Guest: Holyoke After Coal
We dream of the Holyoke that Jose Bou, owner of Salsarengue Restaurant and Seafood on High Street, envisions, a Holyoke that “becomes the next frontier.” We want to breathe freely, enjoy the beauty of a thriving city, revel in the resources and aesthetic appeal of Holyoke’s bodies of water and natural terrain, and have access to good jobs.
Action for a Healthy Holyoke! (AHH!) formed three years ago to retire the Mt. Tom coal plant and bring in clean, sustainable development for the region. The plant site and our river need to be cleaned up. If the plant’s owner, GDF-Suez, doesn’t completely clean up the site, we will have years of contamination.
Once it is cleaned up, the property left behind after the plant retires presents the chance for a reuse study to evaluate how the land can best be redeveloped. Some AHH! members hope for park land, opening up water access on the beautiful Connecticut River right in Holyoke. It might be a tourist attraction with boats and a lookout tower.
The retirement of the coal plant could be the launching point for attracting new business and funding job training programs. We’ve had industry leave the city before, leaving no plans in its wake. This time we have the chance to leverage state support to redevelop and revitalize our city and attract sustainable businesses to our green community.
Rory Casey, legislative aide to Representative Aaron Vega, pointed out that “in Holyoke, there is a small market today; it is harder for young people coming into the workforce out of school. Look back at programs existing from the ‘30s through the ‘80s [to see that] there was enough work to go around. I want it to be easier for people to get good jobs, and we need to create a better space for entrepreneurs.”
AHH! member Dayna Berrios envisions developing job training programs that lead to stable employment: “CareerPoint is a wonderful resource, but without an increase in funding, the center can’t meet the needs in Holyoke, and as the coal plant nears retirement, we need to plan to bring new industry to the city.”
Other AHH! members say they want to see green, sustainable jobs as well as access to training for workers.
Our vision of Holyoke beyond coal includes support for the workers of the Mt. Tom coal plant. Clarence Kaye, a member of IBEW Local 455, says that if the plant retires before the workers reach retirement age, he “would like to see the company establish a bridge plan to get us there. I would also like the company to maintain health insurance and enhanced severance packages for at least two years. If the plant were to close, we have paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Retiring the coal plant is the first step in reaching our dream of the “new frontier” in Holyoke. From there, we must clean up the site, redevelop the land, and bring in job training and new, sustainable industry to the city. Together we can reach this new frontier.•
Virgenmina Perez, Vilma Vazquez and Carmelo Diaz are members of Action for a Healthy Holyoke!