Somerset infighting resumes; cable factory may be threatened

Town withholding permits until $3.5m in fines paid

THE TOWN of Somerset – and its largest landowner, Brayton Point LLC – are fighting again, potentially jeopardizing the construction of a factory making cable for the emerging offshore wind industry.

The proposed factory, a tangible sign of offshore wind’s potential, would be a dream come true for the town, the company, and the state, and a possible harbinger of good times to come in Somerset. But right now the proposed plant is a bargaining chip in a game of hardball.

Brayton Point LLC, an offshoot of a St. Louis-based company called Commercial Development Inc., originally came to Somerset as something of a white knight. It razed what had been one of New England’s largest coal-fired power plants at Brayton Point and hoped to transform the property into a staging area for the emerging offshore wind industry.

But a near two-year delay in the permitting of offshore wind farms by the Trump administration led Commercial Development to lease a portion of its empty property to a scrap metal exporter and a road salt distributor – noisy, dirty businesses that polarized the community and led to an all-out political and legal war.

That war appeared to end last March when a judge shut down the scrap metal business, siding with town officials and three women — Kathy Souza, Nancy Thomas, and Nicole McDonald — who complained about the dust from the scrap metal plant and its impact on their neighborhood.

The town and Brayton Point LLC also moved closer to achieving their offshore wind dream when the Prysmian Group of Italy said it planned to buy 47 acres at Brayton Point and build a $300 million subsea cable manufacturing facility there.

To top everything off, President Biden came to Somerset in July to deliver a speech on climate change and pay homage to the promise of offshore wind. Everything seemed to be finally headed in the right direction for Somerset.

But then the old feud between the town and Brayton Point LLC surfaced again when the town insisted the company owed nearly $3.5 million in fines for its past conduct allowing the scrap metal business to keep operating despite a cease-and-desist order from the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The town estimated nearly 11,000 trucks entered the facility during the period covered by the cease-and-desist order. At $300 per truck, that adds up to nearly $3.3 million in fines.

The town also threatened to hold up several permits sought by Brayton Point LLC – including a permit that the company says is needed to allow the land sale to Prysmian to proceed – if the fine isn’t paid.

In a January 13 letter to the town’s lawyer, the attorney for Brayton Point LLC said the fines would not hold up in court. He offered to pay the city $15,000 to make the dispute go away.

“Brayton Point LLC trusts that the town will not continue to hold various permitting applications hostage,” the lawyer wrote. “Should the town continue to do so, it jeopardizes serious harm to Brayton Point LLC, including but not limited to tortiuously interfering with the proposed sale of property to Prysmian.”

Brayton Point LLC officials declined comment. Somerset’s town administrator could not be reached for comment.

Allen Smith, a member of the Somerset Select Board, points out that the company was warned every week when the scrap metal plant was open that the fines were accumulating but chose to ignore those warnings.

Smith said Brayton Point should pay the fines and doesn’t see how the Prysmian land sale and the past-due fines are connected. “They’re two separate things,” he said. “I don’t understand what one should have to do with the other.”

Allen said Prysmian has also indicated to the town it’s not going anywhere. “Somerset is excited to have that project built,” said Allen. “They are doing things to be a good neighbor in the community. That’s the sort of business you want to come to your town.”