Plainfield petition takes aim at Goddard College wood chip burning plant
PLAINFIELD — A petition is being circulated around Plainfield looking to halt the construction of a proposed wood chip burning plant at Goddard College until concerns about emissions of potentially harmful nanoparticles are addressed by the school.
The petition, which needs 50 signatures by Jan. 24 to get on the Town Meeting Day ballot, was created by one of the college’s neighbors, Karen Bouffard.
The question asks if “voters oppose construction of a wood chip incinerator until such time the nano particulate pollution dispersed into the atmosphere of Plainfield will be proven not to be a health hazard.”
Bouffard said the $2 million plant would be built around 200 feet from her home. She opposes the plant because, among other reasons, she believes it will be a health hazard for her and others who live near the facility, which will be built next to Route 214.
Bouffard said the emissions from the plant will contain nanoparticles that new research has suggested may be toxic, and she wants the issue studied before the school builds the plant.
The plant is already being held up by two appeals being heard by the Environmental Court in Berlin. The first appeal challenges the decision by Plainfield’s Development Review Board to give the school a permit to build the plant; the second appeal contests the Act 250 permit awarded for the project by the state’s Environmental Commission.
Bouffard said in order to circumvent the first appeal, Goddard is “trying to pull a fast one” by saying, in hindsight, that it shouldn’t have been granted a “light industrial use” permit, as originally requested by the school and granted by the town. Bouffard said the college now wants the plant to be evaluated for an “accessory use” permit.
Bouffard said an accessory use permit is the same kind of permit someone would get if they were putting a dog house on their lawn.
Goddard’s attorney, Brian Dunkiel, said after the appeal of the zoning permit was filed, his office looked into the matter and decided the plant falls under the accessory use definition because the proposed plant is not a “primary, dominant use” for the school.
According to Plainfield’s zoning regulations, accessory use is defined as “A building or use clearly incidental or subordinate in size and overall appearance (except for barns) to the main use or building, and customarily in connection with the principal building or use on the same lot.”
Light industry is defined by the town’s zoning regulations as “Any manufacture, processing or fabrication of goods, wares or merchandise, having not more than 15 employees, occupying not more than 6,000 square feet of area including floor area and outdoor storage, and generating an average of not more than 10 large truck trips per day. Such industry should be compatible with a rural residential environment and not cause any air, water or noise pollution.”
Dunkiel said if the Environmental Court decided, as the college hopes, that the plant is an accessory use, then the zoning appeal would be moot since the appeal is challenging a light industrial permit.
Rhea Wilson, another neighbor of the school who also opposes the project, is the plaintiff listed on the zoning appeal. She said an accessory use permit for the plant would mean the town would not be able to regulate the plant because accessory use structures don’t have to obtain a conditional use permit from the Development Review Board, per the town’s zoning regulations.
For the Act 250 appeal, seven residents, including Bouffard and Wilson, are asking the Environmental Court if the Environmental Commission erred in saying the plant will not cause undue air pollution; if the nanoparticles the plant would produce are dangerous to human health; and if the commission erred in saying the plant won’t adversely affect the aesthetics of the area, among other questions.
No court dates have been sceduled as yet for either of the two appeals.
Faith Brown, Goddard College’s chief finance and administration officer, said the nanoparticle issue is settled because emission controls for the plant would meet and exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for nanoparticles.
Brown said the school did look into moving the plant from its current proposed location, but the other sites considered would not be cost effective for the institution and would also present problems for wood chip delivery trucks in terms of proper road grading for driving in the winter.
Brown defended the plant, arguing that it will take the place of 22 oil burning furnaces. That will lessen the school’s dependence on foreign oil and help the environment, according to Brown, by converting the college’s energy source from fossil fuels to the renewable “clean energy” of wood chips.
Brown said Goddard has already tried to address the concerns of the college’s neighbors about the aesthetic ramifications of the project by changing the color of the plant and redesigning the roof to make it look less industrial. She said once the appeals have been heard and the plant is allowed to go forward, construction will begin.
Plainfield Select Board Chairman David Strong said the board will discuss the plant at its meeting tonight at 7 p.m. in the municipal building. He said the discussion will focus on the current status of the project and what residents concerns and feelings are at this point.
Strong said the board had considered holding a presentation in February at which experts might address the issue of nanoparticles, but decided against it. He said the board would support such a presentation, but another organization with more time and resources would have to put it together.
Strong said if there were issues with wood chip burning in general, it wouldn’t be just a Goddard problem. The technology is already in use around the state, including just a couple miles down Route 2 at the Twinfield Union School, and at the National Life Group in Montpelier. The district heating project in the works for Montpelier would also be designed around a wood chip burning plant.
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