Somerset coming apart at the seams
Citing ‘hate and venom,’ chair of selectmen quits a year early
THE SOUTH COAST community of Somerset seems to be pulling apart at the seams, as rancor over stop-gap development at Brayton Point prompted the chair of the Board of Selectmen to resign her position a year early, saying she can no longer stand “the hate and venom” that has spread throughout the community.
“Civility has been lost in our town,” said Holly McNamara at the start of a selectmen’s meeting Wednesday evening. “Somerset is not the town I was raised in. It just is not. I have lost most of my hope over the past two years. The town is as divided as most have ever seen it.”
McNamara, who had previously indicated she would not stand for reelection in 2022, said she decided to call it quits a year early after Monday’s election, where Allen Smith was overwhelming elected to the board, riding support from residents dissatisfied with the direction in which Brayton Point is heading.
Brayton Point is a waterfront property that many see as one of the best locations for offshore wind development on the East Coast because of its 308-acre size, its deep-water port, and its existing connection to the regional power grid.
With millions invested in Brayton Point and no revenue coming in, Commercial Development started taking in tenants. One brought in road salt and then distributed it to nearby towns. Another took in scrap metal and shipped it off to Turkey. Local residents, caught off guard by the new businesses, complained about noise, dust, and truck traffic. Those complaints fell largely on deaf ears, which only made the complainers more determined.
They formed a group called Save Our Bay Brayton Point and mobilized. They put pressure on the Zoning Board of Appeals, which blocked a bid by Commercial Development to expand its ad hoc operations to other commodities. They succeeded in electing Lorne Lawless to the Board of Selectmen last year and elected Smith on Monday.
McNamara painted a picture of warring camps in town, but put most of the blame on Save Our Bay Brayton Point.
“Morale at town hall and all town departments has plummeted. Staff are fearful and constantly walking on eggshells. They spend 90 percent of their time (this has been calculated) on unfounded complaints. They have been harassed and bullied. Town property has been damaged. Explosive packages have been sent to their private homes with a note ‘from Brayton Point friends.’ They’ve screamed out car windows at me and told me I am the worst thing to happen to Somerset. They have pushed so many people away that no one wants to be involved anymore. Pretty soon, so many people will have walked away that the town will appear healed, when in fact it will be an illusion – people will be completely exhausted and burnt out,” McNamara said.
“The rest of the town has suffered while the staff and volunteers have been forced to focus all of their energy on Brayton Point. Economic development opportunities have been lost. Investors have walked away. Potential investors have looked elsewhere. The past two years have done so much damage I am not sure it is reversible. This makes me incredibly sad,” she said.
“I have been anxiously anticipating this election to see how the cards would fall. I have had high hopes that the negativity and bashing would stop, but it only seems to get worse, even after the election. This is a disgrace and very unfortunate for our town,” she said.
“I have decided that I want no part in the bullying. I want no part in the harassment and no part in tearing businesses down. I want no part in halting economic development out of spite. I want no part in the downfall of our community.”
Rep. Patricia Haddad of Somerset said she had no idea McNamara was preparing to resign. She said people in town are angry and scared. She is thinking about trying to bring in mediators and exploring whether there’s anything the state can do to help.The Biden administration appears determined to get the offshore wind industry moving forward, but it will take time and Brayton Point may not see much benefit until several more wind farms come online, which could take years. State officials are eager to ramp up the industry in Massachusetts, but the Baker administration’s top priority so far has been getting the lowest possible price for the power being procured.
In the meantime, Haddad is worried about her hometown. “I am concerned,” she said. “It is coming apart at the seams.”