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Activists Press For Clean Reuse Of Coal-Burning Plant

The Mount Tom coal plant is now retired.  The last coal-fired power plant in western Massachusetts shut down late last year. A discussion about what should be done with the plant will continue later today in Holyoke.

Holyoke city officials and local activists, who hope to influence the plant’s future use, are promoting a community workshop scheduled for tonight as part of a reuse study for the Mount Tom Power Plant.

People attending the meeting at the Holyoke Senior Center at 6 p.m. will have an opportunity to review the goals and the timeline for the study, according to the city’s Office of Planning and Economic Development.  The workshop follows an initial kickoff meeting for the reuse study that was held in December.

A coalition of local activists along with state and national environmental organizations campaigned for years to shut down the power plant blaming it for causing smog problems in the lower Pioneer Valley. Now, Hector Figarella of  Neighbor to Neighbor says the activists want to make sure the plant site becomes something “green.”

" We want to keep residents engaged in the process so their voices are heard on what they want and don't want on the site," he said.  " We don't want a biomass plant or a landfill."

The city of Holyoke hired a consultant last year to help determine what could feasibly be done with the property that is badly polluted from decades of burning coal and partially located in a floodplain along the Connecticut River.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center ( MassCEC) is funding the $100,000 reuse study.  Alicia Barton, the CEO of the state agency, said the study, which is expected to be finalized this spring will present viable options for reusing the site, but will not make a recommendation.

"When there is a final report or document that won't be the end of the overall public process for discussion about the  ultimate end use," said Barton

MassCEC was directed by the state legislature in 2013 to aid in re-use studies for decommissioned coal-fired plants in Massachusetts.  A study last year on the reuse of a coal-burning power plant in Salem resulted in the plant being converted to natural gas.

" I hope to look at turning a previous coal site into a clean, or cleaner, source of energy, but that is not necessarily the outcome just because of our involvement," said Barton.

Mayor Alex Morse said discussion about the future of the Mount Tom Station site should also focus on job creation and providing tax revenue.

The owner of the plant, GDF-SUEZ, has not said what it plans to do with the property. City officials say company officials have said they will participate in the reuse discussion.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.
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