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Residents seek funds for Biomass plant special permit appeal

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD This Thursday, the final round of testimonies before the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) concerning the construction of the Russell Biomass plant will take place at Westfield State College.

The outcome of the hearings will determine whether the power plant's proposed construction at the location of the Westfield River Paper Company will be allowed to proceed with the requested exemption from zoning regulations. Zoning bylaws in Montgomery, Russell and Westfield stipulate that the height of the plant cannot exceed 35 feet. However, proposed designs indicate the facility to be 135 feet high.

In addition to the DPU hearings, four Russell residents claiming the negative effects the plant will have on their health have filed a special permit appeal after the town of Russell granted Russell Biomass, LLC, a special permit for construction. The appeal states that the special permit was granted by violating the town's zoning bylaws.

The plaintiffs' attorney, Arthur Kreiger of Anderson & Kreiger in Cambridge, Mass., said his clients' allegations stipulate that their health will be greatly affected by the exhaust fumes from truck traffic entering and exiting the plant as well as smoke stack pollutants.

In an effort to cover the cost of legal fees for the plaintiffs, a "No Biomass Christmas Party" fundraiser will take place at the Russell VFW on Dec. 14 from 6 11 p.m. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children ages six to 12 and will include dinner and dancing. There will also be cash bar and raffles.

According to the Russell Biomass Power Plant's Web site calls to the company were not returned by press time the plant will generate energy for 30 percent of the homes in Hampden county "and will offset oil consumption by 480,000 barrels per year." The Web site further explains that the energy will be generated through 500,000 tons of clean wood fuel annually.

"Russell Biomass will be the second largest renewable energy project (after Cape Wind) to be developed in Massachusetts," according to the Russell Biomass Web site.

However, many residents in Montgomery, Russell and Westfield disagree with the standpoint of Russell Biomass, LLC's claims that the plant will have no negative environmental or health impacts on neighboring communities or residents.

Jana Chicoine, a member of the Concerned Citizens of Russell and the Pioneer Valley Preservation Coalition, said that for almost three years these two organizations have been trying to educate those in the Pioneer Valley about the negative impacts of the plant.

"The air pollution and logging impacts would be pretty profound," she said, explaining that the plant is projected to burn one ton of wood per minute. "The company has identified over four million acres of harvestable land they can log within 30 miles of the plant."

Chicoine said she and other residents are concerned not only about the harvesting but also the increased truck traffic that is inevitable in order to transport the wood to the plant for burning. She said one of the plaintiffs of the special permit appeal is forced to pull over to the roadside when following any truck because she is unable to breathe the exhaust.

City Councilor Mary O'Connell, former owner and cofounder of a trucking business called Lawry Freight System, Inc., is set to testify at the DPU hearings this week. O'Connell said she will be using her previous knowledge and expertise within the trucking business as well as traffic studies to explain the negative impacts the plant will have on motor vehicle congestion in Westfield.

O'Connell explained that between one and eight of her trucks were deployed daily to transport goods on behalf of the Westfield River Paper Company but that a total of 120 were moving in and out of the plant daily.

Through extensive research and traffic studies, O'Connell said a projected 220 trucks will be passing in and out of the Russell Biomass Plant everyday. She added that the major routes to and from the plant are through Westfield, which will cause great congestion within the town's already gridlocked intersections.

Chicoine said the "No Biomass Christmas Party" is an effort to take a break from the court cases, testimonies and worries of the proposed plant after an almost three year fight. She said she is hoping to raise as much as she can through the fundraiser for lawyer fees on behalf of the "brave residents" who filed the appeal. She added that all other monetary donations toward legal fees are willingly accepted.