HOLYOKE – With a dozen sign-holding advocates looking on with approval, the City Council Tuesday took a step to begin planning for the reuse of the Mount Tom coal plant amid concerns it could be closing.
“We don’t need a dirty plant sitting (unused). We should have a plan,” said Daniel Perez, of Tokeneke Road.
“I hope that the city of Holyoke is pro-active,” said Jane Andresen, of Keefe Street.
They were among the advocates in City Council Chambers at City Hall with signs like “Protect No Toxic Mercury” and “Mount Tom coal plant will retire – let’s plan ahead. Action for a Healthy Holyoke.”
By unanimous voice vote, the council asked Mayor Elaine A. Pluta to form a committee of residents and officials to study how the Mount Tom Power Plant on Route 5 near the Easthampton line could be reused in an environmentally friendly way.
The committee of about a dozen would consist of at least one resident from each of the seven wards chosen by the mayor in consultation with other leaders and community groups.
Also on the committee would be representatives of the Board of Health, Board of Assessors, Planning Board and Conservation Commission.
The committee would hold regular public hearings and submit a written report to the City Council by October 2012, under the council order. It was filed by councilors Aaron M. Vega, Kevin A. Jourdain and Rebecca Lisi.
Labor union officials last week said the owner has said half the plant’s 60 employees will be laid off because the plant is not operating often enough to justify its present level of staffing.
The plant’s owners, FirstLight Power Resources and GDF Suez North America, declined to comment last week.
The plant was built in 1960 and can generate 146,000 kilowatts, or enough to meet the electrical demands of a city twice the size of Holyoke, according to First Light Power Resources and GDF Suez North America. The plant can burn 1,200 tons of coal daily.
From 2007 to 2009, First Light installed $55 million worth of air pollution-control equipment after the state determined it was the second largest polluter in the state.
In July, the owner reached a settlement with the state attorney general’s office and agreed to install air-monitoring equipment at the plant and take other steps to correct pollution problems.
Advocates represented at the council meeting were the Sierra Club, of Boston, Toxins Action Center, of Boston and West Hartford, Conn., Conservation Law Foundation, of Boston, and Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts.