By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — City leaders said they are concerned about a private company’s plan to haul large amounts of volatile and flammable fuel through Haverhill and other communities in the region.
They want to be included in a state study of impacts and safety risks from the company’s proposal to use trains to transport the liquid fuel.
Global Companies LLC, which has a facility in Revere, plans to bring 60 to 120 train cars per day carrying ethanol to its facility along the Chelsea River. Ethanol is a colorless, alcohol-based liquid fuel that burns at extremely high temperatures. Each train-car can hold up to 30,000 gallons of ethanol, resulting in up to 562 million gallons of the substance traveling through the region annually, according to the proposal.
The company is proposing four possible train routes: The Haverhill line, Fitchburg line, Lowell line and Grand Junction. On the Haverhill line, the trains would pass through or within a half-mile of Haverhill, Methuen, Andover, Wilmington, Reading, Wakefield, Stoneham, Melrose, Malden, Everett and Chelsea.
The state Department of Transportation is studying the proposal as required by the Legislature, but the review so far has focused on the communities of Cambridge, Boston, Everett, Chelsea, Revere and Somerville.
City Council agreed last week to ask Haverhill’s legislative delegation and Mayor James Fiorentini to request the city be included in the study. The mayor said he made the request to the transportation agency Thursday afternoon.
“Our community is very close to the train tracks,” Councilor William Ryan said. “Some houses are right up near the rails.”
Ryan said he learned about the proposal from Global Companies when he was contacted by Chelsea’s city manager and the Chelsea Green Space and Recreation Committee. That group has been contacting communities north of Boston to request their “action and support to stop this life-threatening plan,” according to a letter from the group to Ryan.
Councilor Thomas Sullivan said the city should insist on being included in the study due to potential risks to residents in the event of an accident or terrorism.
“We owe it to the public to investigate this further,” Sullivan said. “And potential terrorist activity is part of the concern.”
According to a 2011 study by the state Department of Environmental Protection, ethanol is the largest-by-volume hazardous material currently transported by train. Special alcohol-resistant foam is required to extinguish the material should it catch fire.
Fire Chief Richard Borden said his department has access to the foam required to put out an ethanol fire and that firefighters are trained in responding to train accidents. Borden said he learned of Global Companies’ proposal only recently.
“We want to be in the study so we can find out what steps we need to take to prepare for this if it happens,” Fiorentini said of the company’s proposal. “Trains go through the city all the time with dangerous and hazardous materials, so our Fire Department trains on this all the time. But if there’s more or different training or equipment we need for this, we want to find out as soon as possible so we can start making preparations.”
An aide for state Rep. Brian Dempsey said Dempsey will push Haverhill’s request to be included in the transportation department’s study as soon as he receives it. The aide said the state study is scheduled to be completed March 23.
State Sen. Barry Finegold, whose district includes Andover and other communities on the proposed ethanol train route, said he was unaware of Global Companies’ proposal and declined comment.