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 two 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 three 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.