Critics of the proposed wood-burning power plant in East Springfield continue to pressure the City Council to revoke the special permit it granted to the developers, Palmer Renewable Energy, in 2008. The $150 million project, which would be sited on Page Boulevard, would burn more than 1,100 tons of wood chips a day. The opposition, which includes a broad coalition of public health experts and community groups, warns the project would create a serious health hazard, both in Springfield and surrounding communities, by releasing toxics in the air.
Earlier this month, the presidents of Springfield, Western New England and American International colleges sent a joint letter to Council President Jose Tosado calling for the Council to revoke the 2008 permit and start a new permitting process in light of changes made to the original plans. The college presidents also added their voices to the many unhappy with a decision by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to allow the project to move forward without an environmental impact report.
The developer says safeguards will be in place to prevent health risks. This fall, Palmer Renewable Energy announced that it would drop plans to burn construction-and-demolition waste—matter that poses a particular public health risk—at the plant.
Last week, Councilors Mike Fenton and Tim Allen, along with city Health Director Helen Caulton-Harris, met with state Department of Public Health officials to see what role the DPH might play in the matter. The answer, in short: not much.
According to a Dec. 20 letter sent by Caulton-Harris to Mayor Domenic Sarno, “The State Department of Public Health has no legal standing since the project has been approved by Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. The State Department of Public Health has no authority to overturn a decision made by another state agency. DPH can focus on mitigation of factors that might have an impact. If the project moves forward, DPH will guide the process working with local agencies and organizations (including local public health) to direct the best use of the anticipated two million dollars.”
The project does, however, have one more state hurdle to clear: in order to be built, the plant needs an air quality permit from the Department of Environmental Protection. According to a recent Springfield Republican article by reporter Pete Goonan, the DEP will first issue a draft permit, including conditions on the project. Once that’s issued, a 30-day public comment period will commence—and given the strong opposition to the project, expect plenty of comments from the public.
In addition to Fenton and Allen, plant opponents count Councilors Zaida Luna (Ward 1), Mel Edwards (Ward 3), Henry Twiggs (Ward 4), Clodo Concepcion (Ward 5) and John Lysak (Ward 8) as supportive of the effort to stop the project.
Sarno told Goonan that he supports the plant conditionally, “contingent on the proposed facility meeting all stringent federal, state and local environmental, health and safety requirements.”
Meanwhile, in today's Reminder, Mike Dobbs reports on how Sarno's mayoral next-door neighbor—Chicopee's Mike Bissonnette—feels about the possibility of the plant setting up shop so close to his city. (Dobbs recently criticized the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs decision not to require an environmental impact study of the project. "The amount of tax revenue to Springfield and the number of jobs this would create would not offset thousands of sick people," Dobbs wrote.)