Baker aide tells Somerset she wants to work with town
Theoharides confirms state owns land at Brayton Point
This story has been updated.
A TOP AIDE to Gov. Charlie Baker sent a letter to town officials in Somerset indicating the administration is interested in working with them to address environmental concerns at Brayton Point and “to discuss potential next steps for management and use of this site.”
The letter, dated Thursday and signed by Kathleen Theoharides, the secretary of energy and environmental affairs, appeared to be sympathetic to town officials who have urged the Baker administration to shut down a scrap metal export business being operated on a parcel of state-owned land at Brayton Point.
The issue has become a lightning rod in the municipality. Brayton Point is viewed as a promising site for offshore wind infrastructure, but federal delays in authorizing offshore wind farms have put the St. Louis-based redeveloper of the property in a bind. The company tore down a coal-fired power plant at Brayton Point in 2017 but was left with an empty site and no money coming in due to the offshore wind delays. The company leased space to firms importing road salt and exporting scrap metal, but that angered neighbors who objected to the truck traffic, the dust, and the noise.
In her letter, Theoharides acknowledged that Brayton Point is using state-owned land under a 1959 lease. “The scope of the operator’s rights and responsibilities under those documents – and the state’s ability to take the action you request – is fundamentally a legal question,” said Theoharides.
She directed legal counsel for the various state agencies involved and the town’s legal counsel to jointly explore the state’s authority under the 1959 lease. Her letter said state and town officials would jointly plot “next steps for management and use of this site.”
Theoharides also said the state was taking other steps. “We share your concerns about protection of public health and the environment and are aware of the environmental impacts from the operations you have referenced,” she said. “In response, we are working with the Attorney General’s Office to coordinate appropriate enforcement actions. Among other avenues we are pursuing, the Department of Environmental Protection has already finalized an administrative consent order with penalties for some of the solid waste violations at this location.”Allen Smith, a member of Somerset’s Board of Aldermen, said he welcomed the cooperative tone of the letter from Theoharides, but he said he was disappointed Baker did not respond himself and he was also puzzled at how long it took to respond and how vague the letter was. He said it had been almost two months since Baker was aware of the situation and state officials had known for some time before that of the concerns.
Commercial Development Inc., the company that purchased Brayton Point, could not immediately be reached for comment. A spokesman for Theoharides declined comment.