Springfield City Council vote on biomass plant appeal delayed

By Lisa Gibson | November 29, 2011

A vote by the Springfield, Mass., City Council to appeal the building commissioner’s approval of permits for a 35-megawatt biomass power plant has been delayed by a call for a financial impact analysis.

Just before the vote, Councilwoman Kateri Walsh invoked Procedural Rule 20, which automatically halts debate and prevents any vote until a financial analysis by the city comptroller of potential legal expenses. The vote would most likely have passed, resulting in the City Council appealing the building commissioner’s approval of Palmer Renewable Energy’s permits to the zoning board of appeals. The City Council simply doesn’t have enough information on what could happen in the process of the appeal, Walsh said.

“Nobody knows what the zoning board of appeals would rule,” she said. “If they rule against the building commissioner’s decision, is there a next step?” She also questioned who would represent the City Council in the appeal process, adding that the city solicitor is unsure whether he would be able to under that circumstance. “If our own city solicitor can’t represent us, where does that leave us?”

The financial analysis won’t take long and the council could have the appeal vote back on the agenda at its next meeting, Walsh said. “I just thought that was information we needed to know before we make a final decision.”

Palmer Renewable Energy is also in the midst of a legal battle with the city of Springfield over the City Council’s decision to revoke its special permit for the biomass power plant in June. The wood chip-fuelled facility has been attacked by biomass opposition throughout its development. Walsh, however, has been supportive of the project from the beginning.

The majority of the City Council does not support the project, she said, adding that it has become an emotional, personal issue. “There is a lot of information floating around out there,” she said. “It depends on who you believe.”