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Breathing easier now

Opponents of biomass plant happy to see deadline pass

GREENFIELD — Pamela and John Roldan moved into their first home at 128 Adams Road in December 2008 only to learn a month later that a man from Cambridge wanted to build a large $250 million, 47-megawatt “biomass” wood-burning power plant across the street.

“We had literally just moved in when we had to start thinking about the noise and the pollution the plant was going to spew at us,” said Pamela Roldan. “We knew before buying our first home that we’d be moving near the industrial park, so there would be certain things we’d have to deal with, but what was being described was way beyond what we had talked about.”

Roldan said she and her husband began to imagine what life would be like after the biomass plant was up and running.

“We thought about the smoke and the environment and our yellow house changing color and looking dirty,” she said. “We thought about what we’d have to look at every time we left our front door and we thought about the odors.”

“We thought about how we might have to sell our home, but then about how no one would want to buy it,” said Roldan. “It was devastating.”

Roldan said she became depressed.

“It was debilitating at times,” she said.

Roldan said she and her husband, who have been married for 27 years, had bought their first home when they were in their 50s.

“We had lived in apartments during our marriage,” said Roldan. “The first day I moved into our new home on Adams Road I cried because I was so happy. We finally had something that was all ours.”

She said she watched deer come to the tree in her front yard that first winter, and said that there were so many birds that visited her yard, she put a book about birds by the window so she could identify them.

“I felt like it was all about to disappear,” she said.

Roldan, who was born in Greenfield and lived there all but four of her 58 years, said she and her husband didn’t want to invest any money in the house while the biomass project was going through the permitting process, because they weren’t sure how long they’d be there.

She said her life had been on hold until last week, when on July 16 at 5 p.m. developer Matthew Wolfe missed the court-ordered deadline for resubmitting his plans.

“We held our breath,” she said. “When I heard he hadn’t filed, I could breathe again. Now we can build a deck.”

“I’ve got my life back,” she added.

Roldan said she credits much of the victory to Janet Sinclair, a Shelburne Falls resident who ended up taking the lead in the long, arduous campaign against the biomass plant.

“She put so much time and energy into this for all of us,” said Roldan. “This would not have happened without her.”

Sinclair takes the lead

Sinclair, who grew up in Greenfield and graduated from its high school, said she fought the fight because Greenfield is her hometown.

“I don’t plan to take this all over the country and fight all biomass plants,” said Sinclair. “I did it here because it meant something to me.”

Sinclair said she would act as a consultant if someone wanted to pay her, but has no plans of marketing herself that way or writing a book or anything. She said she would never want to spend the thousands of hours like she invested in the Greenfield fight.

“I fell into the lead role because of my experience and tenacity,” said Sinclair. “You need someone who is willing to be a strong leader in a situation like we had.”

She said she never expected the fight to get as big as it did, but is glad she saw it through to victory.

“I actually got involved in the biomass issue because I had such lousy luck when I went to my board of health to fight wood-burning by my neighbors and got nowhere in my quest,” she said.

Sinclair moved to Shelburne Falls in 1997 and found just months later that smoke coming from wood stoves in her neighborhood was making her home uninhabitable.

“I wanted to find a way to make it go away so I could stay in my home,” she said. “When I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere with the board, I took matters into my own hands.”

In 1999, Sinclair started doing research on wood burning in Massachusetts.

“I looked into all of the legal avenues available to me,” she said. “I also started studying wood burning and the environment and health and forestry. I had to, because the town refused to help me.”

Sinclair said by the time Wolfe came to Greenfield with his plan for the Pioneer Renewable Energy Inc. biomass wood-burning power plant, she was armed with information and ready.

“I was so interested in the issue of wood burning,” she said. “I had already contacted people who were involved in trying to stop biomass in Russell and I was learning more and more about outdoor wood boilers, which became a big issue around the same time. It was all pretty much the same thing.”

Sinclair said when she heard a rumor that someone was trying to bring biomass to Greenfield, she decided to offer to help.

She said it took thousands of hours to gather information, contact and rally experts and volunteers, call press conferences, write press releases, gather signatures, attend meetings and lobby the state.

“People were energized about this issue and that’s what kept me going,” said Sinclair.

An acupuncturist who owns her own business in Shelburne Falls, Sinclair said biomass began to take over her life.

“I have an entire address book filled with just the names of people who didn’t want biomass in Greenfield,” said Sinclair.

“You have to go into anything like this believing that you are going to win,” she said. “I lost the fight in my town, but I wasn’t going to lose this one.’”

Sinclair said she would love to volunteer to help Greenfield write a biomass ordinance to make sure a project like Wolfe’s is never built in Greenfield.

Town Council voted in April a 17-month biomass moratorium that Sinclair penned. During the moratorium, the town plans to create a biomass ordinance.

Others glad Wolfe misses deadline

“My wife was on oxygen when we learned about plans for a biomass plant,” said 82-year-old James Hume, who lives on Adams Road just north of where the plant would have been built.

“We were afraid of the pollution that would have come from it, so we were ready to put our house on the market,” said the Greenfield native, who has lived in his family’s home for the past 41 years.

Hume, whose wife Joan died a couple of years ago, said the health issues were the couple’s major concern.

“We were prepared to leave,” said Hume. “We loved this place, but couldn’t take the chance.”

Hume said he is sad his wife never got to see the biomass plant defeated.

“She would have been very happy,” said Hume. “She really didn’t want us to have to move and now I can stay here for the both of us.”

Lynne Ballard, who lives with her husband, At-large Town Councilor Patrick Devlin, on Bernardston Road, said they bought their home 15 years ago and thought they had found the perfect hometown.

“We wanted to spend our retirement years here, but then came word of biomass,” she said. “We were distraught. It was going to be built less than a mile from our home.”

She said she and Devlin, who has been an outspoken opponent of biomass from the beginning, had almost given up hope when they decided to stay and fight.

“We put our lives on hold for more than four years,” she said.

Ballard said the couple had planned on expanding their kitchen and adding a bathroom before talk of biomass, but decided not to until they knew whether they’d be staying in Greenfield.

“We made a lot of friends through this effort,” said Ballard. “It’s always nice to see something good come from a horrible situation.”

Ballard said she and Devlin let out a “big sigh of relief” when they heard the news last week.

“Now we know we’ll stay here and this will be our forever home,” said Ballard.

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