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Wheelabrator Permit Appeal Will Go Ahead

Claremont — A scheduled hearing before the Air Resources Council of the Department of Environmental Services on a proposed permit for the Wheelabrator incinerator will go forward Monday despite the announcement last week that the company will close the plant Sept. 30.

DES approved the five-year permit last September and a month later an appeal was filed by a group of 31 residents from Claremont and surrounding communities. This will be the third, and most likely last, hearing on the permit for the 26-year-old waste-to-energy plant.

“The goal for Monday is to complete the hearing. There are only one or two parties left and then, depending on the time, the council could begin deliberations,” Paula Scott, appeals clerk with DES said Friday.

Opponents of the incinerator say it is critical to follow through with the hearing as they seek to achieve their goal of revoking the permit.

“We have to retire the permit,” said Kathy Hubert of Newport. “If not, new people (operators) don’t have to show there is ‘public benefit’ to operating the incinerator.”

Though she hopes DES would deny the permit, Hubert is skeptical and does not want to wait for the council to decide.

“I don’t think the hearing will be the end,” said Hubert. “We can’t rely on DES. We need public pressure.”

Hubert wants to start a petition and submit the names to the governor’s office demanding the permit be revoked.

“If we retire the permit, no one will want to reopen the plant.”

In an email late Friday, Michelle Firmbach Nadeau, Senior Manager, Public Affairs, with Wheelabrator said the company will “continue to engage in the state permitting process,” but did not elaborate on how strongly it will argue in support of approving the permit.

Nadeau further said the company has not made any decision on what will happen to the Grissom Lane plant once it closes.

“We are looking at a number of options,” she said.

Despite the constant opposition to the incinerator by the grass roots group Working on Waste since the plant went on line in 1987, Wheelabrator said its decision to close down was purely for economic reasons.

“Several factors led to this difficult business decision including economic conditions in both the waste and energy markets and a constrained transportation network in the remote region of New Hampshire near the Vermont border as well as a lack of economies of scale inherent in a small power plant operating at a fraction of the size of Wheelabrator’s 16 other waste-to-energy facilities,” Wheelabrator said in a July 31 statement announcing the planned closing.

Katie Lajoie of Charlestown, who is one of the appellants in the appeal, said if the permit is approved, it leaves open the possiblity another company could buy and operate the plant.

“Even though it is closing, we want to prevent the transfer to a new owner,” Lajoie said.

Appellants have argued that Wheelabrator violated its permit in the past by burning bag filters that should have been treated as hazardous waste and also claim emissions of dioxins at the incincerator are at dangerous levels.

Wheelabrator has countered that it has always met strict state and federal air quality standards.

Once the hearings concludes, appeals clerk Scott said DES will have 90 days to issue a decision. Either side can file for a rehearing of the decision and if DES denies that, the next step would be an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.