The most prominent landmark in Salem is the 500-foot tall smoke stack at the Salem Harbor Power Station. That has been true since before I was born.
As a small boy, three smaller stacks dominated the skyline. They created an optical illusion as you came up Derby Street. Each one in turn looked taller even though each stood 300 feet tall.
My main memory of the power plant and its various stacks is of the dark clouds of smoke and steam that they belched on cold winter mornings. Those emissions would oftentimes, depending on the wind direction, result in layers of black soot on the windowsills at home. My mother would open the windows to a chilling blast of winter air so she could clean the soot from the sills.
Salem and its surrounding communities have dealt with the many minor issues that the plant has produced for 60 years. We have also dealt with more serious issues. No matter your position on the plant, you cannot deny that there are health-related issues as a result of its daily operations.
Many would deny their own culpability in these health issues. We all heat our homes in the winter and cool them in the summer with generated power of one sort or another. That power has to be generated somewhere. Wishing the plant away will not make all of the pollution generated issues go away — not while we all continue to drive motor vehicles that also use the same fossil fuels we complain about.
There is no doubt that we would have a more attractive and healthy community if the 65 acres of property the plant uses were cleaned up and put to some other, non-industrial use. A marina, a large park — almost anything would be an improvement.
There is nothing wrong with dreaming. We all dream and we all wish to fulfill our dreams.
Practical matters are what are important here. All of the ideas, conceptual drawings and good intentions cannot outweigh the reality of the situation. That reality was presented to us years ago when those in power made the decision to use our waterfront for commercial and industrial purposes. As a result, we have become home to entities that other North Shore communities are fortunate not to host. The power plant and the sewerage treatment plant are the most obvious examples.
No entity has stepped forward with a practical, financed plan for that property that does not involve a power generating facility. None is likely to come forward any time soon.
The stated intention of Footprint Power to raze the current plant and build a new natural gas facility, while certainly not the ideal solution, is the realistic one.
Footprint Power, in its own literature, states its mission is to use its "resources and expertise to acquire these assets and remove their associated environmental liabilities from the books of the current owners." They also speak of their ability to work with municipal, state, and federal entities and regulations "in order to meet public needs." You can parse those words any way you choose. When all is said and done, we will be better off than we are now.
I would rather the land be put to other use, but being a practical man I realize that is not going to happen.
Those of you in Salem and other North Shore communities who stand so strongly against the Footprint plan and the power plant in general have my respect. You also have my curiosity.
How many of you had your air conditioners cranking all weekend while you were out doing your thing in the SUV?