Lawmakers boost Mini-Fenway’s chances

John P. Kelly

Blue Hills activists are crying foul at a measure the Legislature passed last week that would clear a significant environmental hurdle for the stalled Mini-Fenway Park project in Quincy.

The measure, appended by amendment to an environmental bond bill, declares the Little League ballpark to be of “overriding public interest.” The designation is critical for the project to bypass state environmental laws that have prevented it from being built.

For months, the nonprofit Kids Replica Ballpark Inc. has feuded with state environmental officials over their refusal to issue permits. The 12-acre project site, at the foot of the Blue Hills in West Quincy, is designated as endangered snake habitat and contains two protected water pools used by frogs and salamanders to mate.

There are more than a few Little League games at stake. More than $2 million in capital and pledges are on the line. Plans for the half-sized replica of Boston’s fabled ballpark have been in the works for 10 years, and the project has the backing of the Boston Red Sox. The nonprofit organization continues to derive income from the sale of specialty license plates and hold fundraisers.

State officials have said that for the park to be built, project officials must obtain an environmental variance, an exception that is often difficult to get.

Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, proposed the “public interest” amendment to a major environmental bond bill, a priority measure that passed both chambers Thursday in the waning hours of the Legislature’s formal session.

The Friends of the Blue Hills, a preservation group, is urging Gov. Deval Patrick to veto the amendment, arguing it unfairly lets the project skirt established procedures used to determine whether a project should be given special consideration under environmental law.

“Our wetlands regulations were enacted to prevent precisely the kind of activity that this amendment would advance – unregulated filling of wetlands and threatening endangered species,” the group said on its Web site.

Robert Keough, spokesman for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, said projects deemed of vital public interest typically are “highways and major public works projects.”

“This amendment would remove one of the principal obstacles” for Mini-Fenway, Keough said.

Morrissey said he does not view the amendment as removing a major barrier. Instead, he said it simply allows the two sides to “get down to the environmental issues at hand.”

“Do you really think they want to litigate whether Mini-Fenway is in the public interest?” Morrissey said.

Morrissey said he has never seen the state put up such a hurdle. He called the vernal pools “negligible” in size and pointed out that several earlier state reviews didn’t mention them.

Ronald Iacobucci, chief executive of Kids Replica Ballpark Inc., refused to discuss the matter Tuesday when a reporter asked about the amendment.

“We’re getting closer; I’m not saying anymore than that,” Iacobucci said. He did not return a call Wednesday for this article.

John P. Kelly may be reached atjkelly@ledger.com.