Souza victory unites Somerset Select Board
All 3 members in sync on Brayton Point
KATHY SOUZA, a candidate for Select Board in Somerset, was asked at a recent debate how she would heal the division in town over a scrap metal export operation at Brayton Point, where a coal-fired power plant was torn down to make way for offshore wind development that has yet to arrive.
Souza replied that she didn’t think the town was divided, citing the landslide victory of Allen Smith, an opponent of the scrap metal operation, for Select Board in April. On Monday night, Souza put an exclamation point on that statement by winning her own special election for the Select Board, giving opponents of the scrap metal operation control of all three seats.
Souza’s election marks a remarkable grassroots victory for a group of residents who felt they were promised offshore wind development at the 308-acre Brayton Point property and instead got a noisy, dirty business that hauled scrap metal in from the surrounding area and shipped it to Turkey. The group, going by the name Save Our Bay – Brayton Point, has now taken political control of the town and is trying to convince the Baker administration to lend a hand.
Souza’s victory margin wasn’t as great as Smith’s. Smith won 69-29 percent, while Souza defeated Melissa Terra by a margin of 57-43. Souza and Terra had matching vote totals in precinct one, Terra won precinct two by 10 votes, and Souza won precincts three, four, and five. She racked up her biggest margin (346-119) in precinct five, which is closest to Brayton Point.
But now the Select Board is united and preparing a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker asking him and the Department of Conservation and Recreation to step in and resolve the dispute at Brayton Point. Commercial Development Inc., the owner of Brayton Point, wants to lease additional land at the property to other businesses, but has been blocked by the town so far. The issue is tied up in court.
The state Department of Conservation and Recreation recently acknowledged it owns the deep-water pier at Brayton Point and 12.5 acres of adjacent land. The land had been leased to the previous owners of the coal-fired power plant, but the terms of the lease suggest that once the power plant was torn down the lease was void.
Souza and the other two members of the Select Board say the state, as the landlord, should get involved and straighten the mess out. “It’s their land,” Souza said after her victory Monday. “Why should the town be spending money fighting in court when it’s the state’s land.”Souza said she is eager to help her colleagues complete the letter to Baker, possibly as early as this week, and then push for the state to help the community get back on track. The Trump administration put offshore wind on hold for several years as it sorted our regulatory issues, but the Biden administration has reversed course and is looking to expand the offshore wind industry quickly. Even so, it could be five years before any benefits could start flowing to Brayton Point.
“We can’t wait five years,” Souza said. “The state needs to come in and help us now.”