An unusual light-up display has been turning heads in a quiet corner of East Boston over the past few weeks.
Surrounded by signs protesting a planned electrical project, it’s a massive box filled with tubes and blue and red lights. On top – until very recently – sat a family of plastic skeletons on a park bench: two grown-up-sized dead people, a dead baby and a dead dog.
Not everyone is amused.
“Plastic skeletons of puppies and babies and families – that is not sitting well with the residents of Eagle Hill,” said State Rep. Adrian Madaro, a lifelong resident of the neighborhood who said he’s been driving by the thing twice a day for the past month.He said he’s heard several complaints form his constituents.
“That doesn’t de-legitimize their concerns,” he added. “I just, I don’t know. I guess everyone has their own method of doing things.”
A group called Empower Eagle Square is behind the attention-grabbing artwork. Donato Berardi, who identified himself as the group’s lawyer, said they are opposed to utility company Eversource’s plans to install an electrical substation and high-powered electrical cables underground in the area.
Berardi said opponents believe the station will have negative health impacts on neighbors – which Eversource disputes – hence the skeletons.
He said he’s glad the installation is getting attention.
“We needed something that was going to depict a situation where these cables are nasty,” Berardi said. “If you think that display is ugly, what’s going to happen when the substation is built? It’s really going to be unsightly.”
Berardi also represents Channel Fish Co., a seafood processing company near the project site and across the street from the display. The light-up artwork is in a lot Berardi said was owned by a private company he didn’t name. He said he wasn’t sure who built it.
The snow-dusted skeleton family was there overlooking Eagle Square on Monday night. But by Tuesday night, after Metro interviewed Berardi, the skeletons were gone.
He did not respond to a follow-up email inquiring about the figurines’ disappearance.
But before they left their perch, complaints about the spooky protest art were ricocheting around the historic neighborhood.
“I know they were trying to be tongue-in-cheek, but it’s not Halloween,” said Ernani DeAraujo, who serves on thelocal civic associationas its vice president. “I think it’s in very poor taste and I think the backlash against them is warranted.”
There have been other guerilla awareness campaigns in the neighborhood that DeAraujo could get behind – like ones for climate change awareness involving chalk.
But not this one. And he wasn’t alone.
“I thought it was insulting that they’re over there trying to scare the people of East Boston, saying that this substation is going to kill people in my neighborhood,” said City Councilor Sal LaMattina, who represents East Boston.
DeAraujo and LaMattina said they both support the construction of the substation, which they believe is needed to boost electrical service in the neighborhood.
The site for it was the result of negotiations with the city, LaMattina said, to move it to a public works lot and away from another then-empty plot on Bremen Street, which now houses the Eastie branch of the Boston Public Library.
At the request oflocal lawmakers, the state’sEnergy Facilities Siting Boardis currently considering neighbors’ concerns about the substation’s impacts on health, the environment, property values and businesses. It will also study whether the project is necessary at all.
Rep. Madaro said he would wait to make up his mind on the project until that board comes to a decision.
Meanwhile, many residents who oppose the Eversource project welcomed the creepiness of Empower Eagle Square’s efforts.
“These days people think that this intimidation, this scare factor, is not effective. But I disagree,” said Danubia Camargos Silva, a 35-year-old Eagle Hill resident. “What they did is great because they brought attention to an issue that we otherwise wouldn’t know.”