PLAINFIELD — The fate of Goddard College’s proposed biomass-fueled heating plant is in the hands of a judge.
Construction of the heating plant is on hold as the state’s Environmental Court has been hearing an appeal by Plainfield resident Rhea Wilson of the town Development Review Board’s decision to grant the college a permit to build it. A second case is also before the court in which residents are appealing the school’s Act 250 permit for the plant. The cases have been combined and are being heard together.
Last week, both sides concluded their arguments and Judge Thomas G. Walsh said he will decide about the plant in the next 30 to 90 days. Goddard officials had no comment as they await the decision.
The battle over the plant has been a long and sometimes angry one.
On April 30, the court decided the plant was in fact a light industrial project and therefore subject to conditional use review. The college had tried to argue that the plant was an accessory use and therefore not subject to a conditional use review, an outcome that would have negated the appeal by Wilson.
In the Act 250 appeal, seven residents 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 release into the air 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.
On Town Meeting Day in March, voters rejected a nonbinding article asking the college to halt construction of the plant until it could prove that the nanoparticles produced by the facility would be harmless. The debate over the article got nasty at times with neighbors accusing each other of being “liars,” “losers” and “jerks.”
In January, Karen Bouffard, one of the residents listed on the Act 250 appeal, said the $2 million plant would be built about 200 feet from her home. She opposes the plant in part because she believes it will pose a health hazard for her and others who live near the facility, which would be built next to Route 214. Bouffard also had no comment Wednesday.
Goddard has said previously that the nanoparticle issue has been settled because emission controls for the plant would meet and exceed Environmental Protection Agency standards. Faith Brown, chief finance and administration officer for the college, said in January that Goddard did look into moving the plant from its current proposed location but that the other sites considered would not be cost-effective and would present access challenges for wood chip delivery trucks in winter.
The plant is designed to replace 22 oil-burning furnaces, a move the college says will reduce its dependence on foreign oil and help the environment, according to Brown, by replacing fossil fuels with the renewable “clean energy” of wood chips.
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