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Local environmental groups oppose proposed natural gas power plant proposed for Salem

Posted by Justin Rice  March 27, 2012 10:52 AM

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Several local environmental groups have raised concerns about a proposal to replace the coal-and oil-fired Salem Harbor Power Station with a natural gas facility.

SAFE, HealthLink and Clean Water Action released a statement on Monday saying they oppose New Jersey-based Footprint Power’s pending plan to buy the old fossil fuel plant and convert it into what  a more environmentally friendly facility.

Last year, Dominion, the Virginia-based owner of the Salem Harbor Power Plant, announced its plans to shut its Salem plant down completely in 2014. In February, Footprint announced it's plans for the natural gas facility on the site.

The environmental groups said the details of the proposal are “sketchy at this point” and has raised serious health and safety questions.
 
"We have deep concerns about the potential local impacts of the proposed plant," Jeff Barz-Snell, Co-Chair of SAFE, said in a statement.  "There is no natural gas capacity currently at that site. Will a pipeline need to be drilled under residential neighborhoods?  Will LNG tankers need to deliver fuel through the harbor? Is Salem being targeted to become an LNG port?"

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll said opposition is premature because Footprint is still negotiating with Dominion and the details of their proposal have not been made public.

"The city has completed a very well thought out re-use study for the site which laid out a set of mixed-use options, including maximizing the deep water port, encouraging commercial and passive open space, as well as other alternative energy generation," Driscoll said in a statement.

"Redevelopment of the site offers some tremendous opportunities for the city, but also poses major challenges with respect to the high cost of clean up and demolition. It’s only prudent for there to be a public-private partnership to help address this situation given the fact that the power supplied by Salem Harbor Station benefited the entire region. For 60 years the Salem community has hosted a coal fired plant and shouldered the brunt of the impacts – both good and bad. Now that the plant is closing, it’s only fair that state and local officials work together to ensure that the site does not become a dormant, contaminated eyesore in our community."
 
But the press release put out by the environmental groups says that their “key questions” concerning the proposed power plant include:

•           Is this plant needed since the current power plant has received authorization to close by the region's electric grid managers?

•           Are taxpayer or ratepayer dollars being used to make this a profitable venture for a private developer?

•           How noisy would plant operation be for nearby neighbors?

•           What are the risks of explosion given the proximity of schools and homes in the area?

•           Will natural gas and or diesel fuel be stored on site?

•           How will a natural gas and diesel plant of this size affect neighborhood property values?
 
"There are elements of this proposal that are very positive, including the commitment to remove the current power plant and remediate the site for next phase use," Pat Gozemba, Co-Chair of SAFE, said in the statement. "We applaud this concept and feel that it's key to moving forward to a new era for this valuable waterfront property. However, I fear that a power plant of this size will have a negative impact on the exciting marine developments proposed by the Salem Reuse Study Committee, on which I served.”

Footprint Chief Executive Officer Peter Furniss said there will be a community process but not until after their deal with Dominion is complete. 

"Footprint Power’s development philosophy relies heavily on community input," he said in a statement. "We are eager to get deeper into a community discussion with Salem officials and residents about our plans for Salem Harbor Power Station once we acquire the site. Until we own the facility, more detailed public discussion of our future plans is premature."

In the meantime, Furniss said Footprint has reached out to elected officials, concerned neighbors and environmental groups to communicate as much as they can during their negotiations. He said they've relaid their commitment to the safe and orderly operation, shut down, demolition and remediation of the existing plant.

"Most importantly we have asked questions and listened to people talk about what they want to see happen," Furniss said. "We look forward to advancing these discussions as soon as we can to ensure that our development plans meet the needs of the City of Salem, its residents, and the surrounding communities."

The environmental organizations said they recognize that Salem needs the tax revenue that new harbor development would bring but added that they believe that the economic, health and safety risks associated with Footprint Power’s current proposal remain unanswered and could outweigh potential benefits.

"After so many decades of working to protect the health of area residents, we cannot sign-off on more fossil fuel burning at such a large plant for another 60 years,” Jane Bright, HealthLink spokeswoman, said in the statement. “Had this been proposed in 1990, it could have made sense then. Today, we know too much about the devastation pollution causes to our bodies and our climate to support this for our densely populated north shore."

 Dolores Jordan, an 83-year-old member of SAFE who has lived next to the power plant site for her entire life, said the current plan allows for the plant to be fired up several times a day.

“These gas burning units can be as loud as jet engines,” Jordan said in the statement. ”How will that impact our neighborhood? Additionally, I’m concerned about the burning and storage of diesel fuel just a block from my house.”  



Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.

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