SALEM — The Supreme Judicial Court appears poised to hear the Salem power plant case in March, which is later than the plant’s developer wanted but sooner than many expected.
In a two-page filing yesterday, Associate Justice Barbara Lenk referred the case to the full court and scheduled dates in January and February for the two sides to file briefs. While the judge did not schedule a court date, several people close to the case said it will likely be in March.
In a complicated case, the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy organization, has appealed state approvals won by Footprint Power, a New Jersey firm that wants to build an $800 million, natural gas plant on the Salem waterfront.
Footprint, with support from ISO-New England, operators of the regional power grid, asked for an expedited hearing and a ruling by the end of January. It needed fast action to secure financing, order equipment and begin construction, Footprint said.
ISO said it needs the power that will be supplied by this 672-megawatt plant and is counting on it being operational by its scheduled opening in June 2016.
While it did not get a January hearing date, a Footprint official still praised the ruling.
“It’s a big victory,” said Footprint President Scott Silverstein.
“What they gave us is a very expedited hearing and a date certain,” he said. “That is incredibly important.”
The SJC, the state’s highest court, can take a year or more to hear a case, according to several lawyers involved with this case.
“We got a very clear message that they see a need to expedite a resolution to this case and decide it on its merits at the earliest possible opportunity,” Silverstein said.
Lenk’s move was hailed by State Rep. John Keenan, a staunch project supporter, and Mayor Kim Driscoll.
“It’s great news for us,” said Keenan, who has been widely criticized for trying to exempt the plant from appeals like the one filed by CLF.
“Now we have some certainty,” he said. “It’s not as quick as you’d like it to be, but now people who are financing the project are seeing we’re going to have some certainty very soon.”
Footprint sees the ruling as a “positive step ... and moving this thing in the right direction,” the mayor said.
The Salem News was not able to reach the Conservation Law Foundation for comment on a filing released late yesterday.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.