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Petition balance

Checks and balances ... they are a necessary part of the process at all levels of governing, including when responding to the voters.

It’s why, then, the Greenfield Town Council should not simply serve as a rubber stamp to citizen petitions, no matter how individual councilors may personally feel about the issue before them. They are charged not only to see that the request fits with the community they serve as well as other considerations.

This includes ferreting out unintended consequences.

The council has been presented a petition aimed at keeping a biomass plant from being built in Greenfield. But what petitioners are asking for doesn’t limit itself to a biomass plant along the lines of the one proposed by Madera Energy. As written, the petition seeks a moratorium of more than a year on “all waste-to-energy facilities.”

That’s a significant prohibition, one that would seemingly have plenty of ramifications in putting a drag on the municipality and a changing waste-and-energy landscape ... such as how the town disposes of its sewage sludge.

A state Clean Energy Center grant has allowed Greenfield to study how it can improve sludge disposal. One idea that seems to have real potential would be building an anaerobic digester as part of combined heat and power facility. Such a plant would provide cost savings over what Greenfield now does ... shipping the sludge to other communities. It could also generate energy for the transfer station, providing additional savings to the town.

The petition, however, would put the brakes on starting construction of such a facility until at least September 2014, with no guarantee that in the ensuing months other factors couldn’t come into play that would cause even further delays and costs.

Perhaps for some, this would be a good idea. But for others, the broad-brush approach would seem to do more harm than good to Greenfield’s attempts to deal with sludge disposal ... or perhaps other problems.

Janet Sinclair, the Shelburne Falls resident who is the author of the petition, says “we don’t have a problem with the petition. We wrote it and think it’s very clear.”

What is increasingly clear is that it won’t work as written for Greenfield ... and the council is right in questioning it.

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