Somerset officials press Baker to intervene at Brayton Point

Claim scrap metal business is illegal and violating EPA guidelines

THE SOMERSET  Board of Selectmen voted Wednesday night to send a letter to Gov. Charlie Baker urging him to shut down a scrap metal export business that the board says is operating illegally on state-owned land at Brayton Point and in violation of Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.

Although Baker said on Tuesday it’s not clear to him who owns what at Brayton Point, the letter approved by the Board of Selectmen said state officials have acknowledged the deep-water pier and adjacent 12.5 acres of land are under the control of the Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The letter asks for an answer from Baker by July 22.

The land in question was leased for $1 in 1959 to a company that built a coal-fired power plant on the 308-acre property. The lease was transferred when the power plant was purchased by new owners and again when the power plant was shut down and the property sold to Commercial Development Inc. of St. Louis.

Commercial Development tore down the shuttered power plant, dubbed the facility the Brayton Point Commerce Center, and set the stage for redevelopment of the property as an offshore wind staging area.

When the offshore wind business was slow to take off, the company leased a portion of the property to tenants who are hauling in scrap metal by truck and exporting it to Turkey by ship. Neighbors have complained about the dust, noise, and truck traffic. The town has issued a cease and desist order and the town and company are fighting in court over restrictions on the firm’s operations.

The letter approved by the selectmen said the original lease contains no provisions for assigning the lease to new owners or subletting the property. The lease also makes clear that the lease is for the purpose of operating a power plant on the property. With the power plant gone, the letter says, the lease is void.

“The state leased the land for $1 in order to help the region generate electricity. The state of Massachusetts didn’t lease the land to Brayton Point Commerce Center so it could make a profit by being a landlord,” the letter said.

Lorne Lawless, the chair of the Board of Selectmen, read the letter aloud at the board’s meeting Wednesday evening and the board voted unanimously to send it to Baker. After the vote, board members said they would first run the language by town officials and legal counsel before sending it to the governor. They did not release a copy of the letter.

Citing a study conducted by Sage Environmental in February, the selectmen’s letter said the scrap metal dust plaguing Somerset, Swansea, and Fall River contains \high levels of certain metals, including barium, cadmium, lead, and mercury. “Your tenant is in violation of EPA guidelines,” the letter says.

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The letter also acknowledges that Seth Pickering, an employee of the Department of Environmental Protection, raised concerns about the conclusions reached by Sage Environmental, but says DEP should have ordered its own study.

The letter also says Paul Ford, a deputy director of the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance, the states’ real estate arm, confirmed to Somerset officials that the Department of Conservation and Recreation controls the property.

Baker and officials at the Department of Conservation and Recreation have said they are investigating to understand the situation better.