TENSION IS RISING in the South Coast community of Somerset as the town moves closer to a final decision on a zoning condition that could determine whether an Italian company opens an offshore wind factory at Brayton Point or not.
At a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting Thursday night, that tension rose to the surface as the board steamrolled a petition filed by a critic of the process and the audience reacted angrily.
At one point, board member James Pimental got into a shouting match with one member of the audience who shouted out that he was corrupt. Pimental challenged the audience member to step outside. “For years, you’re all mouth. That’s what you are,” Pimental shouted at the top of his lungs.
The petition was filed by Pat McDonald, who lives in the neighborhood adjacent to Brayton Point. He was challenging the board’s use of a municipal certificate issued by the building inspector as evidence that Prysmian’s proposed subsea transmission cable plant fits within existing zoning rules for the property. McDonald argued the company’s proposed pier was not covered.
The zoning board never discussed the merits of McDonald’s complaint; instead, the board voted to dismiss the petition because McDonald hadn’t followed proper procedure.
Kimberly Kroha, McDonald’s attorney, said she asked the board the day before the hearing whether anyone had filed any documents in response to the petition. Kroha said she was told no one had filed anything, but at the hearing letters were introduced from Prysmian and the board’s attorney.
“It’s become very clear that the town is going to do what it wants to do,” Kroha said in a phone interview.
Some in town would do almost anything to land Prysmian, which is offering 300 jobs and eventually $9 million in annual tax revenue. Others are playing hardball, demanding Prysmian guarantee all ships docking at its facility be electrified so their diesel engines don’t need to run for days at a time. Prysmian has agreed to electrify all of its ships, but says it may rent a ship from a third party once a year and can’t guarantee that ship will be electrified. The company has indicated it may walk if total electrification is required.
The zoning board voted 3-0 in favor of total electrification in September, but then, a week later, voted 2-1 to reconsider that earlier vote. A final vote is expected next week. The lone no voter on the motion to reconsider has resigned, apparently under heavy pressure.
Radio station WSAR, which broadcasts to Fall River and Somerset, said in an editorial this week that the Prysmian decision should be a no-brainer. “Chasing Prysmian out of Somerset is a fatal error, the likes of which will have negative ramifications to Somerset and the entire region for decades to come,” the radio station said. “The situation is black and white, and the decision should be easy. Somerset, say yes to Prysmian.”