Opposition to a proposed power plant in South Walpole is broadening, with neighboring Foxborough backing Walpole's rejection of the proposed 580-megawatt, gas-fired plant within a mile of the town line.
After meeting last week with state Representative Jay Barrows, a Mansfield Republican, and hearing concerns from residents of both towns, Foxborough selectmen agreed that there are too many unanswered questions. They said they cannot support the project by Competitive Power Ventures Inc., a company based in Silver Springs, Md., and Braintree.
"We listened to the community and there are a ton of unknowns about the emissions," said Andrew Gala, Foxborough town administrator.
Walpole selectmen, meanwhile, are unhappy with how the company conducted a telephone survey of residents this month.
The wording of the survey, selectmen said, led some residents to believe that town officials support the project and, in some cases, that the plant's approval could result in the construction of a new senior center.
In a letter to the company, Town Manager Michael Boynton stated: "Don't make it sound like the town is in favor of it. We're concerned about the message that is going out."
Competitive Power Ventures commissioned Opinion Dynamics Corp. of Waltham to conduct the survey. In response to criticism about it, CPV spokesman Scott Farmalant offered a prepared statement: "Opinion research is a routine component of the siting process." He said he was unaware of Foxborough's solidarity vote.
CPV hopes to persuade Walpole's officials and residents to embrace the proposed $500 million facility that, company officials say, would employ 20 to 25 skilled workers and provide as many as 400 local construction jobs.
Opponents of the plant worry about the proposed 250-foot smokestacks, and an estimated daily draw of at least 125,000 gallons of water. They are wary, too, of plans for storage of 2 million gallons of fuel, and thousands of gallons of ammonia, over the town's aquifer, and as many as 200 tanker-truck trips a day along the already congested Route 1A to refill those tanks.
Opposition to CPV's proposal in Walpole echoes a similar controversy in Brockton, where many residents and some local officals oppose a 350-megawatt fossil-fuel plant proposed by a company called Brockton Clean Energy.
Walpole officials, seeking to insulate themselves from future proposals, set a Special Town Meeting in March to discuss clarifications that ban "noxious uses" on industrial land. A May warrant item has been set in place, if needed.
"We need to look at a couple of uses and see if they make sense," Boynton explained. "As the bylaws are written, there is a gap, and we don't like gray areas."
Allowed uses, according to the current zoning language, range from bulk petroleum storage to coal elevators, junkyards, and commercial landfills.
"Zoning should be the voice of the people about what they want for their community," Boynton went on. "The table of uses should be clear, without any room for extra interpretation."
What is also eminently clear, Boynton said, is that the town needs to do a full review of industrial and limited manufacturing uses. Although Walpole was clearly key in the Industrial Revolution, times have changed and such heavy uses have been replaced by residential developments, he said.
At this point, most residents would rather see the construction of an office park than an industrial park, Boynton said.
An amendment recently passed by the state Senate, and awaiting House approval, would prevent power plants from being built within a mile of a school, home, playground, day-care facility, house of worship, or any other place of environmental concern. State Senator James Timilty, a Walpole Democrat, is a cosponsor of that legislation.
Timilty said he cosponsored the bill after a deluge of calls from area residents, including those in Foxborough and Sharon, and indications that water in towns such as Walpole, where the aquifer is not recharging, will be of huge concern over the next 25 years.
"Hopefully, we will carry the day," he said. "But I'm realistic, and I imagine this is not an issue that is alone to the two properties in Brockton and Walpole. Other energy companies have a certain desire for it not to succeed."
Timilty said that despite being rejected by Walpole and Foxborough officials, Competitive Power Ventures seems to be hunkering down in its choice of locations: "We have to recognize that this is in the very early stages," he said, "and it's going to be a very long process."
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.