Brockton Officials Ready to Take Their Fight to Beacon Hill on Tuesday

Originally published in the Brockton Enterprise

February 8, 2010
Kyle Alspach (Reporter, Brockton Enterprise

City officials are not letting up in their opposition to a proposed Brockton power plant, taking the fight to the Statehouse on Tuesday and the Superior Court soon after that. A bill that could ban the proposed 350-megawatt plant from the city will be discussed at a hearing before a state Legislature panel on Tuesday. The bill will be heard before the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government at 10:30 a.m. in Hearing Room B-1 at the Statehouse in Boston.

"I do plan to be there, I do plan to testify," said Mayor Linda Balzotti, who opposes the project. "It would be great if it did pass. I think every avenue is worth exploring as far as I’m concerned." Other city officials including Councilor-at-large Robert Sullivan also plan to attend and speak. "In my view, it’s just the wrong location, the wrong technology," he said. "The fight’s going to continue."

The plant, proposed by Advanced Power Services NA of Boston, would burn natural gas and diesel. Opponents of the plant include nearly all elected officials in Brockton, who cite studies on potential health effects caused by pollution from burning fossil fuels. Advanced Power contends the plant would have no health impact since it would be powered mainly by natural gas, the least polluting fossil fuel. Advanced Power spokesman Wes Eberle said company representatives plan to speak at the hearing. Eberle declined to comment further, saying the company is saving its response to the bill for their testimony.

The bill is the result of a "home-rule" petition filed by city officials last year. Home-rule petitions allow municipal governments to ask the Legislature for practically anything, as long as the request is constitutional, said David Luberoff, executive director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard University.

The bill, H.4241, was filed by state Rep. Michael Brady, D-Brockton, and co-sponsored by the other three members of Brockton’s legislative delegation. The bill states that "no fossil fuel electric power facility or facilities shall be sited in the city of Brockton" which is less than one mile from a playground, day-care center, school, church or area of critical environmental concern — effectively banning such plants from the city. The bill’s language is the same as a measure that former state Sen. Robert Creedon, D-Brockton, tried to attach to a state budget in 2008. Support for the measure was found in the Senate, but not in the House.

Brockton Councilor-at-large Thomas Brophy, an outspoken opponent of the power plant, says he believes circumstances have changed since then, making it more realistic the bill could pass. One of the reasons lawmakers opposed the measure was a concern that other communities could try to do the same thing, Brophy said. But the city, he noted, was told by state energy officials last year that the city has the power to "determine whether we want this plant or not." In its ruling on the project, the state Energy Facilities Siting Board said it was handing the city "veto power" over the plant by forcing the project to get local approvals.

"Not just anyone could make that claim," Brophy said. "There won’t be other people banging down their doors using the same method." People who want to attend Tuesday’s hearing can get a free ride on a bus sponsored by a residents’ group, Citizens for a Better Brockton. The bus leaves from Cindy’s Kitchen on Sargent’s Way at 9 a.m.

Meanwhile, Brockton officials plan to file an appeal within the next several weeks of a state ruling against the city related to the power plant. The state Department of Environmental Protection last week ruling shot down a previous appeal by the city of a lower DEP ruling. That decision had found the Brockton Conservation Commission was wrong to reject the project in 2008. Since the plant would be built near wetlands, approval by a conservation authority is needed before construction could start. City Solicitor Philip Nessralla Jr. said the appeal of the latest DEP ruling will be filed in Plymouth County Superior Court. Eberle, the Advanced Power spokesman, said the DEP ruling is "one more step forward to the construction of the facility" and called it "disappointing" that another appeal would be filed.