Potential biomass plant traffic alarms Chester Select Board
By Christian Avard
Staff Writer | March 22,2013
CHESTER — What was supposed to be an update on the North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project turned out to be a discussion between the Chester Select Board and the executive director of the Southern Windsor County Regional Planning and Development Commission over the potential impact it will have on the town.
Public Service Board technical hearings began last Thursday regarding a 35-megawatt, wood chip-fired power plant proposed by Winstanley Enterprises LLC and Weston Solutions. If approved, the plant would be located next to the North Springfield Industrial Park owned by Winstanley.
According to Town Manager David Pisha, the town attorney reported the number of truck trips to and from the facility could increase more than expected. Attorney Scott Fewell attended the PSB technical hearings and reported back to the town that there may be up to 240 trips (120 round trips) per day traveling on Routes 11 and 103 and carrying a maximum load of 30 tons of wood chips from the proposed plant.
On top of that, commission Executive Director Tom Kennedy said the Agency of Transportation filed a brief, stating the number of trucks going to and from the proposed plant would not cause undue adverse traffic congestion or create unsafe conditions.
Select Board members were surprised by the information.
“What bothers me is we have homes that are 15 to 20 yards from Route 103 and they’re talking about 240 trucks going by there now,” Select Board member Thomas Bock said. “People live close to where these trucks are going and what I’m hearing from them is, ‘We’ve had enough.’”
A proposed solution, according to Kennedy, is to disperse truck traffic via exits 6, 7 and 8 on Interstate 91, conduct long-term truck traffic studies, and disallow truck traffic to and from the wood chip facility during peak hours and during the winter. He said the law states no one can tell truck drivers where to drive on state roads, but that certain guidelines can be established between the North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project and with the haulers when contracts are finalized.
Chester Select Board members still had major reservations about the increase in truck traffic. Select Board Chairman John DeBendetti called it “frightening” while board member William Lindsay questioned the AOT’s conclusions.
“Not to be smart-mouthed, but I don’t think most of these agency members have come down to these communities, not just Chester’s, to determine the impact on roads. They seem to be doing a numbers game,” Lindsay said. “You have these proposals and other projects in the region, like the expansion of Okemo and Killington, that are going to add additional traffic and it’s not clear what these perimeters are.”
Kennedy said he understood the town’s concerns. But he stated that the town will need to work with the applicant in order to assure that truck traffic can be dispersed, monitored, and not occur during peak periods in Chester.
Bock, on the other hand, questioned whether a dispersion of traffic, monitoring, time of day or year will make a difference in how it will affect Chester residents and infrastructure.
“There’s a big unknown and the outcome of these unknowns is going to be very negative to the town of Chester,” Bock said. “If I were king, I’d have no problems saying no to the project. There are too many unknowns that are not in our interest.”
The town approved a motion to have the town attorney research the basis of the AOT’s filing. Dan Ingold of Weston Solutions Inc. and the North Springfield Sustainable Energy Project did not return a call for comment.