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Springfield Mayor Urges Construction Of Biomass Plant


   Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno Tuesday called for the long-delayed construction of a wood-burning power plant to move forward.  Project opponents, who had a chance encounter with the mayor, say they are not giving up. 

   About two dozen people rallied in Court Square in downtown Springfield Tuesday afternoon to protest the decision by the city’s Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris not to hold a site assignment hearing for the biomass power plant that Palmer Renewable Energy proposes to build in East Springfield.

    Lisa Torres, an organizer with Arise for Social Justice, said a local health board review is necessary to ascertain the impact the plant would have on Springfield’s already poor air quality and high rates of child asthma.

    "We are hoping that the mayor and the health commissioner as parents themselves will understand why we are so adamant that the site assignment hearing should be held," she said.

   Caulton-Harris, in a written decision last week rejecting the site assignment hearing, said the concerns of plant opponents had been addressed during the lengthy permitting process conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

  The protestors planned to go to the mayor’s city hall office and drop off a petition, along with a copy of the Dr. Seuss book “The Lorax.”  They highlighted a quote from the book: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s ever going to get better, it’s not.”

As the group was heading to city hall they had a chance encounter with Sarno, who had come out of the building on his way to a meeting.

Sarno, speaking with reporters, said the project has secured all necessary construction and environmental permits and should move forward.

" Personally, my youngest daughter has asthma and I would never jeopardize our residents’ families, nor my own," said Sarno.

       He said he would not ask his health commissioner to reconsider her decision.

" I stand by that decision, and I look at this as an economic development project," Sarno said.

The mayor’s office later issued a statement that said the project “will provide 200 construction jobs, 50 permanent and well-paying jobs and $1 million in local tax revenue, along with a Host Agreement worth $2 million, with $1.3 million earmarked towards public health initiatives.”

Environmental activists who have lost a succession of court rulings over the project say they are considering their options.

The Massachusetts Conservation Law Foundation has sued over the MassDEP’s issuing an air permit for the proposed plant.  A decision in that case appears to be all that is holding up the project.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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