|By Erin O'Connor |
RUSSELL The public hearing conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Telecommunications and Energy (DTE) on the Biomass Project was standing room only Sept. 13 at 7 p.m.
The Russell Elementary School Auditorium was filled with close to 100 individuals wanting to comment on a petition from Russell Biomass LLC for a zoning exemption for its proposed generating facility.
In attendance were members of the Concerned Citizens of Russell, a grassroots organization; Bill Hull developer for Biomass LLC and his associates; the Russell Selectmen; Mayor Richard Sullivan of Westfield; and citizens of the area.
"I'm pleased to see a lot of people here to support our contentions," John P. Chicoine, president of CCR, said to Reminder Publications.
The CCR is opposing the Biomass based on their stated concerns of pollution, air quality, traffic and zoning laws.
"An appeal will be granted if the Department finds the plant to be for the convenience or welfare of the public," Kathryn Sodar, the hearing officer for the DTE said in opening ceremonies.
"What assures a safe plant," Hull said in arguments, "Is that 20 federal and state permits and ten agencies must approve. Denial of one of these permits will prevent construction."
During his arguments, Hull addressed issues of biomass emissions, wood pallets, and promised not to use types C and D wood- an issue that was of concern for some Russell officials.
Hull compared the emissions released from the biomass to the particulate emissions released by 306 wood stoves and said the wood stove emissions were worse.
"I do not believe that it was the intent of 'The Zoning Act,' nor envisioned that a comprehensive or total exemption from local zoning be granted for public service corporations," Sullivan said in comments. "I believe that the wholesale waiver of all zoning requirements as requested by the applicant is neither consistent with the letter nor the spirit of Section Three of Chapter 40A, nor in the best interests of the project nor the communities in which it will be located."
"This power plant is poorly sited and could cause significant harm to the surrounding communities," Sylvia Broude, community organizer for the Toxics Action Center said. "We do not want to see Russell Biomass become a cautionary tale that impedes the growth of similar renewable energy projects throughout the state."
"It won't be Russell Biomass, but the DTE who will determine if the Plant is safe," Peter Bos, Hull's assistant, said to the crowd.
"In a study done by a Westfield State College student it found that the Westfield River would be affected by the 800,000 gallons taken out daily by 1 degree Fahrenheit," Commissioner William Hardie, of the Conservation Commission, said.
"My concern as a teacher since 1967 is how can we expect someone who can't keep his word in the amount of time he was allotted to keep his word in terms of the big project," Dr. Francis Petros of Russell said of Hull.
"Our conclusion is that the intent of those appealing the Permit is to delay the project, a common tactic by opponents of any project." Hull said in comments to the town Selectmen, Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board of Russell. "While we will proceed as planned with our air, water, noise, environmental impact and other permit applications, because of the appeal we will now also initiate a new legal process to seek an exemption from the Russell zoning bylaws from the DTE."
The deadline for individuals wishing to file comments or petitions is Sept. 20 to the DTE.
The DTE can be reached by calling Sedor at 617-305-3525. More information on the CCR can be found at www.concernedcitizensofrussell.org.
The DTE is responsible for the structure and control of monopoly Telecommunications and Energy in the Commonwealth; developing alternatives to traditional regulation and traditional monopoly arrangements; controlling prices and profits; monitoring service quality; regulating safety in the transportation and gas pipeline areas; and for the siting of energy facilities.