SALEM – There have been competing visions for the future of Salem Harbor Footprint’s nearly 40 acres of undeveloped land, and now the New Jersey-based company is offering a way to reconcile them.
Officials with Footprint Power, which completed construction of a natural gas-firing plant in Salem in 2018, is suggesting a split in its undeveloped land. First, it’s proposing that 21 acres to the north of the plant support marine-industrial uses under current site restrictions, and 17 acres to the south support mixed-use development with those restrictions removed. The idea was presented to a Harbor Plan Committee meeting late Wednesday afternoon.
City officials have long talked about mixed-use development pairing residential and commercial uses for the property, but more recent conversations have looked at creating a hub for offshore wind turbine construction throughout New England. Both uses would exclude the other, with wind turbine construction utilizing a designated port area (DPA) restriction that exists today on the site, and residential and commercial development requiring the DPA to be removed.
Footprint is suggesting to leave the DPA in place on land to the north, but remove it to the south of the plant.
“Nobody will get everything they were looking for, because you can’t just please everybody,” said Scott Silverstein, president and chief operating officer of Footprint Power. “We think we’ve touched on all the points that are really important and let us, collectively, take advantage of this really generational opportunity to transform the waterfront.”
The proposal represents a change in Footprint’s presence in Salem as well. The company hasn’t been involved in the ownership or day-to-day operations of the power plant since it was completed, Silverstein explained.
“As you may recall, when we reached project financing in early 2015, the fund that invested the project equity, (Highstar Capital, which is now owned by Oaktree Capital) took over control of the project,” Silverstein said. “They have an asset manager and an operations and maintenance company, NAES, the same company that operated the old plant for us, that report to the project’s board. We worked in a transition role during construction.”
Footprint has since been focusing on the future of the undeveloped land. And that has unprecedented potential, according to Emily Innes, a planner with Innes Designs. A total of 37.8 acres await development, while the state in its entirety has only seen 23.8 acres of water-dependent industrial uses from 2007 to 2019.
The site’s potential for wind turbine “marshalling” has seen some increased attention lately, particularly through the work of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC). In this case, platforms for ocean-based wind turbines would be built elsewhere and shipped to Salem by water, where the turbine would be built on top of it. Once completed, the turbine and platform would then be shipped out to wherever it’s destined to go.
MassCEC has highlighted Salem’s importance to growing the New England wind industry, a factor that has already triggered support among Salem environmentalists. But Footprint has come out in opposition to the plan, saying the site wouldn’t support the weight needed for wind turbine marshalling. Even further, there isn’t that much demand for marine industrial uses, Silverstein noted when pointing out that only 24 acres were developed over 12 years.
That said, Footprint has been approached about part of the property serving as a transmission hub for offshore wind power to reach land, according to Peter Furniss, CEO of Footprint.
“We see wind, we see a lot of wind, we see Salem having a significant role,” Furniss said. “The only question is whether that wind happens, that marshaling construction happens off the site or whether there’s all these other ancillary uses, which includes our power plant.”
City Harbormaster Bill McHugh, however, defended the site’s use for wind turbine marshalling, rejecting a suggestion from Footprint that a facility in New Bedford can support the demand of the region by adding that it’s either at capacity or about to get there.
“The need for another port other than New Bedford in this area and the Northeast area is very real,” McHugh said. “These offshore wind turbines are massive, and they aren’t going to be erected on site, and they don’t go out vertically. … You aren’t going to see a 480-foot turbine system.”
The meeting ran for two hours just from presentations and committee questions, with no time available for public comment. A “Municipal Harbor Plan” meeting next week will provide the public another chance to weigh in on Wednesday, March 24 from 6 to 8 p.m. Officials are also asking for more feedback via a survey at harborplan.salem.com.
Visit bit.ly/3vDxo3y and bit.ly/30UZIk2 to read live coverage of this meeting.
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