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Community committee reviews Laidlaw's responses


September 02, 2009
See end of story for Issues and Benefits List 8/27/09

BERLIN — The Community EFSEC Advisory Committee met on Thursday to discuss Laidlaw's responses to questions the committee submitted to the company. The lack of a plant decommissioning plan, noise issues and the role of the company as a corporate citizen within the community provoked the most discussion between committee members.

The group was formed to address community concerns with the proposed Laidlaw biomass facility on the former mill property. The questions the committee dealt with pertained to appearance, noise, air and water quality and traffic issues with the proposed facility, as well as possible community benefits. The committee didn't have time to address all the community benefit questions or the county and state issues.

Committee chair Max Makaitis sent Laidlaw's responses to committee members about two hours before the meeting, so for some members the meeting was the first time they saw the responses.

Laidlaw said they had no plan to decommission or dismantle the plant because there is no requirement to do so. Biomass plants can also be upgraded to extend their lives, so they do not intend to create a plan.

Mr. Makaitis said while there are regulations requiring nuclear and wind power plants to be decommissioned, no other facility has that requirement. Also Clean Power, the other proposed facility, was not required to come up with such a plan, he said.

City councilor and committee member Ryan Landry said the city should ask the company to exceed the basic requirements. Councilor and committee member Tom McCue agreed.

"We need some kind of protection," he said, "in terms of protecting the city's interests."

Councilor McCue said if the project were half completed and then stopped, without a dismantling plan the city would be stuck with the cleanup.

"We're here to ask them how they'll work with us," said committee member Rachel Stuart.

"What we have right now is boiler sitting there," said Mr. Makaitis. Should the deal fall apart it shouldn't be Laidlaw's responsibility to remove the existing structre, he said. If a bond were required to cover the cost of such a cleanup it would make it more difficult for the company to find financing. "It's adding a financial obligation," he said.

City planner Pam Laflamme, who is not a voting member of the committee, said there is a case to treat Laidlaw differently than Clean Power because of the plant location. The committee could ask the company to provide a decommissioning plan even though it didn't require one of Clean power. The standard applied to one does not necessarily have to apply to the other, she said. Different standards are common applied based on the site in question.

City manager Pat MacQueen, another nonvoting member, said it was worth bringing any topic to the company.

"Don't cut the issue short," he said. "You're going in for negotiations, ask for what you want."

The committee also discussed noise issues, including truck engines, turbine noise, backup alarms and engine brakes. Laidlaw said it would obey the city noise ordinance in all instances.

"What we're hoping we don't see is them delivering 24 hours a day," said councilor McCue.

Committee member Barry Kelley said the concerns are similar to other facilities in the area, like the landfill, which receives trucks early in the day. Trucks often prefer to come in early, he said, so they can do multiple runs in a day. The early trucks would keep traffic to a minimum during school hours, he said.

The turbine noise will be a problem, councilor McCue said, and the noise ordinance won't deal with the issue.

The topography of Berlin often projects sound around the city, committee member Dick Huot said, and this will be no different.

Councilor Landry said it would be good to visit a similar facility to find out what noise levels the city will be dealing with.

Ms. Stuart said she would like clarification on what Laidlaw intends to do from a philanthropic perspective. The company responded they would support the community, but how exactly, she said.

"We don't want them just taking from this community," said councilor Landry.

Paul Cusson said he didn't want to see extra burdens placed on the company that might be a hindrance to locating in the city. If the business is bringing jobs to the area, he said, that is more than enough community support.

The committee also discussed making sure the plant burns only first-use wood, not recycled wood or cleaned wood. Laidlaw said they would only burn clean wood, but the committee decided they needed more specifics on what their definition of clean wood is.

Mr. Makaitis said he would take questions back to Laidlaw that required clarification. On several questions the company answered they were willing to work with the community on a project without explicitly saying "yes" to the project. The committee said they wanted clearer answers to these questions.

There was an opportunity for public comment, but no member of the public was there to speak.

The committee scheduled the next Community EFSEC Committee meeting for September 10, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at White Mountains Community College. Laidlaw has not yet applied to the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Committee for review. The committee hopes to have all the issues they are concerned with addressed by the start of the process.

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