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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Sewer Commission Sues UMB

The Boston Water and Sewage Commission has filed suit against UMass Boston to put forth construction of a new sewage-pumping station on a disputed Columbia Point parcel known as the “Calf Pasture,” claimed by both the school and the BWSC.

Since 1969, Boston’s Public Works Department has repeatedly used the Calf Pasture as the site of a sewage disposal and related activities. UMB wants to use the land to construct an environmental studies facility. The BWSC wants it for the construction of a ten million dollar pumping facility, and has the support of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.

According to the complaint filed by the BWSC, obtained from Suffolk Superior Court, UMass “was authorized to acquire certain property on Columbia Point for its Boston campus… This land was developed by U/Mass and is now the U/Mass-Boston Harbor Campus…At all times material hereto, U/Mass-Boston is the owner of the land and buildings of the U/Mass-Boston Harbor campus.”

But 1969 legislation explicitly excluded Calf Pasture from the land on Columbia Point assembled for the UMass Boston campus. In fact, “the Calf Pasture parcel is referred to as the ‘excluded parcel’ in the 1969 Legislation.” Also, according to the legal documents, “For many years, the defendants [UMB] have desired to incorporate the Calf Pasture into the U/Mass-Boston campus.”

In January of 1999, the Commission and UMass Boston entered into a Memorandum of Understandings (MOU) which, “provides for the Commission’s agreement to sell the Calf Pasture to U/Mass for good and valuable consideration.” The legal documents state, “The MOU provides that the value of the Calf Pasture is $8.50 per square foot or $3,550,000 and that the “payment of the purchase price may be satisfied by the University in part by providing scholarships over eight years totaling $1,000,000 to students residing in the City of Boston over an eight year period.”

This means in year one ten students would receive awards, in the form of fee and tuition waivers, of $5,000 each for five years. The number of students would vary throughout the eight years, climbing as high as 40 in year five.

The MOU, or as it’s also referred to, the “1999 Act,” was co-signed by then-Chancellor Sherry Penney and the BWSC, and is a lawful agreement between the BWSC and UMB.

There’s some question and controversy as to whether the BWSC and UMB complied with the 1999 Act in a timely manner, and whether the Calf Pasture still belongs to UMass.

Signed into law on August 12 by then-Acting Governor Jane Swift, the 1999 Act was retroactive to June 30, 1999. On January 24, 2000, the act was recorded in the Suffolk Registry of Deeds, more than thirty days after its passing, thus making it void, and the parcel still in the Commission’s hands, according to “Facts Common to All Counts” in the complaint.

“The failure of the Defendants [UMB] to pay fair market value for the Calf Pasture, to arrange the scholarships as required by the MOU and the 1999 Legislature and/or to work with the Commission to secure the necessary permits and approvals for a permanent transfer station, is a material breach of the MOU which has caused great damage to the Commission,” the documents say.

A 2002 amendment overturning the act was added by State Senator Jack Hart, requiring UMass Boston to conduct a study “to locate a site for a permanent transfer station somewhere other than Columbia Point.”

In July of 2002, the Dorchester Reporter explained, “Resorting to legislative means, State Senator Jack Hart and State Representative Martin Walsh are continuing to battle plans that call for the construction of a new waste transfer facility on Columbia Point.” The amendment blocks the transfer of land, and stops UMass Boston from building a proposed science facility there.

In its complaint, the BWSC asked the Suffolk Superior Court to make the 1999 Act and its amendment void due to “ambiguity and vagueness,” and that a jury give a value to the “damages caused by [UMass and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’] breach of contract.”

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has asked for the case to be dismissed, and stated that it’s the sole defendant in the case.

Thomas Reilly, the state attorney general, wrote in response to the complaint, denying the claims made by the BWSC and demanding it prove its title to the land and list the alleged damages and its entitlement to them. The MOU “speaks for itself,” writes Reilly.

The disputed parcel case is still in litigation, leaving James Masterman, BWSC’s attorney, unable to comment on the case, instead referring questioners to the documents sitting in Suffolk Superior Court. University lawyers could not be reached at press time.