Russell Biomass Full Steam Ahead: Statement from Concerned Citizens of Russell
Jana Chicoine, Spokesperson for Concerned Citizens of Russell, MA writes:
December 11, 2009 update from Concerned Citizens of Russell
Recent false media reports regarding the Manomet forest biomass sustainability study and Department of Energy Resources (DOER) suspension of biomass Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) have led the public to believe that biomass power plants in Massachusetts are being meaningfully studied by the state and are “on hold” for a year, but a look at the progress of the Russell Biomass proposal shows that is the furthest thing from the truth.
Russell Biomass races full steam ahead is planning construction for 2010. They moved ahead last week with key assistance from a state government agency called the Department of Public Utilities (D.P.U.). The Department of Public Utilities, under Secretary of Energy and the Environment (EEA) Ian A. Bowles, has issued a final decision granting Russell Biomass exemption from local zoning restrictions on building height and setback. The decision is blindingly illegal because the Department has never conducted a proceeding dealing with only height and setback.
The proceeding that was conducted before the D.P.U. was for a full exemption of all aspects of the incinerator facility, so interveners chose to focus the bulk of the opposing testimony and evidence on traffic impacts. The Department has never issued a public notice that there is a proceeding dealing with only a height and setback exemption. This means that people living nearby have never had a chance to participate and submit focused evidence on how a state-ordered height and setback exemption would subject them to the daily nuisance and stress of this noisy, dusty, unsightly facility which would remain brightly lit all night.
Nor have they had a chance to submit evidence on the dangers such a height and setback exemption could subject them to. Russell Biomass would store huge amounts of wood chips, ammonia, and diesel fuel, which can combust or explode. Homeowners living near these facilities elsewhere have experienced a 20% drop in their property values, yet the Patrick administration thinks they can force this incinerator into this community without even pretending to comply with the law. EEA and D.P.U. have absolutely no statutory authority to approve a project without conducting a public proceeding on the impacts. Apparently they feel that complying with the law is just too much trouble when they want to get these incinerators built.
Russell Biomass also recently filed a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) with the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). This is the final step in a long MEPA process in which hundreds of citizens have filed comments with the MEPA office, also under EEA Secretary Ian Bowles. The MEPA office has summarily ignored many detailed and expert comments on this project for four years now. The comment deadline for the SEIR is January 8, 2010.
Also ongoing in the town of Russell are local joint hearings of the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board on five applications from Russell Biomass for Special Permits and Site Plan Reviews. Approval of these permits by the Zoning Board would activate the DPU zoning exemption for height and setback.
In response to a recent wetlands appeal on the Frog Hollow Road extension (also known as the alternate trucking route), Western Regional Department of Environmental Protection (WERO DEP) staff are also planning to visit Russell this coming week to make a preliminary review of the road. MA DEP Commissioner Laurie Burt, also under EEA Secretary Ian Bowles, controls air and water permits, as well as the Wetlands appeal process, for Russell Biomass.
Also this week, the attorneys of B&N Lands will depose the John and Jana Chicoine at the Law Offices of Green, Miles, Lipton & Fitz-Gibbon, LLP. The depositions are part of a land dispute lawsuit brought against the Chicoines by Russell Biomass developer Bill Hull of B&N Lands. Dated on Thanksgiving Day in 2006, the lawsuit is now entering its fourth year. The Chicoines have always maintained that it is a SLAPP suit (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) intended to stop them from exercising their right of free speech and their right to petition the government. They also feel that the state’s strong support for large-scale biomass power plants is a major factor enabling this years-long effort to drive their family out of their home and into bankruptcy. Bill Hull maintains that the lawsuit has nothing to do with the Chicoines’ work of five years leading the fight against Russell Biomass.
With this enormous show of force on all fronts, it would be very foolish to imagine that the Russell Biomass developers are worried about their Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). This week’s announcement that the Department of Energy Resources (DOER), is placing a one year moratorium on statements of qualification for Renewable Energy Credits is meaningless. The developers don’t need those credits any time soon. The DOER announcement could actually help the Russell Biomass developers by faking out the public and buying the developers just the amount of time they need to reach construction. The DOER is yet another agency under EEA Secretary Ian Bowles.
Developers from both Russell Biomass and Pioneer Renewable in Greenfield, are saying loudly and often how great the Manomet study is and they claim to already know the results. They say that it will “prove’ that their fuel supply is sustainable. They also crow about how sensible the DOER halt on RECs is. Having the developers publicly applaud these moves tells you all you need to know: it is an election year. The state is making empty political gestures meant to buy time and cool the public outcry. If the state was serious about dealing with the Biomass Frankenstein they have created, the developers wouldn’t be whistling Dixie, beating on innocent activist homeowners in the full light of day with an aggressive unwarranted lawsuit, receiving continual favors and advances from the state, and pouring millions of dollars into reaching construction before the light dawns on the voters.
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