The highest court in Massachusetts has effectively cleared the way for construction of a wood-burning power plant in Springfield. Plant opponents see their last hope in the hands of a local health board.
The state Supreme Judicial Court this month declined to take up an appeal of two lower court decisions that directed the city to issue a building permit for the proposed $150 million biomass plant on Springfield’s eastside. The project had been tied up in litigation for more than five years.
The last ditch appeal to the SJC was filed by people who live near the site of the proposed plant, an environmental activist, and the Springfield City Council. Council President Mike Fenton said councilors knew when they voted unanimously last September to pursue the appeal that it was a long shot.
"The council is very disappointed in this result," said Fenton. " We have opposed this plant and will continue to oppose this plant."
But, Fenton, who is an attorney, said he knows of no additional legal avenues to pursue in a bid to stop the project.
" We have fought the fight to completion and if there were another avenue to pursue, trust me, we would pursue it," he said.
A spokesman for Palmer Renewable Energy said it looked forward to bringing the project that was proposed in 2008 to fruition. The developer was given an air permit by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection in 2011 after several contentious public hearings. It then won a case in Massachusetts Land Court against the Springfield Zoning Board of Appeals. That ruling was upheld by the state Appeals Court.
The project opponents contend the plant will worsen air pollution in the lower Pioneer Valley where asthma rates are already high. Supporters of the project point out there will be 200 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs.
Michaelann Bewsee, of Arise for Social Justice and one of the plaintiffs in the unsuccessful appeal, said she was disappointed, but not surprised the SJC would not hear the case.
"However, we still have a few ideas," said Bewsee.
Bewsee is urging the Springfield Public Health Council to hold a site assignment hearing to determine if the location of the plant is acceptable from a public health standpoint.
" We are doing the best we can to make sure people will not suffer from pollution, and the public health council that is their job. So, we just want them to do their job," she said.
Bewsee said she believes at the very least the health board, if it can’t block the project, could impose restrictions on the operations of the power plant, to safeguard people’s health.
The public health council is scheduled to meet on Nov. 18