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Advisory group to consider re-uses of Mount Tom plant

Date: 4/25/2012

April 25, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

HOLYOKE — Mayor Alex Morse and local activists gathered outside of City Hall on April 19 to announce the formation of a Community Advisory Group (CAG) that will explore possible re-uses of the Mount Tom Generating Company when it closes.

Morse explained to Reminder Publications that a resident from each ward and City Councilor Aaron Vega are part of the group as well as members of the Conservation Commission.

The group, he added, would make their recommendations next year.

"The future [of the plant] is unsure," Morse said. "We want to be sure we're ready."

He noted the closing of the plant, if it comes, would represent a loss in tax revenue to the city.

He emphasized the new group is not advocating on behalf of shutting down the plant.

Liz Budd, a member of CAG, said a re-use plan would put the city "ahead of the game."

Claire Miller of Toxics Action Center said that the re-use strategy of each coal-fried generator has been different.

In February, the U.S. District Court ordered Dominium to shut down the Salem Harbor Station generating plant by 2014. Miller said that because that plant is in Salem harbor, it would have a different re-use plan than Mount Tom would.

"It's not going to be apples to apples," when comparing how communities have dealt with a closed generating plan, she said.

"The sooner you can plan ahead [to a closing], the cheaper [a plan for its re-use] is going to be," she added.

If and when the plant closes, Miller said a plan in place would "help keep Holyoke on its Green Community trajectory."

Since pollution from the plant also affects communities such as Northampton, Easthampton and Hadley, Miller said there are other people to contact in this effort and that Holyoke's announcement is "really the kick-off" to a wider discussion.

The Mount Tom plant has been controversial and has been the subject of various actions to attempt to either modify the amount of pollutants it dispenses or close it down.

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) announced last February it would file a federal citizen suit against Mt. Tom Generating Company, FirstLight Power Resources and GDF Suez North America, the owners of Mt. Tom Station, for "ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act."

In a press statement released Feb. 8, 2011, CLF staff attorney Shanna Cleveland said, "The soot Mt. Tom releases contains dangerous pollutants that threaten the health of everyone who breathes them — particularly children and the elderly. Despite recent investments in new technology, this plant is unable to operate in compliance with the law, and therefore within the limits of what is considered safe for human health."

The actions of the group prompted the Attorney General's Office of the state Department of Environmental Protection to take action, according to a follow-up announcement made last June.

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