GOV. CHARLIE BAKER says he is not sure whether the state actually owns a key chunk of land at Brayton Point in Somerset, as several town officials have insisted.
“We’re currently working through all of the various legal and administrative issues about who owns what,” Baker said during an interview after an event about summer programing for youths at a park in Mattapan.
Asked if he was saying he is not convinced the state owns the deep-water pier and 12.5 adjacent acres on the 308-acre Brayton Point property, Baker said: “I am not – not yet.”
The Select Board in Somerset is preparing to send a letter to Baker asking him to step in and help resolve a dispute between the town and the current owner of the property, Commercial Development Inc. of St. Louis. Members of the Select Board say documents they have received from the state under a public records request indicate the state Department of Conservation and Recreation owns the pier and the adjacent land. A title search also indicates the state leased the pier and adjacent land to the original power plant owner in the 1950s, a provision that was contingent on a power plant being located on the property.
Commercial Development tore down the coal-fired power plant that used to occupy Brayton Point and prepared the site for use as a base for offshore wind development. But when the Trump administration delayed regulatory approvals of wind farms for close to two years, Commercial Development tried to make some money by leasing a portion of the property and the pier to companies that brought scrap metal to the site by truck and shipped it out to Turkey via ship.
Neighbors of Brayton Plant complained about the dust, noise, and truck traffic, and their complaints prompted the town to reject a bid by Commercial Development to expand into other commodities. The two sides are now fighting in court over that decision.
The neighbors have also mobilized politically, forming Save Our Bay-Brayton Point and electing allies to the three seats on the Select Board, the latest addition being Kathy Souza, a leader of the neighborhood group, in a special election on Monday.
Baker’s comments on Tuesday mirror a cryptic statement released earlier this month by the Department of Conservation and Recreation in which the agency, after months of refusing to comment, said it was “aware of concerns regarding ongoing activities at Brayton Point, and is currently engaged in a review of the site history and associated requirements created for the property as part of its development.”
Jim Montgomery, the commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, who joined Baker at the event in Mattapan, said he didn’t know when his agency’s review of the Somerset situation would be completed.
Baker said he was aware from news reports about tension between Commercial Development and town residents, but he was unwilling to say what the state will or can do. He did indicate the state has an interest in seeing Brayton Point become a base for offshore wind operations.
“That’s part of the reason why we asked for $100 million in ARPA money” [in a request to the Legislature], he said. “There’s three or four sites in Massachusetts that could make a difference here. And all of them come with obstacles, some of which are legal, some of which are regulatory, some of which are financial, and some of which are competitive because there’s a lot of people up and down the coast who are interested in doing the same thing.”
In a previous announcement, Baker singled out ports in Salem, New Bedford, and Somerset.