Despite good Brayton Pt. news, court fight continues

BRAYTON POINT in Somerset was a big winner in the state’s latest offshore wind power procurement, but that apparently doesn’t mean the legal infighting over use of the waterfront property is going away.

On Friday, the Baker administration awarded two contracts for 1,600 megawatts to two offshore wind companies, and the two companies said they would bring a subsea cable manufacturing facility and an electric converter station to the property. After years of delays at Brayton Point, the announcements were at least the partial fulfillment of a pledge the redeveloper of the property made to town residents years ago — that New England’s largest coal-fired power plant would be torn down and replaced by offshoots of the emerging offshore wind industry.

On Monday, however, the redeveloper of Brayton Point, Somerset’s Zoning Board of Appeals, and three town residents returned to Land Court to settle unfinished business. They filed their closing briefs in a court fight triggered in many ways by the Trump administration’s decision to put the offshore wind industry on hold for a couple years. 

The Trump delay left the redeveloper of Brayton Point, Commercial Development Inc. of St. Louis, with a razed property and no revenue coming in. So the company leased a portion of the property to a scrap metal export business, which angered neighbors who had to contend with noise, truck traffic, and dust. The neighbors mobilized politically and three of them appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which cracked down on the scrap metal business — the action that prompted Commercial Development to sue. 

The case dragged on as President Biden took office and green-lighted the offshore wind industry, paving the way for last week’s announcement of the state’s third offshore wind procurement. Brayton Point now appears to be back on track in terms of offshore wind, but Commercial Development isn’t withdrawing its lawsuit. 

Company officials declined comment, so it’s unclear whether the firm intends to continue leasing to the scrap metal business, which has continued to operate under court restrictions.

The final briefs in the case revolve around the question of whether the dust emanating from the scrap metal operation is in violation of rules established by the town. The Zoning Board of Appeals and the two town residents — one of whom, Kathy Souza, is now a member of the Somerset Select Board — point to a town bylaw requiring that “all dust and fumes … [be] effectively confined to the premises.”

As the Zoning Board says in its brief: “Simply put, all means all.”

But Commercial Development says the town is trying to set a “theoretical standard that cannot be complied with” and points to use of the word “effectively,” which suggests the bylaw is not absolute. The company also said the bylaw incorporates a fugitive nuisance control plan, which specifically refers to compliance with EPA standards on dust. “It was a nuisance control plan, not a nuisance elimination plan,” the company says in its brief. 

Souza said on Friday she was thrilled with the news that an offshore wind manufacturing facility was coming to Brayton Point, but she said there was no sign the company was dropping its lawsuit. “We’re all about a clean industry that will be good neighbors,” she said.

BRUCE MOHL

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

Vaccine passes coming: Boston Mayor Michelle Wu requires all restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues to verify patrons and employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 starting January 15. Officials from Somerville, Salem, Brookline, Arlington, Cambridge, and Medford indicated they may follow suit.

– Wu said people will be able to prove vaccination by showing their vaccine card, a picture of their card, or verification on a digital app the city is developing. New York City approved a similar requirement in August.

– Wu also said city workers will need to be vaccinated on the same timeline, doing away with an option allowing workers unwilling to be vaccinated to undergo expanded testing.

– As Wu held her press conference inside City Hall, about 70 people chanted, shouted, and blew whistles nearby protesting the decision. Republican candidate for governor Geoff Diehl stood with the group and issued a statement afterward saying the new rules are a civil rights violation and will make it harder for the economy to recover. Read more.

Vaccines called effective: The Department of Public Health released data indicating vaccines and boosters remain generally effective in preventing cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Read more.

Spilka had stroke: Explaining why she’s been out of the public eye for more than a month, Senate President Karen Spilka reveals she had a “mild stroke” in mid-November. Read more

 

FROM AROUND THE WEB

MUNICIPAL MATTERS  

After a large number of hate-related incidents, Danvers officials say they will no longer release a public statement any time there is a “minor” incident, like recent homophobic graffiti. (Salem News)

Leaders of several South Shore communities say they are unlikely to follow Boston’s lead in requiring COVID vaccines for entry into a variety of private businesses. (Patriot Ledger)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Health officials say the Omicron variant is now the dominant COVID strain in the state – and its soaring numbers are taxing the health care system. (Boston Globe

State health officials are seeking to expand the use of monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID patients. (Salem News)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Biden plans to enlist help from the military and obtain and distribute for free 500 million rapid COVID tests as part of efforts to contain the new surge in cases. (New York Times)

A White House staffer who was with President Biden on Air Force One tests positive for COVID-19. Biden tested negative. (NPR)

Federal agencies approved an extra 20,000 H-2B temporary workers visas for the first half of 2022 and another 20,000 for the second half. (Cape Cod Times)

State House Majority Leader Claire Cronin is confirmed as US ambassador to Ireland. (State House News Service)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Descendants of General George Patton agreed to turn their organic farm into a cannabis company, which has now opened for sales in Southbridge. (MassLive)

TRANSPORTATION

The Globe reports that there have been at least three incidents since the mid-1990s of MBTA escalators suddenly reversing direction at high speed and injuring people.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A charge of domestic assault and battery filed against Southcoast Health president Keith Hovan is dismissed after his wife declines to testify against him. (Wicked Local)

Vermont could become the first New England state to ban qualified immunity – a legal protection provided to public employees like police officers for actions taken on the job. (USA Today)

MEDIA

Bina Venkatamaran is stepping down as editorial page editor at the Boston Globe after just two years in the post. (Media Nation)