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Springfield Approves Agreement With Biomass Plant Developers

The Town of Springfield has approved an agreement with the developers of a proposed wood-burning power plant in North Springfield.

Town officials say the big decisions about the project are in the hands of state agencies and experts. They say their agreement covers issues within control of the town

The 35 megawatt biomass proposal has been through permit hearings before the state Public Service Board, and a decision could come this summer.

The project has sparked vocal opposition in North Springfield. The Springfield Select Board hasn’t taken an official position.

On Monday the board invited public comment on a draft ‘Memorandum of Understanding.’

Town attorney Stephen Ankuda said the memorandum spells out benefits the developer has promised, if the plant goes forward.

“This draft that you see, it’s certainly not this select board agreeing that this project is in the best interest of the people of the state of Vermont,” Ankuda told a crowd of about 60 people. “That’s an issue left to the Public Service Board in issuing a Certificate of Public Good.  But it is an agreement saying, there are certain things that are promised, we want them in writing, we want them on the permit process, we want them conditioned on the permit.”

The memorandum was negotiated with the developers, Winstanley Enterprises and Weston Solutions.

It requires the plant’s owners to pay $3 million for a new access road for truck traffic, and agrees to negotiate tax stabilization as part of the deal.

It formalizes the developers’ offer to replace old homeowners’ woodstoves with newer, more efficient stoves, to partially offset emissions from the proposed plant.

It also increases the service area of a hot water loop, promised by the developers to bring the plant’s waste heat to homes and businesses.

But Springfield resident Walter Dodd said the memorandum misses the real point.

“This gives us a perfect opportunity to simply say, the town of Springfield does not support this project,” Dodd asserted.

Jean Willard, who is 89 and spent many years on town select boards, said the document should reflect concerns about drinking water. She said the owners should be required to name chemicals used to clean the plant’s boiler and smoke stack.

Willard said the plant would sit above a major  aquifer.

“Please think about the value of drinking water,” Willard asked the board. “Make a decision to take it to the Public Service Board that you are concerned about what this plant will do to our only water source.”

Local residents also brought up concerns about the possible health impacts of emissions from the plant’s smokestack.

But the Agency of Natural Resources has already issued an air quality permit for the plant. And board members added that water issues are also the state’s responsibility.

Select Board member Peter MacGillivray said it’s frustrating to realize how little control the town has over the project.

“This is all governed by expert witnesses at the state level,” he said. “We’re told to trust the state, they know what’s good for us and the PSB is going to make the decision without any real input from us.”

In the end, the board approved the agreement as it was presented, with only one “no” vote.

Susan Keese was VPR's southern Vermont reporter, based at the VPR studio in Manchester at Burr & Burton Academy. After many years as a print journalist and magazine writer, Susan started producing stories for VPR in 2002. From 2007-2009, she worked as a producer, helping to launch the noontime show Vermont Edition. Susan has won numerous journalism awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for her reporting on VPR. She wrote a column for the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Her work has appeared in Vermont Life, the Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times and other publications, as well as on NPR.
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