SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 29, 2014

Power plant appeal dropped; 1 more still outstanding

BY TOM DALTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — The developer of a proposed natural gas power plant on the waterfront cleared another hurdle this week when two Salem residents told a court they are dropping their appeals of the $800 million project.

Footprint Power, the plant owner and developer, has moved a step closer to beginning what will be the largest demolition and construction project in this city in years.

“Our state and local permits are final and not appealable, and that’s a big milestone,” said Scott Silverstein, president of Footprint.

However, the New Jersey firm still must resolve a federal appeal filed by four other Salem and area residents with the Environmental Appeals Board of the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. Those residents are asking the board to review a federal air permit issued by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. A conference in this case is set for Tuesday.

All of these appeals delay final approval of a project that Footprint officials had hoped to have wrapped up at the start of the year. The New Jersey company needs all of its approvals before it can secure financing and begin demolition of the old plant and construction of a new one.

Footprint is on a tight timeline.

Salem Harbor Station, the coal- and oil-fired plant, shuts down May 31. This new, 674-megawatt gas plant is scheduled to open in June 2016, a commitment Footprint made with ISO-New England, managers of the regional electric power grid.

Before power can be generated from Salem in two years, the current plant has to be demolished, the site cleaned up and a new plant built.

In a court filing earlier this year, Footprint said it could not secure the hundreds of millions of dollars it needs in financing until all appeals are resolved. At that time, Footprint said it had hoped to start “pre-construction” work by late January and construction in June.

While Footprint is behind that schedule, it is not clear whether the June 2016 deadline will be impacted.

Salem residents Michael Furlong and William Dearstyne, who had appealed decisions by the Salem Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, said in a Land Court filing this week that they do not oppose Footprint’s motion to dismiss the case.

That, in effect, ends those appeals.

In February, Footprint reached a major settlement with the Conservation Law Foundation, the region’s leading environmental advocacy group.

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.