In response to a recent article on our "On Springfield" blog about the controversial proposal by Palmer Renewable Energy to build a $150 million wood-burning plant on Page Boulevard—a plan that activists argue poses significant public health and environmental risks—a reader posted this question: "Wondering why no articles really say who Palmer Renewable is? All I ever see is the company name and never its principals. Owners get lots of city contracts and are political contributors as well."
Here's what we found: Palmer Renewable Energy LLC is a limited liability corporation based on Blanchard Road in Palmer and organized in 2005, according to the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office. Its resident agent and manager is David J. Callahan, who is also president of Palmer Paving Corporation, which owned and run by the Callahan family. Palmer Paving is the owner of the Page Boulevard property where the plant would be built. According to a corporate website, Palmer Paving and Barletta Engineering, based in Canton, are working in partnership, under the name Caletta Renewable Energy, to develop the plant.
Palmer Paving, which was organized in 1955, has held numerous state and municipal contracts over the years. They include, recently, a $630,000 contract with the city of Springfield to repave about 20 residential streets around the city, scheduled to begin this month; a $1.7 million contract to resurface Roosevelt Avenue, a project that begin this spring; and a piece of $17 million in roadway improvements along Springfield's State Street corridor, connected to the opening of the new federal courthouse there.
Records from the Mass. Office of Campaign and Political Finance show the family that owns Palmer Paving to be significant political donors. Since 2002, employees of Palmer Paving—all but a couple of them members of the Callahan family— have made 65 contributions to political candidates totaling $25,825. Many of those contributions went to state legislators, including, in the Valley, state Sen. Gale Candaras of Wilbraham and state Rep. Joseph Wagner of Chicopee.
On the municipal level, Callahan family members who work for Palmer Paving have given $1,625 to Mayor Domenic Sarno over the past 13 months. City Councilor Jimmy Ferrera Jr. received two $250 contributions from David Callahan, one in October, 2008 and the other in June of 2009. Councilor Bud Williams—who will leave the Council at the end of the year, after a failed mayoral bid this fall—received $1,000 from Callahan family members from October 2008 to June of 2009. Williams also received a $500 donation from the president of Barletta Engineering in June, 2009. City Councilor Jose Tosado received a $250 donation from David Callahan in October, 2008.
In September of 2008, the City Council granted Palmer Renewable Energy a permit to build the plant. Only two councilors—Rosemarie Mazza Moriarty and Pat Markey—voted against the permit.
The Springfield project, as well as other proposed biomass projects, is at least temporarily on ice as the state waits for an environmental study commissioned from the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. Michaelann Bewsee, an organizer of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, recently told the Advocate that she hopes the delay—the study is expected to take about one year—will allow opponents more time to argue for better alternatives to biomass projects, which critics contend are not truly "green."