Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tides of Biomasses...

The Springfield City Council acted last night to give initial approval for a Biomass plant to be built in the city's industrial district on Page Boulevard. The measure passed by a 7-2 margin, with Councilors Pat Markey and Rosemarie Mazza-Moriarty dissenting.

The Dissenting councilors worried about the potential environmental impact the plant would have on the city and its environs. Members of the majority received those concerns seriously, but opted to trust local, state, and federal regulators with regard to impact upon environment and public health.

Markey and Mazza Moriarty attempted to pass a measure to refer the issue to the Planning and Economic Development Committee, but it failed 3-6, having been joined by Councilor Bruce Stebbins.

The proposal is on property owned by the family that owns Palmer Paving at the intersection of Page Blvd and Cadwell Drive. The plant is expected to generate, according to the Republican, about 50 jobs. The Council acted prudently by approving the measure. The Mass. Department of Environmental Protection is quite capable of assessing the risks that the plant could pose to the residents of Springfield. As long as the Council's action on this matter is based on the merits of the proposal and not unseemly connections, then the decisions remains wise.

The potential environmental impact is real. Any plant will emit airborne particles and a biomass plant could release more particles that pose a hazard to human health directly. Not to minimize the potential for respiratory disease, but biomass plants have the benefit of having a small or non-existent carbon footprint. That is CO2, which is responsible for Global Climate Change.

Springfield continues to need industrial jobs, which provide decent employment without as much skills. Middle cities like Springfield are caught in a trap, unable to attract the same volume of Post-Industrial jobs as Boston, New York, or Philadelphia. The city maintains a large medical, financial, and insurance firms, but what there is insufficient. Further, it remains difficult to educate the existing populace for those jobs and attract others to the area.

The answer may be an expansion of the city's budding "bio" industry. Clean energy plants, which might find a place in old industrial space or maybe side by side with old energy on Albany Street's Gasoline Alley. This could prove to a boon to area farmers, too, if properly cultivated by state and local leaders. Once this ball gets rolling grants and money can go into classrooms, both school age and adult-level, to educate people. Combined with an effort to keep residents in Springfield and attract new ones can touch off improvements citywide.

This assessment may be a bit optimistic, but it is not unreal. Despite economic uncertainty, high oil prices and increasingly visible climate change continues to push green industries. Springfield may be in the best position yet to take advantage of this. Perhaps more than any other New England city beside Worcester and Providence, if even them, Springfield remains economically linked to industrial jobs. As the old industries fail and/or relocate, the best option is not to give up, but look where those jobs remain viable. Green industrial jobs may be in smaller numbers, but will provide a smattering of jobs across all educational segments and can take up empty plots that dot the city. Growth here may spark some of those other post-industrial jobs and revive the office market and go out from there.

Energy is a great place to start. Let Springfield become the green energy capital of New England and it won't have to look back to see a better time. We may look forward and see things brighter and greener.

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