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New England News

Massachusetts' Highest Court Will Be Asked To Block Biomass Plant

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WAMC
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A last- ditch court fight will be waged by opponents of a proposed wood-burning power plant in western Massachusetts.

The  Springfield City Council, with the bare minimum of seven councilors present to be able to conduct business, voted unanimously at a special meeting Friday morning to appeal to the state’s highest court the decisions of lower courts that directed the city to issue a building permit to Palmer Renewable Energy.

Springfield City Council President Mike Fenton said if the appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court fails, the 35-megawatt biomass power plant that was first proposed in 2008 will likely be built.

" We are not going into this with blinders on. We understand the odds are against us. But, we are doing everything we can to stop this project," said Fenton after Friday's 7-0 vote.

Plant opponents that include environmental activists and potential neighbors on Springfield’s east side have lost two court cases. The Massachusetts Land Court ordered the city in 2014 to issue a building permit for the project that had been withdrawn by a unanimous vote of the city’s zoning board of appeals.  The Massachusetts Appeals Court upheld the order in a decision earlier this month.

Attorney Patrick Markey, a former Springfield city councilor, volunteered to represent the city council in the legal battle over the biomass plant last year for no charge.  Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno refused to authorize funds for the council to pursue its appeal.

Fenton said a majority of the councilors view their opposition to the project as a “moral imperative.”

City Councilor Melvin Edwards believes the power plant poses a serious risk to public health.

"I don't have the expectation that we are going to succeed, but I thought this is the right thing to do and fight to the end," said Edwards.

Michaelann Bewsee , director of Arise for Social Justice, who is also pursuing a legal challenge to the power plant, said opponents may petition the city’s public health council to hold a site assignment hearing to determine if the plant’s location impacts public health.

" I don't know all of our options, but we have definitely not given up," said Bewsee.

Over the objection of the Conservation Law Foundation and other environmental groups, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection issued an air permit for the project in 2011.

The plant’s developer has said it will produce 200 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.

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