-acre parcel of industrial land in Allston.

Officials from several state agencies and many local politicians said yesterday they thought the sale was rushed to a vote and they had hoped for more time to hammer out a deal which, they said, would protect transportation links on the land that are vital to Boston’s economy.

After the MTA board voted to approve the sale, Chair of the MTA Matthew J. Amorello said last night he intends to sign off on the deal, as soon as the mandatory 30-day waiting period expires.

“We were told by the Governor’s office to wait 30 days to vote,” Amorello said. “But I told them no. The vote just empowers us to make a deal with Harvard. And we’re not planning to sign with Harvard until May.”

Amorello said he thinks Harvard buildings will, one day, make the land—the first part of Boston seen from the Turnpike—into a beautiful vista.

“In my personal opinion,” Amorello said, “what better way to come into a capital city [like Boston] than to have big shiny buildings facing the road instead of railway yards and a chemical company?”

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Currently, the land is criss-crossed by railroad tracks owned by rail giant CSX—a landscape, many officials say, which is vital to the economy because the rail yards on the 91 acres provide the only major access for freight trains to the port of Boston.

Many local officials have said they fear Harvard—with its unmatched endowment—would buy out CSX and cause damage to the area’s economy.

“Harvard’s purchase of the property would give Harvard a financial incentive to induce CSX to leave the property,” said Dick Garver, deputy director of the city’s powerful planning agency, the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

“The CSX yard plays an important part in Boston’s economy. It’s the link to the port,” he said. “It serves local businesses. It carries products to local consumers at a lower price than can be done by truck.”

But Amarello says Harvard couldn’t push CSX off the land. He points to permanent “easements” owned by CSX, which grant the company the right to operate on the property forever.

“The federal and state statutes protect the railroad’s right of the way to the land, just as they do throughout the Commonwealth. Get out any history book, and it will tell you that,” Amorello said. “Even 50 years from now, when they own the land, Harvard will still have to go to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts if they want to change these easements.”

For months, the timing and logistics of the land’s sale have been the topic of political wrangling.

In January, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino wrote a letter to MTA Chair Amorello, asking that no sale be made until the city had completed a review of the rail yard—known as Beacon Park—and its economic impact on the region.

“I have concluded that no steps should be taken that would affect the future of Beacon Park until a study has been conducted that clearly establishes the economic role played by the yard…and the impacts that would accompany its relocation,” Menino wrote.

Michael H. Mulhern, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), wrote a letter to Amorello last week urging the Turnpike Authority not to take action “without the benefit of input from any other city or state agencies.”

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