State urged to take control of Brayton Point pier
Somerset candidate says lease with Mass. no longer valid
A CANDIDATE for the Somerset Select Board on Monday night called on the state to take control of the deep-water pier at Brayton Point and oust a private company that has angered many town residents by using the pier to export scrap metal to Turkey.
Brayton Point is the 308-acre site of a former coal-fired power plant that was purchased and torn down by Commercial Development Inc. to make way for the redevelopment of the property as a base for offshore wind development. Offshore wind has been slow to arrive, so the company turned to the scrap metal business, which has generated considerable noise, dust, and truck traffic, alienating many town residents.
The company is battling town-imposed restrictions on its operations in court and is also engaged in a legal fight with Kathy Souza, the candidate for Select Board and a founding member of the group leading the fight against Commercial Development — Save Our Bay Brayton Point.
At a debate Monday night at the Somerset-Berkley Regional High School, Souza said state officials have confirmed to her what a title search by Save Our Bay revealed – that the state owns the pier and surrounding 12.5 acres. The pier and acreage were originally leased in the 1950s to the company that built the power plant on the property. Rights to the pier and acreage were subsequently transferred when the land changed hands – but only “for use in connection with a power plant,” according to the lease.
Rep. Patricia Haddad, who represents Somerset in the Legislature and moderated Souza’s debate with Melissa Terra, said after the debate that she also is convinced the state owns the pier and should step in and take charge. She said she has been frustrated with state officials for refusing to acknowledge the state’s ownership for years.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation and Recreation has refused for two months to answer questions from CommonWealth about the lease at Brayton Point.
The Souza-Terra debate focused on a wide array of issues affecting the town, most of them centered around rising municipal costs amid declining tax revenues. Tax revenues have been stagnant or falling since the power plant at Brayton Point – at one point the town’s largest taxpayer – closed in 2017. Mayflower Wind announced earlier this year that, if it wins approval to build a second wind farm off the coast of Nantucket, it would bring the electricity ashore at Brayton Point, but that could take five years to come to fruition, if it ever does.
Brayton Point has divided Somerset residents and led to political upheaval. In 2019, Lorne Lawless ran for the Select Board against David Berube, who was perceived as sympathetic to Commercial Development. Lawless eked out a victory, but only with the help of voters in precinct five, the one closest to Brayton Point.
In November, Allen Smith, a leading opponent of Commercial Development’s operations, ran for an open seat on the Select Board against Berube and won decisively, garnering 78 percent of the vote in precinct five.
Smith’s election prompted Holly McNamara, the third member of the Select Board, to step down from her seat a year early, setting the stage for the special election between Souza and Terra on July 12.
In resigning from her seat, McNamara said she couldn’t stomach the negativity in Somerset. “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 at the first Select Board meeting after Allen’s election. “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.”
The town alleges Commercial Development has repeatedly violated bylaws prohibiting the release of dust beyond the property’s boundaries. Attorney General Maura Healey notified Commercial Development and its scrap metal operator on May 11 that she was preparing to sue the companies for violations of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. The state Department of Environmental Protection has also fined the company for allowing scrap to fall into the harbor next to the pier.