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Palmer Renewable Energy sues city over revoked special permit

By Lisa Gibson | June 28, 2011

The certified mail delivered to the home of Springfield, Mass., City Council member Kateri Walsh on June 24 alerted her to the very real lawsuit against the city, following the revocation of a special permit for a biomass facility. Developer Palmer Renewable Energy had warned of the legal retaliation it would take if its permit was revoked, but the city council still voted for revocaton in May, no matter the fact that the permit had been issued a full three years ago.

“Many people, I think, thought the lawsuit was an idle threat, which it has not turned out to be,” Walsh said. She was one of only two councilmembers on the 13-member body to vote against the revocation, saying she felt Palmer had done all that was required of it. She added that a special permit revocation is uncommon.

“I’ve been on the council since 1987, give or take a few years, and in that amount of time, I think we’ve only revoked three special permits,” she said. “So it’s a big step to take when you’ve granted the original authority to a business; the business does everything it’s supposed to do; the business has made a pretty big investment in the city of Springfield. It does provide jobs and I just have always felt that we didn’t meet the just cause standard for revoking the permit.”

Palmer had acquired all the permits it needed, she said, but the project became a controversial issue because of local opposition with health and air quality concerns. It was the most controversial issue the council had voted on this year, she added. “It can get very emotional when you’re talking about pitting people’s health against jobs.”

Palmer Renewable Energy is a partnership between Caletta Renewable Energy and Palmer Paving Corp., which owns the proposed project site. The 35-megawatt, wood-chip fueled Palmer Renewable Energy Center was scheduled for completion in July 2013. Vic Gatto, principal and chief operating officer of Caletta said the company will be issued its final air permit in the next few days, having already received a draft air permit, but declined to comment on the ongoing litigation. He added, though, that the company is still moving forward with its plans.

The lawsuit will almost definitely have an adverse impact on the city of Springfield, Walsh said. “Depending on the outcome of the case and the damages, it could have a very negative impact on the city of Springfield.”