SOMERSET – At the same press conference held last Monday, Coalition for Clean Air Southcoast released the results of a survey in which most responders said they would like to see the two power plant sites in town redeveloped with renewable energy, while the chairman of the Somerset Economic Development Committee said that would not be in the best interests of the town.
Of those that took the survey, 42 percent chose renewable energy related as their highest priority for site redevelopment. The option that received the second most responses was tourism related activities which received 20 percent.
“Residents support clean energy and they largely don’t support heavy industry for the town,” Sylvia Broude, executive director of Toxics Action Center, said of the results of the survey.
Broude said that 406 residents in Somerset answered questions for the survey after the surveys were brought door to door and in front of stores where people were asked to answer the questions. She said she felt a good cross section of people in town took the survey. Broude said the survey shows that people who live in town want to have a say in how the power plant sites are redeveloped. She said the survey did not go as far as to ask residents whether they preferred solar or wind power for the sites, but she said offshore wind power was discussed and those who took the survey liked state Rep. Patricia Haddad’s idea to use the transmission facilities from the power plants to transmit power from offshore wind turbines.
Broude said the reuse that the most respondents of the survey do not want to see is heavy industry. Twenty-eight percent of the residents who took the survey selected heavy industry as their lowest priority for reuse of the power plant sites. The other option that received the most responses as the lowest priority for the sites was preserving them as open space.
Broude said Somerset faces grave economic problems, but said the town’s waterfront has great potential.
James Burke, chairman of Somerset’s Economic Development Committee, said the goal of his committee is to bring in as much tax income to the town as possible with low risk development. He said he believes all stakeholders taking part in the process is valuable.
Burke said he understands the coalition prefers renewable energy for redeveloping the power plant sites. But he said he did not think those that took the survey were given enough options for what type of redevelopment they would like to see on the power plant sites on one of the questions. He said a natural gas power plant was not one of the options given. Burke said wind and solar power producing facilities would take up large pieces of land, not generate as much electricity as the coal plants have and would not bring as much revenue into Somerset as had been coming in from the sites.
“It’s just not a good fit for those sites and would not be a good fit for the town of Somerset,” Burke said.
Burke said redeveloping the sites for renewable energy should not be furthered at the expense of a small town like Somerset.
Broude said the residents surveyed want a say in the redeveloping of the power plant sites and want renewable energy.
“Their least preference is heavy industry,” Broude said.
Broude said the question that Burke questioned as not having enough options for residents to choose from for redevelopment of the power plant sites listed 10 options. She said the survey that was done was similar to one done up in Salem where they had a coal fired power plant.
“Natural gas was not included as an option,” Broude said. “It is possible that it could fall under heavy industry.”
Broude said it may not be possible to retrofit the Brayton Point power plant site for a natural gas facility.
David Dionne, a member of the coalition, said the survey was about what people wanted for the power plant sites, not dirty energy versus clean energy.
“It was about Somerset’s economy moving forward,” Dionne said.
Broude said a similar survey was done by the coalition in Somerset last year, but this year’s survey got more specific as to what uses residents would like to see for the power plant sites.
The town is about to choose a consultant to do a state funded reuse study for the power plants. The survey done by the coalition was independent of the study. Broude said it is not clear whether the state would require such a survey to be included in the reuse study.
“I’m hopeful that the town will take this survey and use it for the reuse study to match it up with the hopes and dreams of the people of Somerset,” Broude said.
Rich Munger, a member of Coalition for Clean Air, said that the potential impact of higher taxes because of the closing of the Montaup Electric power plant and the potential closing of the Brayton Point power plant scares him and his neighbors in Somerset. He helped to take answers for the survey and said concerns of residents were what will happen when the Brayton Point power plant closes, what will happen to taxes and what are the town officials doing to prepare for the future of Somerset.
“I’m excited that other residents share my hope that we can shift Somerset away from coal power and develop clean renewable energy in Somerset,” Munger said. “It is also clear from the survey results that residents want to take advantage of Somerset’s ample waterfront through an expanded port or marine facility or commercial development that helps expand tourism to the area. I hope our town leaders will consider this input from residents and prioritize this type of development in Somerset.”
Munger is on the Citizen Transition Committee formed by the coalition that has a mission of developing an action plan with citizen involvement that ensures a just transition toward diverse and sustainable economic growth and stability for the town of Somerset, capitalizing on the natural beauty of the waterfront and promoting a healthy quality of life for all residents in the Southcoast region. Munger said the Transition Committee’s objectives over the next year will be to watchdog the reuse of the coal plant sites, ensuring that the reuse study that will be conducted over the next year is as successful as possible and to engage the public in watchdogging new development projects to ensure that new development is good for public health, quality of life and Somerset’s economy. He said residents can join the coalition by attending meetings on the third Tuesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Old Town Hall, which is located next to the Somerset Public Library at 1464 County St.
Pauline Rodrigues, a member of the coalition, said members of the coalition are not only concerned with the health effects from redeveloping the power plant sites, but also how it will impact the town’s economy.
The site on Riverside Avenue where Montaup Electric operated its power plant no longer is operating as a power plant site. The owner of the Brayton Point power plant has announced that power plant will be shut down in 2017.
Broude said the owners of the two power plant sites are not obligated to allow the consultant doing the reuse study to access their locations. She said the consultant doing the study in Salem was not allowed to access the site, but she hopes that will be different in Somerset.
Rodrigues said the current owner of the Montaup Electric property is inaccessible to people. She said she talked to the site manager for the property who said the intention is to put up a sign with a development plan for the property and a for sale sign for the site. Rodrigues said if she owned the property and did not know what she was going to do with it or what was feasible for the site, she would welcome information from the reuse study the town will be doing.
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