Brockton has spent $845,000 fighting power plant proposed for city’s south side

Ed Byers, owner of a salad-dressing manufacturing company next to the proposed site of the power plant, said the city has a responsibility to fight it.
Ed Byers, owner of a salad-dressing manufacturing company next to the proposed site of the power plant, said the city has a responsibility to fight it.Rose Lincoln for the Boston Globe/File 2007

Brockton has spent nearly $845,000 fighting a natural gas-fired power plant proposed for one of its poorest south-side neighborhoods, a figure that climbs approximately $40,000 a month, according to the city solicitor’s office.

But despite criticism that funds in the financially struggling city could and should be spent more wisely — and that a power plant would bring jobs and revenue — elected officials who oppose the 350-megawatt facility backed by Advanced Power AG and Siemens Corp. say they will continue to do what it takes to protect public health and safety, and send developers packing.

Ward 2 City Councilor Thomas Monahan said it isn’t possible to put a price on safety. He said he has asked power plant officials twice to put up monitors to test air quality in the Oak Hill Avenue area where the facility would be located but they refused.

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“The problem is the air quality in the area is already close to maximum levels,” Monahan said.

Brockton children already have one of the highest asthma rates in the state, which city health officials say is twice the state average. Along with being close to a variety of hazardous sites — from landfills and recycling centers to garbage dumps — the power plant locale is near schools, daycare centers, senior citizen housing projects, low-income housing, and churches, officials said.  

Not everyone opposes the plant, however. One city councilor last week publicly asked his colleagues to stop wasting a fortune fighting a facility that he believes would be a plus for the city.

Todd Petti, a Brockton native and city councilor at large, posted his entreaty on his Facebook page Tuesday following a report from city solicitors about the money spent on court action to block the power plant.

Petti said he requests the bill monthly from the solicitor’s office to keep track of legal costs for the issue that has been in and out of court since 2009.

Money has been spent to defend a handful of lawsuits in state and federal courts as well as to pay for private law firms to assist in that defense, he said.

Petti said research and data show the proposed plant would be safe, would create construction jobs, and would generate millions of dollars in annual revenue for the city. “It is time we sit down with Brockton Power and negotiate a plan that is good for Brockton’s residents, businesses, and neighbors,’’ he said.

In a statement, Advanced Power officials backed Petti’s plea and said “a resolution of these issues would be in the city’s best interests.”

“While we do not wish to engage in costly and time-consuming litigation, the city has given us no choice but to seek the enforcement of our rights in the courts. As our complaint makes clear, a resolution of the issues would reduce city-borne liabilities, eliminate further litigation expenses, create hundreds of new jobs during the construction of the facility, and add millions in new city revenues.”

Trade unions and their members also backed Petti’s declaration.

“We have always been supportive of the power plant as long as it’s clean and safe for the environment and for the city,’’ said David Fenton, business manager of the Electricians Union IBEW 223 and president of the Brockton and Vicinity Building Trades.  

Together the two organizations represent more than 5,000 union workers, many of whom are out of jobs, he said. Imagine, said Fenton and other power plant supporters, if the money the city spends on legal costs went to boosting up police ranks or other municipal needs.

Brockton Mayor Linda Balzotti said she has been advised by city attorneys not to comment specifically on the power plant issue so as not to jeopardize any of its legal cases.

“All I will tell you is that I oppose the power plant and we will do what is legally necessary to do that,’’ she said. “We will continue to oppose it.”

One of the power plant company’s recent legal actions was to file a $68 million federal civil rights lawsuit charging that Brockton has willingly violated the company’s rights by refusing to entertain any of its requests, including selling it the 2 million gallons of water needed to cool the plant’s towers.

City Councilor at Large Jass Stewart said a city should have the right to accept or reject what is developed in its community as long as it’s legal, and to defend itself from harmful industries.

“It seems very clear to me that Brockton Power is attempting to muscle itself into the city by forcing us to spend money on lawsuits they know they cannot win,’’ he said.

“Their attempt to try and financially bleed us into submission will not work. It’s just another signal that this is not the kind of operation we want or need in our neighborhoods.”

Ed Byers, who owns a salad-dressing manufacturing plant next to the proposed power plant site, said city officials have a fiduciary responsibility to fight it. He said he didn’t think too much of Petti’s position, nor does he take it seriously.

“It’s just a last-ditch effort’’ by a plant supporter, he said.

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