Metro

Power company files civil rights lawsuit against Brockton officials for blocking proposed plant

A power company that wants to build an electrical generation plant in Brockton has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against local officials, saying city leaders have colluded to do whatever it takes to block the 350-megawatt, gas-fired facility.

Brockton Power LLC, a subsidiary of the Swiss firm Advanced Power AG, is seeking $68 million-plus in damages in US District Court in Boston, as well as a reversal of all actions thwarting the plant’s progress.

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The company has been trying for five years to gain approval for the $350 million plant that would be built in Oak Hill industrial park on the city’s south side, an area zoned for that use since 1965. Neighbors and city officials have staunchly opposed it, citing health and other concerns.

Named in the lawsuit are the City Council and Planning Board, as well as individuals including Mayor Linda Balzotti, former mayor James Harrington, City Council president Thomas Brophy, council members Michelle DuBois and Jass Stewart, Planning Board chairman Wayne McAllister, and board member Susan Nicastro.

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In a statement Wednesday, company officials said they took action reluctantly, after Brockton’s continued refusal to offer the review the plan is entitled to under state law and the city’s own ordinances.

“As our complaint makes clear, we believe there is ample evidence showing that certain city officials not only have failed to provide this review but also have acted beyond their official powers in order to block the project,’’ the statement said.

Brockton city solicitor Philip Nessralla called the court filing baseless and ridiculous, one “that seems to be more about frustration and desperation’’ than facts.

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“Going to federal court to try to threaten or scare a municipality into buckling down is inappropriate and misguided,’’ Nessralla said. “As a municipality, we are busy enough.”

The case will be defended vigorously, he said, and the city’s law department will look into the possibility of a counterclaim.

Brockton has not granted local approvals even though the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board has approved the project subject to those zoning and permitting procedures. The state Department of Environmental Protection has also granted an air permit for the plant, according to the court filing.

The company has said the plant would bring millions to the city’s coffers in water fees, taxes, and other revenue, while also providing hundreds of construction jobs and some permanent ones.

But, it said in its lawsuit, the city has refused to supply the needed 2 million gallons of water a day to cool the proposed plant’s two towers; has refused to hear plans or schedule meetings; has rejected filings out of hand without a public review; has tried to rezone the property to eliminate the power plant use; and has manipulated local land use powers “to fatally delay and ultimately kill the project.”

“This case is important because if cities and towns in Massachusetts are permitted to conduct themselves as lawlessly as Brockton has . . . then no such project is safe for development,” it said.

Opponents of the plant are not convinced.

Ed Byers, who owns a salad-dressing factory next to the proposed plant site, said he remains concerned about potential emissions hazards from the power generation not only for his workers but also for nearby residents.

Yes, a company has a right to locate in the community, he said, “but this ain’t a Taco Bell.”

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@live.com
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