Goddard College: Biomass forum funding falters
PLAINFIELD — A state official has said he has no interest in attending a public forum about Goddard College’s proposed biomass heating plant, putting the meeting’s future in jeopardy as town officials said having such a representative is the only way they will consider offsetting any of the forum’s cost.
At Tuesday’s Select Board meeting, town officials considered a request submitted by Karen Bouffard, one of the neighbors and an opponent of the proposed plant, asking the town to pay a $750 stipend for a speaker to come March 1 to talk about the dangers of nanoparticles. The speaker, Dr. Bill Sammons from Williamstown, Mass., is a pediatrician who has toured the country describing health hazards from biomass plants.
Construction of the plant is on hold as two cases are being heard in the Environmental Court in Berlin. One is an appeal of the Act 250 permit given to the project, and the other is an appeal of Plainfield’s Development Review Board permit for the school to build the plant.
On Town Meeting Day in March, residents will vote on a nonbinding resolution asking whether they oppose construction of the plant until nanoparticle pollution from it can be proven to be safe.
At the meeting this week, neighbor and opponent of the plant Rick Levy gave his reasons for wanting the speaker to come to Plainfield.
“The idea is to gather as much information as possible before this thing goes forward,” he said. “It’s pretty clear that the amount of effort and money expended by Goddard far outweighs the available funds to the people that are opposed to this plant and who stand to be most severely affected by it.”
Levy said the opponents cannot afford the cost of the speaker themselves and were requesting the money as townspeople.
“There should be some attempt by the town to ensure that there is a balance reached between the power and money of Goddard and the town,” he said, adding that the school would be using taxpayer money in part to build the plant. “If one side is spending taxpayers’ money, why not the other? Goddard is attempting to spend everyone to death to get this plant through. ... It’s another example of big money treading on little people.”
Select Board Chairman David Strong said it was unfair to say the town has not stood up and invested in the process. He said the town has spent thousands of dollars answering Goddard’s legal arguments that challenge the authority of the Development Review Board to make a decision on the plant.
Strong admitted there was “a legitimate concern about the health effects of breathing in nanoparticles from certain combustion processes.”
The board denied the $750 request, however, saying any discussion about nanoparticles or the plant should have both sides of the argument in attendance since there are those in town who support the plant.
Board member Bram Towbin also said that if the town gave the money for the presentation, it would look as if the town openly opposed the plant, which would go directly against the Development Review Board’s decision to grant the plant a permit.
The option was left open for the town to give some funding if the meeting is an open forum where the state Agency of Natural Resources could present what it knows since its charge includes to protect the people of the state from air pollution.
That option appears to be closed since an official with the agency has said the state has no interest in attending such a forum.
Richard Valentinetti is director of the air pollution control division of the Department of Environmental Conservation with the agency. He said Thursday he did not know what information the state could add to the debate since the science “is not really there” for nanoparticles.
“We don’t have the expertise at the state level to talk about them at all,” Valentinetti said.
He said research about nanoparticles is taking place but, as of yet, no one has really shown a cause-and-effect relationship between the particles and adverse health conditions.
No one at Goddard College was available for an interview, but Faith Brown, the college’s chief finance and administration officer, did release a statement saying the school is open to talking about the issue.
“This project has been through a stringent Act 250 review process and public forum where experts have weighed in, and it has obtained all relevant state and local permits. These materials are a matter of public record,” she wrote. “Goddard is glad to share with the citizens of Plainfield any information that will help them understand what the experts have said and why Goddard has come to believe this woodchip plant is a far better choice than our current 23 oil burning furnaces.”
It’s unclear whether a Goddard representative would attend such a forum.
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