FOX25 Investigates: Abandoned buildings on Boston's Long Island cost taxpayers millions

BOSTON — Boston is on track to blow through nearly $5.5 million in taxpayer dollars to keep the lights on and the heat running inside empty buildings on Long Island, which once served the homeless and recovering drug addicts before it closed almost two years ago, FOX25 Investigates has learned.

FOX25 obtained records showing that since the island’s 2014 closure through the current fiscal year, taxpayers are being billed:

  • More than $1.2 million for oil to heat the abandoned buildings;
  • About $1 million for ferry service to transport city workers from the mainland
  • And $72,000 for garbage and waste services on the abandoned island.

As reported on FOX25 News at 10, taxpayers are also paying $300 an hour for a barge to transport heating oil, workers and supplies to the Boston Harbor island – part of a $600,000 annual contract.

In all, the city racked up $1.8 million in expenses on Long Island in just the last year alone. Boston officials plan to spend another $1.6 million on maintenance costs for Long Island this year, including $175,000 to keep the lights on in the empty shelter buildings, $185,000 for water and sewer costs and $25,000 for an exterminator.

Long Island once hosted about 1,000 beds for the homeless and addicts in recovery, but city engineers condemned the only bridge that connected Long Island to the mainland on Oct. 8, 2014 and ordered an immediate shut down – giving those on the island just three hours to evacuate.

The city later spent millions to demolish the failing bridge but eventually said it didn’t have the estimated $90 million needed to build a new bridge, as reported on FOX25 News at 10.

The human cost

Advocates say the problem with Long Island isn’t just measured in dollars and cents.

Victory Programs, a nonprofit offering addiction recovery programs, has yet to replace all the beds it left behind on Long Island and their waiting list continues to grow.

Eileen Maguire, deputy director of Victory Programs, told FOX25 Investigates the nonprofit had just invested $2 million renovating its Long Island shelter when the bridge was condemned and everyone was told to leave.

“Not having that piece of land and having that space for services was a huge loss to Boston,” said Maguire.

One Victory Programs participant, Cheryl, waited for one month to get into one of the nonprofit's new Boston locations. Another program participant, Alisha, waited three months to get into the program for help with her opiate addiction. Both women asked that FOX25 not use their last names because they are still in recovery.

“We all have an addiction. And we all need help,” Cheryl told the FOX25 Investigates team.

City defends spending

Officials at the Boston Public Health Commission, which oversees the island, say millions in tax dollars are going to maintain the empty buildings, mow the grass and keep the heat and electricity running, as reported on FOX25 News at 10.

“These are older buildings that are on the island and there's a certain level of maintenance that's required,” said Monica Valdes-Lupi, executive director at the Boston Public Health Commission.

But Valdes-Lupi also admits the buildings are not serving anyone right now.

“There are no programs,” she told FOX25. “There are maintenance staff.”

Firefighters, other staff work on island

The SkyFox helicopter recently caught a glimpse of two firefighters assigned to a Long Island firehouse while a kids’ summer day camp was in session on the other side of the island.

FOX25 Investigates also ran into several more firefighters – including some who were off duty – when FOX25 took a boat to the island in search of answers about city spending.

Boston Fire officials told FOX25 two firefighters are stationed on the island during the several weeks in summer the day camp is open and take the camp’s ferry service to Long Island. The marine unit also makes boat trips out to the island, as well as other Boston Harbor islands, during routine safety patrols, according to the Boston Fire Department.

It’s not clear how much that’s costing taxpayers, but other records show the city has spent at least $1 million on salaries and wages for other Long Island workers since the 2014 evacuation.

Boston also leased a patch of island farmland, which once helped the homeless, to the private fast food chain b.good at no charge.

No plan for the future

City officials admitted to FOX25 they have no plan for how Long Island or the empty buildings will be used in the future, but say services for the homeless and those in addiction recovery are still a priority.

“We have really worked diligently – the Boston Public Health Commission staff and a larger stakeholder group – to ensure we're providing critical services to really vulnerable residents in the city,” said Valdes-Lupi.

But Alisha said she is still worried city officials aren’t doing enough.

“Look for funding,” said Alisha. “Look for whatever you need to create a place for these people because if not, the fallout is going to be in the streets of the city.”