Hundreds Pack Biomass Hearing
By Paul Tuthill
Springfield, MA – Regulators in Massachusetts are weighing a decision on the final environmental permit needed to build a wood burning power plant in Springfield. The controversial biomass project was the focus of a raucous public hearing Tuesday night WAMC's Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill reports .
Close to 500 people packed a Springfield middle school auditorium for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's final scheduled public hearing on the proposed biomass plant . The audience was dominated by construction tradesmen, who wore green t-shirts and stickers touting biomass, and by environmental activists who brought props such as a giant asthma control inhaler
There were loud reactions as speakers, alternately made cases for and against the project..
More than 70 people signed up to speak.
David Callahan, the president and CEO of Palmer Renewable Energy, said the 35 megawatt plant which would burn a daily average of almost 12 hundred tons of wood is the single cleanest biomass plant ever proposed in the country .
Susan Reid, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation of Massachusetts labeled it a dirty project..
Experts for the project's developer , who spoke at the hearing, insisted the plant's impact on air quality would be ..insignificant. Opponents said the smokestack emissions would be just below what current regulations permit and they said that should not be acceptable in a city with higher than average rates of asthma and other respiratory illness.
Palmer Renewable Energy is pledging to contribute two million dollars directly to Springfield for the city to address existing health problems. Project spokesman Frank Fitzgerald said assertions about the risk to public health posed by the biomass plant are wrong
Patty McCauley , who lives within a mile and a half of where the plant would be built, is convinced its does not belong in Springfield.
Mass DEP spokesperson Catherine Skiba encourages people to submit written comments about the project
That decision could come any time after the April 29 deadline for public comment..
Starting an hour before the hearing, hundreds of tradesman demonstrated their support for the project ..waving signs as they lined both sides of the street in front of the hearing venue Opponents held a news conference.
Dan D'Alma , the president of the Pioneer Valley Building Trades Council said the biomass project would mean 200 construction jobs..
Lee Ann Warner, of the group..Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, said the issue is not jobs
The Springfield City Council approved a special permit for the biomass plant's construction in 2008. Some councilors who were not on the council then are seeking to revoke the permit.