Springfield councilors question permit status of long-delayed biomass project (MassLive)
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SPRINGFIELD — The city’s building commission, in response to questions raised by city councilors, said this week that a long-delayed biomass energy project on Page Boulevard continues to have a valid permit.
“The permit still stands,” Building Commissioner Steven T. Desilets said during a council subcommittee meeting. “It didn’t expire. They have made some improvements to the property ... by buying buildings, preparing the property. They’ve got a significant investment in it. At this point, I have no legal authority to pull the building permit from them.”
Palmer Renewable Energy LLC obtained a special permit 12 years ago for the biomass project planned at 1000 Page Blvd., at the intersection with Cadwell Drive in East Springfield. The developers plan a $150 million, 35-megawatt plant to convert wood to energy.
The issuing of the permit was followed by significant public opposition, new votes by the council and other city boards, appeals and lawsuits. Three separate courts upheld approvals for the project in recent years.
Councilor Jesse Lederman, chairman of the Sustainability and Environment Committee, said Wednesday that he believes the building permit expired in September, four years after the project was cleared by a Land Court ruling. He said action taken on the project thus far amounts to site preparation, not substantial construction.
The committee voted to ask Desilets to provide in writing his ruling that the permit is still valid. Desilets said he will confer with City Solicitor Edward Pikula in filing a formal response to the council.
Pikula, attending the meeting, said there has been work done at the site and information provided by the developer, and that a state law passed in April does not allow revocation of permits for delays related to the coronavirus.
A representative of Palmer Renewable Energy was not available for comment.
In January of 2019, the developers said they planned the groundbreaking for the project in the spring of that year. That followed more than a decade of litigation, regulatory approvals and neighborhood protests.
Councilors and many residents have raised concerns that the plant would worsen air pollution and be a threat to public health. The developer said a state-of-the art biomass plant would be built and would pose no harm to public health.