Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said it's her “nightmare” that Dominion might padlock the gates at the Salem Power Plant and walk away in three years.
She said there is no law to stop the energy company from doing that.
She cautioned the 70 people who gathered Thursday night at the Bentley School to discuss the feasibility study on the plant site's future that “there has not been a lot of dialogue with Dominion,” since an announcement the plant will close.
She said the Richmond, VA-based energy company, which owns the coal-fired generating plant, has not said that it wants to redevelop the property.
Dominion, which pays the city $4.75 million a year in taxes, has said it plans to shut down the plant by 2014.
The mayor said it is not clear how much tax the city can force Dominion to pay in the future, particularly once it stops generating electricity.
The public got a look at the early stages of planning by a team of consultants for the site. The team of architects, urban planners and energy consultants held its first public hearing on the feasibility study. A final report will be ready in the early fall, said Bob Koup with Jacobs.
Cleaning up the site would be very costly. The team estimated that it would cost $20 million to clean up the grounds. To demolish the buildings, which everyone agreed were not worth saving, would cost “significantly more,” Koup said.
The mayor used the figure of $100 million when speaking about possible clean up costs. But the consultants said this is only an estimate until Dominion allows the consulting team to tour the site.
In response to a suggestion that the city take over the property, the mayor said cleaning the site up and preparing it for redevelopment “might bankrupt the city.”
Just to replace the lost tax revenue would require that the city double the revenue from all downtown businesses, which the consultants said would take decades at the site.
Consultants Outline Opportunities for 53-acre Site.
The consultants outlined the opportunities the city has to redevelop the 53-acre site. They also presented a list of restraints.
The top challenge is finding a source of funds to clean up the site. But the site is also under fairly stringent federal and state regulations, largely because it is on the waterfront and has been designated as a port, which limits future development options.
Almost everyone who attended the meeting had a comment or idea for how to redevelop the prime harborfront property.
Most agreed with Michael Conley, who said of Dominion, “They made the mess. They made the profit. They need to clean up the site.”
“We are in a fix to replace those taxes,” said Pat Gozemba, who told the mayor that many Salem residents would be willing to pay $500 more per year in local taxes if the city came up with a visionary plan for the site.
James “Red” Simpson, the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which represents the plant employees, said, “It will be a sad day when the plant closes,” because it will cost 130 workers their jobs.
Simpson, who worked at the plant for 27 years before moving into the union leadership, warned that “Dominion could not care less about the city of Salem. They don't care about their employees.”
He said the mayor was right to worry that Dominion might walk away from the plant. “Dominion won't do anything they don't have to,” Simpson said.
There was a lot of opposition to the suggestion that the site could be redeveloped to produce power with natural gas. A few speakers supported the idea of building a natural gas production facility. But most preferred to consider other sources of power generation.
The most popular option was building off-shore wind turbines that would transmit the electricity to a plant at the site.
A few speakers, calling the site the potential “crown jewel” of Salem, suggested that it be developed into a park with boardwalks and restaurants.
The consultants suggested that the site probably should be developed with a mixture of marine industrial uses such as boat maintenance and storage, some office and commercial uses, some residential housing and possibly a higher education research facility like Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
Driscoll was praised often for starting this planning process in 2011, well ahead of the plant closing.
State Rep. Lori Ehrlich, who fought to close the plant, said Dominion's departure presents “a once in a lifetime opportunity.”