Somerset political infighting continues
State rep urges kindness as newcomer Vaught defeats Souza
VOTERS IN SOMERSET on Monday ousted from the Select Board a leader of the successful effort to shut down a controversial scrap metal export business at Brayton Point, a move suggesting the bitter political divisions within the community have not gone away.
The scrap metal operation has dominated politics in the South Coast community for close to two years. The dust and noise emanating from the operation prompted the launch of a group called Save Our Bay Brayton Point, which mobilized the community and helped elect opponents of the scrap metal operation to the Select Board and other town positions.
Kathy Souza was a prime example. One of the leaders of Save Our Bay, Souza won a vacant seat on the Select Board last year, which meant all three members of the board opposed the scrap metal business. Souza seemed poised to easily win reelection to a full term this year, particularly after she and two other womenconvinced a Land Court judge last month to shut the scrap metal business down because it was harming the property and health of her and her co-defendants.
But a political newcomer named Jacob Vaught delivered a stunning defeat to Souza, beating her 1,405 to 1,132, a margin of 273 votes. Vaught won four of the five precincts in town, including the one where he lives. Souza won the precinct where she lives, which is the one closest to Brayton Point and the one that was most affected by the scrap metal operation. Souza received 68 fewer votes than she did last year in the special election.
Vaught appears to have steered clear of the Brayton Point issue during the campaign, but he garnered support from those who felt the opponents of the scrap metal operation were rabble-rousers ill-equipped to lead the town.
“The past two years have been a huge step back. The wrong people were involved and taking the town in the wrong direction,” said Holly McNamara, who resigned from the Select Board last year when a second Save Our Bay supporter was elected to the board. It was her spot on the board that Souza filled.
The divisiveness in Somerset can be traced to federal environmental policies. A St. Louis developer bought Brayton Point in 2018, tore down the shuttered coal-fired power plant, and planned to convert the property into a staging area for the emerging offshore wind industry. Unfortunately, offshore wind was put on hold for two years by the Trump administration for additional environmental review, prompting the owner of Brayton Point to lease space to the scrap metal export operation and seek approval for other similar businesses. The dust and noise from the scrap metal operation spurred anger among Brayton Point’s neighbors, who fought the business in the courts, in town government, and even appealed to Gov. Charlie Baker for help.
Rep. Patricia Haddad of Somerset said the town was a battle ground during the two weeks leading up to Monday’s election. “There’s a division in our town right now,” she said. “It has nothing to do with people’s abilities. It’s about whose side you are on.”
The tenor of the debate became so negative that Haddad ordered lawn signs and handed them out on election day. The signs said: “If you care about Somerset, be kind.”McNamara sent an “open letter” to town residents a week ago alleging the town is being mismanaged and its tax dollars squandered. She did not mention Vaught or Souza by name, but there was no question she was urging voters to elect Vaught. She says she thinks he can bring the community together again.
“This is a small sample of what I have been up against during this journey,” Vaught said in his Facebook post.