The town of Somerset – and its largest landowner, Brayton Point LLC – are fighting again, potentially jeopardizing the construction of a factory making cable for the emerging offshore wind industry.
The proposed factory, a tangible sign of offshore wind’s potential, would be a dream come true for the town, the company, and the state, and a possible harbinger of good times to come in Somerset. But right now the proposed plant is a bargaining chip in a game of hardball.
Brayton Point LLC, an offshoot of a St. Louis-based company called Commercial Development Inc., originally came to Somerset as something of a white knight. It razed what had been one of New England’s largest coal-fired power plants at Brayton Point and hoped to transform the property into a staging area for the emerging offshore wind industry.
But a near two-year delay in the permitting of offshore wind farms by the Trump administration led Commercial Development to lease a portion of its empty property to a scrap metal exporter and a road salt distributor – noisy, dirty businesses that polarized the community and led to an all-out political and legal war.
That war appeared to end last March when a judge shut down the scrap metal business, siding with town officials and three women — Kathy Souza, Nancy Thomas, and Nicole McDonald — who complained about the dust from the scrap metal plant and its impact on their neighborhood.
The town and Brayton Point LLC also moved closer to achieving their offshore wind dream when the Prysmian Group of Italy said it planned to buy 47 acres at Brayton Point and build a $300 million subsea cable manufacturing facility there.
To top everything off, President Biden came to Somerset in July to deliver a speech on climate change and pay homage to the promise of offshore wind. Everything seemed to be finally headed in the right direction for Somerset.
But then the old feud between the town and Brayton Point LLC surfaced again when the town insisted the company owed nearly $3.5 million in fines for its past conduct allowing the scrap metal business to keep operating despite a cease-and-desist order from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
The town estimated nearly 11,000 trucks entered the facility during the period covered by the cease-and-desist order. At $300 per truck, that adds up to nearly $3.3 million in fines.
The town also threatened to hold up several permits sought by Brayton Point LLC – including a permit that the company says is needed to allow the land sale to Prysmian to proceed – if the fine isn’t paid.
In a January 13 letter to the town’s lawyer, the attorney for Brayton Point LLC said the fines would not hold up in court. He offered to pay the city $15,000 to make the dispute go away.
“Brayton Point LLC trusts that the town will not continue to hold various permitting applications hostage,” the lawyer wrote. “Should the town continue to do so, it jeopardizes serious harm to Brayton Point LLC, including but not limited to tortiuously interfering with the proposed sale of property to Prysmian.”
Brayton Point LLC officials declined comment. Somerset’s town administrator could not be reached for comment. \
Allen Smith, a member of the Somerset Select Board, points out that the company was warned every week when the scrap metal plant was open that the fines were accumulating but chose to ignore those warnings.
Smith said Brayton Point should pay the fines and doesn’t see how the Prysmian land sale and the past-due fines are connected. “They’re two separate things,” he said. “I don’t understand what one should have to do with the other.”
Allen said Prysmian has also indicated to the town it’s not going anywhere. “Somerset is excited to have that project built,” said Allen. “They are doing things to be a good neighbor in the community. That’s the sort of business you want to come to your town.”
NEW STORIES FROM COMMONWEALTH MAGAZINE
Goodbye term limit? The Senate seems poised to follow the lead of the House and do away with a rule eliminating an eight-year term limit for the post of Senate president. The proposed rules change would allow Senate President Karen Spilka, who has held the position since 2013, to continue indefinitely in the post.
– Members of Spilka’s leadership team said they supported the rule change to provide stability and continuity in the chamber. But critics said the change would calcify leadership and concentrate power. Read more.
Baker-Polito endorsement: Charlie Baker and Karyn Polito have moved on from Beacon Hill, but they aren’t giving up their involvement in local politics. The two politicians endorsed the Republican candidate for mayor in Attleboro. Read more.
Arts shape future: Mary K. Grant, the president of the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, says history shows those educated in the arts shape the future. Read more.
Help for mental health workers: Liz Friedman outlines three steps for policymakers and employers to help recruit badly needed behavioral health workers and support those already working in the field. Read more.
STORIES FROM ELSEWHERE AROUND THE WEB
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Boston Mayor Michelle Wu appoints a reparations task force to explore ways Boston can address the harm of slavery. (WBUR)
Wu’s rent control proposal, which will be filed soon, tries to strike a balance that has critics on both the left and right taking shots at it. (Boston Globe)
Lawrence Mayor Brian DePena dismisses his chief of staff, Jhovanny Martes-Rosario, after he was arrested on child pornography charges. (Eagle-Tribune)
The average Amherst resident would pay nearly $500 a year more in property taxes if voters approve construction of a $98 million elementary school. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
A combative President Biden called on Republicans to help him “finish the job” of rebuilding the economy in his State of the Union speech, where he also jousted with Republican members of Congress who heckled his remarks. (New York Times)
Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah goes after Rep. George Santos of New York at the State of the Union speech, telling the freshman congressman that he doesn’t belong in Congress. (Washington Post)
US Labor Secretary (and former Boston mayor) Marty Walsh is leaving his Washington post to head the National Hockey League Players’ Association. (Associated Press)
The race for mayor in Springfield is getting crowded, as City Council President Jesse Ledderman jumps in. (Western Mass. Politics & Insight)
Six candidates will vie in a March 28 preliminary special election for mayor in Salem. (Salem News)
A Globe editorial calls for an end to the use of selective admissions at the state’s vocational-technical high schools. Last week, advocates filed a civil rights complaint with the US Department of Education challenging the policy. CommonWealth first spotlighted the call for changes to the system, which critics say locks out students who could most benefit from hands-on learning, nearly six years ago.
Danielle Ren Holley, dean of the Howard University School of Law in Washington, is named president of Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
A private company that was awarded a state contract in 2017 to handle dispatch services for the MBTA Police had that contract renewed last year, but a scathing report issued last month by the state Inspector General says the firm never met several terms of the original agreement. (Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism)
Duxbury mother Lindsay Clancy pleads not guilty to murdering and/or strangling her three children, but prosecutors allege she planned the attacks and sent her husband to pick up takeout at a restaurant far enough away to allow her time to carry them out. Clancy jumped from a window, suffering injuries from which she is still recovering. She appeared virtually in the court session from her hospital bed. (WBUR)
The Supreme Judicial Court hears arguments on whether it’s legal for people between 18 and 20 to receive mandatory sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole. (WBUR)