Saint Model Outcome – coal-fired power plant must respond to local concerns

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By Jay Vincent
Senior Vice President for Energy, The Saint Consulting Group

Our third look this week at Saint Model Outcomes from our experience in land use politics focuses on the proposed expansion of an existing hybrid (coal-fired and waste-to-energy) power plant.

The expansion included modifying the facility’s fuel blend to burn more waste, including tires, and upgrading technology in order to maintain compliance with emission regulations. The expansion required a voluntary annexation of land into the city, as well as the rezoning of two vacant parcels and the granting of a special use permit. All three petitions required votes by the Planning Board and City Council.

The facility was located in a residential neighborhood with 37 direct abutters. Twenty years earlier, residents abutting the facility filed a lawsuit alleging nuisance violations. The lawsuit was settled out of court, but many of the original plaintiffs remained in the neighborhood.

The new petitions for annexation, rezoning and the special use permit provided opponents with an opportunity to once again challenge the facility. Due to the opposition’s turnout and comments, the first public hearing on the voluntary annexation and rezoning resulted with the Planning Board failing to make a recommendation.

Our Approach

Following the first Planning Board hearing, we commenced with our field activities to identify supporters and advocates to secure approval of the voluntary annexation, rezoning and special use permit by the City Council. During a 90-day period, we conducted a door-to-door campaign to speak with abutting and nearby residents to understand their concerns and to identify potential supporters. We also distributed two community newsletters geared towards updating neighbors about the facility and plans for the upgrades.

To ensure the City Council understood there was support in the neighborhood, we generated a letter-writing campaign to the City Council members. Additionally we organized personal tours of the plant for each member of the City Council. We also ensured we identified and enlisted existing community power brokers to be spokespersons for the facility upgrades at public hearings.

As part of this education campaign, we coordinated land use attorneys, traffic engineers and noise experts to provide supportive expert reports and testimony at the public hearings. We also mobilized supporter turnout and scripted speakers for the public hearings, where we outnumbered the opposition, 4-to-1.

With this work in mind, when the proposals for annexation, rezoning and a special use permit went before the City Council, we secured a unanimous 5-0 vote in favor of the project.

Jay Vincent is senior vice president for energy for The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone 312.970.5770 Ext: 7502

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