Save Pier 5 Advocates Bring in Major Lobbyist Tom O’Neil

Two groups of residents in the Navy Yard have initiated the services of Tom O’Neil – the former Lt. Governor and son of House Speaker Tip O’Neil – to act as a lobbying in seeking federal infrastructure funds for the purpose of restoring Pier 5 as a public park on the waterfront.

On Monday, O’Neil appeared in a Zoom meeting with more than 60 Pier 5 advocates for an initial meeting, bringing along members of his team from his lobbying firm, O’Neil and Associates. The firm was employed officially on Monday to meet with City, state and federal officials to find out what the appetite is for the current RFP respondents – who have proposed housing models on the condemned pier.

O’Neil and his team, including Jamie Dunbar, have started working to find out what the appetite is at the City level to forego the RFP requests and to look at getting money into the upcoming federal infrastructure bill – now discussed in public circles to be around $2.3 Trillion.

“I think there is a very good chance to talk to the delegation from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to get you in the infrastructure bill,” he said. “The difficult part is to find out what City Hall wants. They put it out to bid and I don’t know exactly where they stand. They have a new administration now…We’re very well positioned should we get a favorable outcome and turn the tides.”

Dunbar said they would take about two to four weeks to sit down with everyone from the federal delegation to the new mayor to local officials like State Rep. Dan Ryan and Councilor Lydia Edwards. The first stage will have to be getting a feel for the situation and where it’s at now given the turnover at City Hall and the upcoming election in the fall.

He said any federal funding could come in the upcoming infrastructure bill, or it could come from other Recovery monies, or even block grants aimed at resiliency. However, the kicker is that any such federal funding would have to come to the pier through an application or request from the City, likely the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). If the BPDA has no interest in forgoing the RFPs, or cannot be convinced to do so – then there might not be any hope.

“The problem is a public entity has to apply,” he said. “It will have to be the BPDA…and cannot be us.”

O’Neil added that there had to be caution in the endeavor, because if this is a major priority of the City, then there is not really a way to bypass them to get the federal monies.

“I have to caution you about if the mayor wants this because we’ll not get anything until we straighten that out,” he said. “We’ll not get anything in any federal bill until that is ironed out. You’ll get pushback from the federal officials until everyone gets on the same page.”

Leading the effort for the two groups are Paul DiGiammarino and Barbara Babin, who are new co-chairs of the Restore Pier 6 Committee – an official 501c6 non-profit organization. That group also includes Chris Carlisle, Joe Ambash, Peter Kenny, Bob Markel, Steve O’Brien, Gerry Keusch, Drew Beja and Peter Van Winkle.

The Pier 5 is owned by the BPDA and was slated at one time to be a public park such as the Lawn on D in South Boston. Those plans changed abruptly when the Pier was found to have structurally deficient steel pilings. The cost associated with demolishing the Pier is around $10 million. It is estimated that the total cost to restore it and add a park could be around $20 million. That, of course, would be the ask to the federal delegation for any federal infrastructure bill.

“There really does seem like a chance to get funding for the Pier,” said DiGiammarino. “We don’t know. Is it 5 percent or a 50 percent chance?…If restoration of Pier 5 succeeds, that’s certainly great. If not, maybe this is one step to getting there some other way. I can’t tell you how happy we would be to see that eyesore become something great to look at and enjoy.”

A report from O’Neil and Associates to the group is expected in three or four weeks, along with a strategy for success – if there is one.

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