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After the hulking cooling towers at the mouth of the Taunton River emit their last puffs of coal exhaust, Somerset could become home to yet another rusting relic or, as environmental activists hope, the departure could set off redevelopment for Brayton Point.
Rep. Lori Ehrlich, a Marblehead Democrat who lives downwind of a soon-to-be-shuttered Salem coal plant, wants the few remaining coal plant operators to participate in planning for a re-use of the site. Under her proposed legislation all operators of power plants generating 75 megawatts or more of electricity would contribute to a Community Transitioning Fund.
The fund would be made available to towns such as Somerset that will see their tax bases shrink when the power plant leaves, and the bill would provide training for workers who lose their jobs when plants close.
Before entering politics, Ehrlich said, she led the charge to clean up six feet of coal waste in a drinking water aquifer that serves 80,000 people.
“Six years, $10 million, and they hauled all of the waste out of the drinking water,” Ehrlich said. “The local communities pay a very high price and nobody’s happier than me that we’re transitioning.”
Since she first filed the bill last session, Ehrlich said, two plants, including Salem, said they would shutter, and a third – which will be the last Bay State coal plant once Brayton Point and Salem close – has shown indications it plans to close.
“Since I’ve filed this there’s been several new realities, and one of those realities is that Brayton Point just announced its plans for closure. I think many people are in a new frame of mind,” Ehrlich said. She said there’s now an opportunity for “scaling up” renewable energy throughout the state.
On Tuesday morning, anti-coal activists gathered in the Great Hall in the State House in support of Ehrlich’s bill (H 2935).
Salem is due to close June 1, 2014, with a new natural gas plant set to take over the space. Former coal plants can leave behind expensive eyesores, but they can also provide a unique setting, as was the case with the Tate Modern art museum in London, housed in a former coal plant.
“The sky is the limit,” said Toxics Action Center Massachusetts State Director Claire Miller, who noted coal plant redevelopments in Austin and Toronto, the largely successful re-use of old mill buildings around the state, and Brayton Point’s scenic setting across the water from Fall River looking out on Mount Hope Bay.
Prospective casino developers KG Urban Enterprises want to redevelop the former Cannon Street Station, a large former coal plant on New Bedford’s waterfront. The plant converted to oil and natural gas likely in the 1950s and closed in 1992, according to NSTAR. The casino developers previously built Sands Bethlehem casino at the former site of Bethlehem Steel, in Pennsylvania.
Mount Tom, which is the state’s third remaining coal plant, has “delisted itself from the grid for 2016” meaning it wouldn’t be on call to fire up that year, Miller said. Ehrlich said that’s what Salem did before announcing its plans to close.
Another former coal plant along the Taunton River in Somerset was shuttered in 2010, and sits unused along the water.
Toxics Action Executive Director Sylvia Broude said the group surveyed about 350 Somerset residents, speaking to them at home or outside grocery stores, and found twice as many wanted to plan for a new future for the site rather than fight to keep the plant running.
Brayton Point plans to close by May 2017.
“Devastating,” was how Somerset resident Pauline Rodrigues summed up the economic impact of Brayton Point’s closure. She said, “We’re going to lose in the vicinity of $13 million per year within five years, and our town budget is approximately $50 million per year.”
Rodrigues said the other coal plant that closed in 2010 was “so obviously unhealthy” and said asthma is such a problem in the town that a baseball coach said “he wasn’t sure if he was there as a coach because he was in charge of so many inhalers.”
Toxic Action leaders said the transition assistance portion of the bill is the most important part, and said much of the responsibility for the future of Brayton Point will lie with the plant owner.
“They could be a bad neighbor, and just shut the door and padlock it and walk away,” which the former coal plant did, Miller said. She said she has not seen any studies about what a cleanup would cost, and a sale to a new owner would trigger the responsibility for a cleanup.
Broude said the plant’s recent owner Dominion Energy saw the plant as a “sinking ship” and that it had spent $1 billion to upgrade even as revenues plummeted 90 percent in the last few years. The new owner, EquiPower, bought Brayton “as a package” along with two more profitable plants in the Midwest, and Brayton was included “for the value of its scrap,” Miller said. She said Dominion didn’t want to operate in the Bay State’s deregulated energy market.
Broude said the Patrick administration has provided $100,000 each to Holyoke and Somerset to plan for the future use of the sites.
“We relied so heavily on this industry that made a lot of money for our town but also made us, our children and grandchildren sick. Now that Brayton Point has announced it will close, we must have support from outside of our borders to plan for the future of the sites,” Rodrigues said in a statement. Asked what she thought the realistic prospects are for redevelopment of the site, Rodrigues said, “We need the state help, but to say what the actual prospects are, I’m not sure.”
State Senator Thomas McGee was chosen Thursday night to succeed John Walsh as leader of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
Walsh, who has held the post since 2007, will become executive director of Governor Deval Patrick’s political action committee, the Together PAC.
McGee is the Senate chairman of the Transportation Committee and a member of the Ways and Means Committee. Since 2002 he has represented a North Shore district that includes Lynn, Lynnfield, Marblehead, Nahant, Saugus, and Swampscott.
He has also served as chairman of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs.
Worried about new federal flood insurance rules sparking another foreclosure crisis in Massachusetts, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Attorney General Martha Coakley on Wednesday partnered to file legislation limiting the amount of insurance homeowners in the flood zone must purchase.
Though the Winthrop Democrat said the state-level action could blunt the impact of new federal flood insurance regulations, DeLeo said Congress must still act to further protect the expanded group of coastal residents and businesses and those living near lakes and rivers who are now required to purchase more comprehensive and costly insurance.
“People aren’t going to be able to pay their insurance, and as a result of that they’re going to lose their home unless we can convince our friends in Washington, which right now I guess they’re a little bit involved with a couple other issues, but they’re really going to have to get on the ball and address this,” DeLeo told reporters after meeting with House Democrats.
The bill filed by DeLeo and Coakley would limit the amount of flood coverage a homeowner or business must purchase to the value of the mortgage on the property, instead of the replacement value of the home. Creditors would also be prohibited from requiring coverage for contents of the home, or including a deductible less than $5,000.
Taking one of the only steps a state can to limit the amount of coverage required under federal guidelines, the Beacon Hill leaders hope to lower premiums for impacted homeowners, while retaining the option for consumers to purchase more coverage if they desire.
“These new flood insurance changes are going to devastate many families and businesses in our coastal communities,” Coakley said in a statement. “We continue to urge the federal government to delay implementing these changes until they’ve followed all the steps required by law.”
Coakley said she did not expect insurers to have a “huge complaint” with the legislation.
The Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 required the Federal Emergency Management Agency to redraw national flood maps, and eliminated various subsidies in the National Flood Insurance Program to ensure sustainability.
Critics, however, say the new maps have captured large swaths of real estate at little to no risk of flooding, forcing larger numbers of property owners to purchase insurance. New rules governing the required height of buildings and other structural requirements for properties in the flood zone have also driven up the price tags on policies.
Rep. James Cantwell, a Marshfield Democrat, recently provided the News Service with a copy of an insurance bill for a Scituate homeowner that spiked up to $68,000 under the new program. He called the new FEMA flood maps “ridiculous.”
The homeowner, Peg Sullivan, told the News Service that she previously paid a $1,300 premium for the same coverage.
“It’s hurting our Massachusetts builders. It’s hurting our Massachusetts realtors. Right now, all up and down the coast, we have essentially people are being frozen out. They can’t sell their homes, and people aren’t buying because there’s so much uncertainty about what their rates are going to be for their flood insurance. The speaker taking swift action right now is so warranted and so helpful and I’m thrilled to be joining with him,” Cantwell said.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey and the state’s entire Congressional delegation recently sent a letter to House and Senate leadership urging a delay in the Biggert-Waters reforms.
Cantwell said budget cuts limited FEMA's ability to review its surveys, and the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1, has placed on furlough the governmental affairs person at FEMA whom he speaks to about constituents' concerns. Scituate and Marshfield hired their own consultant to contest the FEMA maps.
Cantwell, whose bill (H 865) had a hearing last month calling on the Division of Insurance to regularly investigate the National Flood Insurance Program, said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that DeLeo’s bill can be heard and brought forward for a vote before the end of the year.
Though he made clear the “ultimate answer” must still come from Washington, DeLeo said he hopes that by tying the insurance requirements in Massachusetts to the value of a mortgage, property owners will fare “significantly better” than they would under the federal guidelines.
“We’re truly going to see people losing their homes, not from floods, but from flood insurance,” DeLeo said.
Visiting the North Shore on Wednesday, Gov. Deval Patrick used a speech before the North Shore Chamber of Commerce to announce two major capital budget investments at Salem State University and North Shore Community College.
The governor detailed the state’s plans to invest $32.9 million to modernize and expand Meier Hall for science, technology, engineer and math majors at Salem State. Another $20.7 million will be spent updating the Lynn campus of North Shore Community College to accommodate additional student services and classrooms, according to the administration.
The labs at Salem State University have not been updated in more than 40 years since they were first constructed in the early and late 1960s. The university has 430 students majoring in biology and biotechnology, and 80 chemistry students.
The NSCC project will include an addition to the campus to house academic technology, math re-design, adjunct office spaces, a Center for Academic Success, tutoring, student services, student lounges and classrooms.
– M. Murphy/SHNS
Targeted almost daily by national Republicans, U.S. Rep. John Tierney raised $251,216 in the third quarter of 2013 as he gears up for a re-election contest in a little less than a year, but was outpaced by his Democratic challenger Seth Moulton of Salem.
Moulton raised $355,548 from July through August, and had $301,735 in cash on hand, according to his campaign. Tierney’s quarterly report filed with the Federal Elections Commission showed the Salem Democrat raising a quarter of a million dollars, and finishing the third quarter with $561,155 in cash on hand.
Moulton, an Iraq war veteran and vice chairman on the board of directors of Eastern Healthcare Partners, launched his primary challenge to Tierney earlier this year after the incumbent staved off a strong Republican challenge from former state Sen. Richard Tisei in 2012 following a controversy over his wife’s involvement in her brother’s illegal offshore gambling operations.
Tierney will be running for a 10th term representing the 6th Congressional district in 2014. - M. Murphy/SHNS