Beacon Hill committee backs bill to extend Tri Town control of air base to 2053

John P. Kelly

The agency behind the massive SouthField development has won a legislative committee’s endorsement of a measure that would make borrowing more than $100 million in financing possible and extend the agency’s control of the project for decades.

South Shore Tri-Town Development Corp. executives said lengthening the agency’s life span until 2053 is necessary to secure long-term loans to build roads and sewer and water infrastructure.

The agency and the project developer, LNR Property Corp., plan to convert the former South Weymouth Naval Air Station into a community containing 2,800 homes and 2 million square feet of commercial space.

Significant public infrastructure must first be constructed on the 1,400-acre site, which is in Rockland, Abington and Weymouth. Project officials say lenders are unwilling to finance the work because Tri-Town, the agency responsible for repaying the loan, is set to dissolve in 2018. Prolonging its existence would open the door to more manageable, long-term financing options.

At the State House on Thursday, the joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business voted unanimously to support the extension, giving it traction as it moves to the House.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, urged swift passage of the measure, saying it would lead to creation of 6,000 construction jobs and 3,000 permanent positions.

“This project is of extreme economic importance to the South Shore,” Mariano told committee members. He later added, “Move as quickly as you can.”

Some local residents turned out to oppose the bill. They included an elected official from Rockland and another from Weymouth.

Mary Parsons, chairwoman of the Rockland selectmen, said it should be the three communities that decide whether to grant a time extension.

Weymouth resident Joanne Rakers agreed, saying project officials were sidestepping their accountability to the three towns by going directly to the Legislature.

“We are being railroaded into putting this in there,” she said.

The bill would also make it possible for Tri-Town’s directors, until now volunteers, to be compensated in the future.

James W. Lavin, chairman of the Tri-Town board, said the 24-page bill also more clearly defines how SouthField would be given “typical powers of a city or town.”

LNR spokesman William Ryan said those powers include the ability to set a local tax rate and assess property. He said such powers were considered unnecessary when Tri-Town was established in 1998 because the development was envisioned as purely commercial.

Without the ability to borrow over 30 or more years, the project is not feasible, Ryan said. He said opponents of the bill fail to offer an alternative way to pay for infrastructure work.

“Do you want to go back and talk to the town of Rockland and ask if they want to finance it?” Ryan said. “I think I know what the answer would be.”

Weymouth Town Council members Brian McDonald, Michael Smart and Patrick O’Connor testified in support of Mariano’s bill, as did South Shore Chamber of Commerce President Peter Forman.

Several officials said passage of the bill could not be more crucial, because securing needed funding depends upon it.

“If we don’t get the bonding, we don’t have a project – it’s over,” said John Ward, who represents Rockland on Tri-Town’s board of directors.

John P. Kelly may be reached at