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Health Board Considers Site Review For Biomass Project

A rendering of the proposed biomass power plant in an industrial section of East Springfield.
Palmer Renewable Energy

Opponents and proponents of a proposed wood-burning power plant in western Massachusetts will square off later today to argue whether the project, which has been green-lighted by courts and state officials, should be subject to more regulatory review.       

The city of Springfield’s Public Health Council will hold a public hearing to listen to arguments on whether the project needs to go through a site assignment process where the local board of health would determine if the plant may result in a nuisance or pose a danger to the public health.

The hearing is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at Central High School

Opponents of the proposed plant in East Springfield, who have labeled it a “biomass incinerator,” petitioned the Public Health Council last October requesting a site assignment hearing.

Michaelann Bewsee of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield said opponents of the plant believe it will cause air pollution that will harm public health.

" We are doing the best we can to make sure people will not suffer from pollution and we just want the Public Health Council to do their job," said Bewsee

The developer of the project, Palmer Renewable Energy, has said the plant will meet or exceed all government air quality standards. The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection issued an air permit for the project in 2011.

An attorney for Palmer Renewable Energy has questioned if the Public Health Council has any jurisdiction over the project.  Bewsee said lawyers consulted by plant opponents believe the council has the authority to conduct a site assignment review.

" From our perspective they ( the health council) could do three different things. They could say ' no this is not a good place for the plant,' or they could say ' we don't see any problems' or they could include mitigation requirements," said Bewsee who said mitigation might include restrictions on the hours wood-chip deliveries by truck could be made to the plant.

Environmental activists have battled against the plant for almost a decade. Late last year, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court turned down an appeal of two lower court rulings that directed the city to issue a building permit for the project.

Bewsee believes the Public Health Council is the last opportunity opponents have to stop the $150 million plant from being built.

"I'd like to see our city council pass an ordinance that would prohibit any highly polluting industry from coming to Springfield, but those things don't work retroactively," said Bewsee.

The city council joined with plant opponents in suing to try to deny a building permit for the plant, but with all legal avenues apparently exhausted City Council President Mike Fenton said there is nothing more they can do.

" We have fought the fight and if there were another avenue to pursue, we would pursue it," said Fenton.

Palmer Renewable Energy has touted the economic benefits of the plant. The company said there will be 200 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.  The local trade unions have endorsed the project.

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