Wood boiler OK’d for Sanderson, not for Mohawk

  • Sanderson Academy in Ashfield. RECORDER STAFF

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/12/2016 11:16:32 PM

BUCKLAND — Despite some environmental concerns raised, two West County schools are moving to burning wood over petroleum, but not Mohawk Trail Regional High School.

With a state grant already in hand, Sanderson Academy in Ashfield will be getting a wood-pellet boiler system installed hopefully before winter. But Mohawk Trail Regional High School will forgo a similar system, and instead replace its failing propane boiler with a similar new propane system — for financial reasons not environmental ones.

Building subcommittee meetings for the Mohawk high school boiler drew both advocates for wood — including the Massachusetts Forest Stewardship Alliance and a spokesman for the Department of Energy Resources (DOER). But local opponents, including biomass opponent Janet Sinclair, the Buckland Board of Health and the American Lung Association, raised concerns about asthma and other health impacts that could be caused by the increase of particulate pollution from wood smoke and about disposal of the 3 to 6 tons of wood ash that may be produced by the burner.

“In light of the complete lack of substantiating documentation concerning the potential health impacts to a highly susceptible population, the Board of Health strongly opposes this project,” the board said, in a letter to the building subcommittee. The letter went on to say that the board would be happy to revisit the matter if it had a site-specific Health Impact Assessment showing no impact to children’s health.

The American Lung Association sent letters to the superintendent and to the Mohawk and Hawlemont school committees, opposing “biomass heating systems” for the school buildings. “We certainly do not support incentivizing biomass as the Schools and Public Housing Integrating Renewables and Efficiency (SAPHIRE) program does,” the letter said.

Building subcommittee Chairman Budge Litchfield said the board immediately asked the American Lung Association “to give us some research data for the type of system we were looking at, but we got no substantial response.”

Litchfield said the term “biomass” is too general. “A high-quality European design of a wood pellet boiler, burning high-quality pellets, meets EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards,” he explained. “The type of system we’ve required for Ashfield meets EPA requirements. All of us deeply respect children’s health,” added Litchfield, the retired school principal for Sanderson Academy. “I’m concerned that ALA has allowed itself to be used for a little political gamesmanship.”

Litchfield said the decision for Mohawk Trail Regional School to stay with a propane replacement boiler, as was approved in its five-year capital plan was purely financial,” since Mohawk did not have the SAPHIRE grant that would have paid at least 70 percent of the cost for a pellet burner; nor did the school district have an additional $81,000 to complete the payment without going back to town meetings on the cost increase.

Litchfield pointed out that the district’s five-year capital improvement plans were written a year or two before the state made SAPHIRE grants available to school districts. Last year, Heath voters turned down a wood pellet burner for the Heath School, despite getting a SAPHIRE grant, because the town’s share of the cost was too much money.

According to Superintendent Michael Buoniconti, town meeting voters approved spending $50,000 to replace Mohawk’s failing boilers, but the bid came in over budget, at $69,000.

“With the $50,000 and possible end-of-year money, we hope to rebid the project to replace two failing propane boilers with one Lochinvar boiler,” Buoniconti said. “The Lochinvar replacement will cover the BTU (British Thermal Units) needed to heat the high school. We need 4 million BTU to heat the high school. Currently, we have two Lochivars at three million BTU (1.5 million each), and two failing boilers at one million BTU each. We will need a backup system, so we need to move forward with this — with or without the grant for the pellet system.

“As for the wood-burning option for the high school, the committee wants to see the two-pellet system project through at (Hawlemont Regional School) and Sanderson, before moving forward with the high school pellet system,” he continued. “The high school does not have the grant yet.

Sanderson Academy

According to meeting minutes from the Mohawk district’s building subcommittee, the subcommittee unanimously accepted a proposal from WV Engineering Associates for a wood pellet boiler design at Sanderson Academy in Ashfield. The board also heard a presentation about the company’s work on wood pellet boiler systems, including a design for Hawlemont. The building subcommittee stressed that all aspects of the boiler design for Sanderson, including the pellets, must meet Environmental Protection Agency standards. Given the $171,600 SAPHIRE grant and the $90,000 already approved for the project, school officials voted in favor of the wood-pellet system.

Last April, Hawlemont, which is not part of the Mohawk district, received a $210,062 SAPHIRE grant, which will pay 79 percent of the anticipated cost for a wood pellet heating system, with Hawley to pay about $11,900 and Charlemont to pay $44,784 as their shares of the district cost. However because of a problem with the bi dding process, that project is to be rebid.




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