"The stacks" to see a mini-makeover

by Kate Vander Wiede
Managing Editor
Wednesday Mar 16, 2011

MassDot will clean the area below I-93

Over the last year, the Old Dover Neighborhood Association (ODNA), Pine Street Inn (PSI) and Boston Police Department have fought against crime, drugs and other issues in the Old Dover area, along Harrison Ave between Traveler St. and E. Berkeley St.

One of the main points of concern has been the area under I-93, which has been a storage ground for some construction supplies, and is not yet a part of the Boston Harbor Walk. It's a private place with little going on except for a steady flow of daytime traffic. Police call this area the stacks, but neighbors just call it dangerous. Located in a kind of no-man's land between South Boston and the South End, the area has become a haven for drug dealers, prostitution and violence.

In January of 2010, police found a body at the stacks. Police reports each week describe incidents of drug dealings in and around the area. In 2010, Community Service Sergeant Gino Provenzano said District 4 officers had made 300 arrests in the few blocks surround the PSI.

"It's a large number," he said, noting the area had seemed to get better, in terms of crime, for a short time before becoming worse again more recently.

The issue there recently caught the attention of State Representative Aaron Michlewitz, along with other local and state officials. In early March, Michlewitz, along with District 2 City Councilor Bill Linehan (whose district includes South Boston and the South End), a representative from State Senator Sonia Chang Diaz's office, and the South End Neighborhood Coordinator Tabitha Bennett, met with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to discuss what could be done to alleviate some of the concerns around the area.

"We expressed to many of the Transportation Department people that we were concerned," Michlewitz explained after the meeting. "[We told them we want to] make underneath the expressway a safer environment because it is a traveling point and a passageway between South Boston and the South End.

While ODNA and other South End residents have expressed the hope to have parking underneath the expressway - a solution MassDOT has been receptive to - the short-term goals for the area are much more scaled back than that.

"To do something more long term is going to cost some money, and unfortunately, with these [economic] circumstances, that isn’t possible," said Aaron Michlewitz.

"We agreed to add addition flood lights at the E. Berkeley and Traveler St. walkways under the viaduct," MassDOT spokesperson Adam Hurtubise said. "We also will remove some construction materials in the southernmost area [and] ... will clean up the general area as well."

"They committed to doing some improvements in the area that I feel are necessary steps to making it a more pleasant environment," Michlewitz said of the offerings from MassDOT. "To do something more long term is going to cost some money, and unfortunately, with these [economic] circumstances, that isn't possible."

MassDOT also plans to reach out to their "State Police colleagues" to ask for additional patrols in the area. The District 4 Police plan to keep a close eye on things as well. Though he wouldn't talk any specifics, Sergeant Provenzano said there were "a number of different things they were planning on" for the area.

The past year has seen huge efforts from ODNA, District 4 police and PSI to combat issues of drugs, prostitution and violence in their neighborhood.

Among many other endeavors and initiatives, police increased their presence in the vicinity of Peters Park and the PSI; Pine Street added better lighting along Paul Sullivan Way, which leads to their front door; ODNA has encouraging neighbors to call 911 if they see suspicious activity in the area.

ODNA president Suzanne Bacon said the neighborhood association is now "looking hard" at how to influence policies relating to people being released from jail. Currently, Bacon said many are being dropped off at homeless shelters if they don't have anywhere else to go. Bacon said this was especially a concern for those who are sex offenders. Since January, nine individuals have been arrested for failing to register as sex offenders; each have given PSI as their address.

"It really resonates with us when it comes to sex offenders because we have a day care center, Peters Park, and a little ballet company on Washington Street," Bacon said. "This neighborhood has a lot of youth, and sex offenders make us nervous."

As long as neighbors, police and organizations work together to keep a lid on crime, Bacon thinks they will be successful. Yearlong vigilance is necessary.

"As soon as you relax and think it's alright," Bacon said, "it starts rearing its head again."

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