BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — The Footprint Power executives who acquired Salem Harbor Station last year got to share their plans for the 65-acre waterfront site at the opening of a public hearing last night before the Planning Board.
They also got to hear the fears and concerns of neighbors who live across the street and around the corner from land where, in the first phase of this proposed multi-year redevelopment, they plan to build a 670-megawatt natural gas power plant.
“I personally don’t welcome it,” said Linda Haley, an active member of the Historic Derby Street Neighborhood Association. “I’m scared of it. I don’t think it’s the best use of the harbor.”
She raised the potential dangers faced by homeowners living near industrial sites and mentioned the explosion several years ago in Danversport and the more recent one at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas.
“Why does the power plant have to be here in a very (dense) community,” she said, “and is there a way we can be protected from an explosion from gas?”
Haley was one of several residents to raise safety issues. Several people expressed concerns about a large ammonia tank proposed for the new plant, which is needed to reduce emissions.
“I’d like to know how stable that tank is going to be ...” said Lester Smith, who lives near the site. “I just want to make sure that puppy is secure.”
There were questions about demolition of the current coal- and oil-fired power plant and plans to take down the emission stacks, one of which is 500 feet tall.
The current plant closes next May, after which Footprint says it will begin major demolition. It hopes to have its new plant in operation by 2016.
“Are those stacks going to be demolished by implosion?” Smith said.
Peter Furniss, CEO of Footprint, said the tallest stack will be taken down “brick by brick.” It’s possible shorter stacks could be imploded, he said, but those plans aren’t final and nothing will be done, he said, if there are safety issues.
Furniss also explained a number of safety features on the ammonia tanks to prevent serious accidents.
Although Footprint officials kept stressing that its one stack will be half the height of the tallest current stack, both residents and a Planning Board member raised concerns about its size, particularly its width, and appearance.
Worries over noise from tests and plant operation were raised over and over by residents.
Footprint’s architect and landscape architect described steps that have been taken to reduce noise, including a planned 25-foot landscape berm of trees and plants and a tall acoustic wall around a large section of the facility.
Although the new owners described their plans for the gas plant, which will take 20 acres, many people wondered about the rest of the large site.
“It’s really time ... we started talking about that,” said Derby Street resident Louise Brown. “It’s very, very important to people living on Derby Street. We want to know ... what are we going to be looking at?”
Joe Correnti, an attorney for the developers, conceded that they have been focusing on the first phase of the development, the power plant. During that phase, he explained that much of the remainder of the property will be used for construction equipment and materials. Development of the rest of the site will come later. A number of marine, industrial and commercial possibilities have been suggested.
The importance of this development was mentioned repeatedly to the 100 people who attended last night’s hearing at Bentley School. The cost of the power plant alone has been estimated at $800 million.
“Certainly, this is the most significant project of our generation,” Correnti said.
Mayor Kim Driscoll said the “gas plant may be the easy part” of the overall development, which is expected to take years.
“How many times are we going to be able to transition and repurpose 65 acres on our waterfront?” she said.
The hearing was continued to May 16.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.