Environmentalists Freeze Incineration Plant in its Tracks

The Springfield, Massachusetts City Council has scheduled a hearing in May to consider amending or revoking a special permit for a proposed wood-burning plant in East Springfield.

But the city faces the threat of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from the developer, reports Peter Goonan in the The Republican newspaper.

A grassroots group, Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, is among project opponents urging the council to revoke the 2008 special permit. The group claims the plant would worsen air pollution and harm public health.

Lawyers for Palmer Renewable Energy LLC, which is proposing the plant, stated in a  letter to City Solicitor Edward M. Pikula that revocation of the 2008 permit “would be unjustified, unlawful, and give rise to significant damages if it forestalls or delays the project.”

If the City Council or the city’s Public Health Council take action that wrongfully or illegally threatens the company’s investment and the tax grant, it will expose the city “to at least $52 million in damages,” the letter states.

“Even though revoking this project could cost millions,” said Sparklight President Joseph LaMountain, “the city is actively considering it.  This shows how much power ordinary citizens have when they join forces.”

The state Department of Environmental Protection has extended a public comment period on the proposed plant after hearing a deluge of comments from supporters and opponents at a hearing earlier this month. The comment period, initially scheduled to end April 9, is now extended until Friday on the biomass project, before the state considers plan approval.

The company says the plant would have state-of-the-art technology, would pose no hazard to health, would generate jobs and produce clean, renewable energy.

Richard K. Sullivan Jr., the new secretary of the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, recently ruled that he will not order any further review of the project by his office. Stop Toxic Incineration had sought a more comprehensive review, after Sullivan’s predecessor, Ian Bowles, twice ruled there was not a need for a full environmental impact report.

Sullivan said the ongoing review by the state Department of Environmental Protection adequately protects environmental concerns.

The city’s Public Health Council, meanwhile, is seeking advice from two state agencies whether the local board has “site assignment” powers over the proposed biomass plant. The local board cited a state law that allows a health board to rule on the site of any trade that “may result in a nuisance or be harmful to the inhabitants, injurious to their estates, dangerous to the public health, or may be attended by noisome and injurious odors.”

The city, through its health commissioner, Helen R. Caulton-Harris, asked for guidance from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the state Department of Public Health.

Caulton-Harris, in her letter, said the proposed project is in an area that “includes sensitive populations that suffer disproportionate health impacts.”

Palmer Renewable Energy, in a letter of response filed with the state, said that the state, not the city, has the power to determine if the project poses “a nuisance, or danger to the public health.” The state is considering plan approval for the project.

The Public Health Council cites a law that was first enacted in 1692, more suitable for nuisances caused by “piggeries and stockyards,” Palmer Renewable Energy states in its letter. The state statute, (Chap. 111, Sec. 143) has never been used by city officials to intervene in any other project in Springfield, according to lawyers for the company.

The Chicopee City Council, meanwhile, passed a resolution on Tuesday by unanimous vote, opposing the proposed biomass plant in Springfield.

The resolution asks the state and Springfield officials to “do whatever is in their power to protect the health and well-being of surrounding communities.”

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