Friday, December 02, 2011 • 10:25 AM Comments ()

Wanted: for Crimes Against Democracy

posted by Maureen Turner

This was not a good week for opponents of the power plant proposed for East Springfield.

On Monday, an effort by some city councilors to appeal the building permit recently granted to the developers, Palmer Renewable Energy, was thwarted by at-large Councilor Kateri Walsh. While a majority of councilors appeared ready to vote in favor of the appeal, Walsh blocked that vote, at least temporarily, by invoking Rule 20, a procedural maneuver that allows any one councilor to stop a vote until the city financial team produces a cost analysis of the proposed action.

The matter will come up for a second vote at a special City Council hearing planned for next Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 5 p.m.

Then, yesterday, plant opponents got more unhappy news, when a state hearing officer found that they do not have legal standing to appeal an air-quality permit granted to the project this summer by the state Department of Environmental Protection. That appeal had been filed by Arise for Social Justice, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Toxics Action Center, as well as a number of individual residents.

The hearing officer’s recommendation still needs final approval from DEP Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell. In a joint statement, the appellants called on Kimmell to reject the recommendation “and preserve the right of Massachusetts residents to have a voice in decisions that affect their health.”

Those two blows have prompted some activists to wonder whether democracy is dead in Springfield—if so, they plan to give it a proper sendoff. On Saturday, Dec. 3, at 3:30 p.m. a “short memorial service for democracy in Springfield” is planned outside Walsh’s Forest Park home.

Walsh has been one of the project’s most ardent supporters, voting to grant the developers a special permit in 2008 and voting against the ultimately successful effort to rescind that permit earlier this year. She has also, not incidentally, received numerous campaign contributions from the Callahan family, the owners of Palmer Paving Corp. and Palmer Renewable Energy. As of January of this year, Walsh has received $1,750 in contributions from Callahan family members—$500 of it two days before Election Day—and $750 from the developer’s attorney, Frank Fitzgerald.

“Our City Council has been sidestepped,” organizers say in a flyer announcing the event. “A highly polluting corporation is buying its way into the city. The will of the people has been ignored. The will of local businesses has been ignored. Even with a majority of City councilors against the biomass plant, they were still out maneuvered by the far right with ties to the corporation.”

“Why is this being proposed here? Because we are poorer? Because we are powerless? Because we are a diverse community? Because our air quality is already terrible?”

Saturday’s memorial apparently won’t be the only of its kind. According to the announcement, additional democracy memorial services are planned as well.

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