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Public invited to comment on proposed biomass plant

Date: 11/10/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Opponents of a proposed biomass plant at 1000 Page Boulevard say that concerned members of the public have three opportunities left to comment on the facility and possibly stop its construction.

The plant, which will be operated by Palmer Renewable Energy, will be allowed to burn construction and demolition waste as up to 75 percent of its total fuel. According to Michaelann Bewsee of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, the proposed plant will be the first in the state licensed to burn this kind of waste to generate electricity.

Mary Booth, president of Massachusetts Environmental Energy Alliance, said, "The reclassification of waste as 'fuel' for this plant will be precedent setting in Massachusetts and it will be the start of a very slippery slope. The plant already plans to import waste from other states. According to the incinerator's draft air permit data, burning this waste will produce lead arsenic, hexavalent chromium, mercury and dioxin emissions as well as conventional pollutants; with some rates comparable to and even higher than the Mount Tom coal plant and the Bondi's Island waste incinerator."

The Massachusetts Department of Health has documented that Springfield children have high rates of asthmas and nearly double the blood lead levels of other Bay State children.

"We're really guinea pigs here," Bewsee said.

The Springfield Public Health Council will devote its entire meeting on Nov. 18 to the proposed biomass plant. The meeting is open to the public and will be presented at 6 p.m. at the Pine Point Citizens Council at 335 Berkshire Ave.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection's Web site, the agency has issued a provisional approval draft for a Beneficial Use Determination (BUD) for the plant. Public comments may be submitted in writing to by the deadline on Nov. 18 at 5 p.m.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection's Web site, the agency has issued "a draft conditional approval of a Major Comprehensive Plan Application by Palmer Renewable Energy LLC to build and operate a 38-megawatt (MW) biomass-fired power plant at 1000 Page Boulevard in Springfield." The agency has scheduled a public hearing on the draft conditional approval at 7 p.m. on Dec. 2 at John F. Kennedy Middle School Auditorium,1385 Berkshire Ave. Public comments may also be submitted in writing to < a href=""> by Dec. 4 at 5 p.m.

Bewsee told Reminder Publications that she has yet to find anyone in city government who has been "involved in a substantial conversation about the pros and cons" of the project.

"My impression is no one was watching out for us," she said,

"The City Council approved a zoning change for the plant, which was classified by the Planning Department as a "recycling plant," Bewsee explained. She charged that a general discussion of the merits of the plant was never on any City Council or Finance Control Board agenda.

Springfield has been designated as an "environmental justice community" by the state, which requires greater notification, public input and more stringent project reviews, but Bewsee said little was done to involve the public. She said the developers attended an East Springfield neighborhood Council meeting at which they discussed their plans, printed a legal notice about the plant as a legal notice in a Spanish-language newspaper and supplied a notice to the New North Citizens Council to have on file.

Ward Eight City Councilor-elect John Lysak has been a critic of the plant. Although Lysak said he is a supporter of businesses that would increase the tax rolls and bring green jobs to the city he sees this project as "nothing but minuses."

"As much as I love the idea of green energy, I don't think the Palmer Renewable Energy plant is the way to go," Lysak said.