Burlington to vote on Moran Plant, McNeil scrubbers

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(Host) On Town Meeting Day in Burlington power plants are on the ballot. Voters are being asked to decide whether a defunct plant on the waterfront should be redeveloped or demolished.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, they’ll also decide whether to make the city’s existing electric generator a little greener.

(Host) The Moran plant sits at the northern end of Burlington’s popular downtown waterfront a remnant to the industry that once occupied these shores.

Until the plant was decommissioned in 1986, coal was burned inside this tall, L-shaped, red brick building. The burning coal turned turbines to generate electricity.

It wasn’t long after the plant stopped operating that Burlington resolved years of debate about the waterfront’s future. The city decided railroads, grain towers and power generation were no longer appropriate to the lakefront.

Instead, Burlington chose mostly parkland. Tuesday, voters take another stab at deciding whether the old power plant fits with that vision.

Mayor Bob Kiss and the City Council say the venerable old waterfront landmark can be renovated into a sailing center, children’s museum and ice climbing facility.

(Kiss) “So it really is a way to finish the north end of the waterfront. I see it as complementing ECHO, which is on the south end of the waterfront along with the boathouse.”

(Sneyd) ECHO is the aquarium and Lake Champlain museum that opened several years ago at the foot of College Street.

City officials see the $21 million Moran plant redevelopment as an opportunity to draw people to the lake throughout the year for recreation and culture.

But others look at the big old industrial building, and see an eyesore that doesn’t fit the city’s vision of itself.

The Green Democratic Alliance is a political action committee made up of Democrats, Green Party members and independents. Owen Mulligan is director and he says the group wants the Moran plant torn down.

(Mulligan) “From what I’m seeing, most people just don’t want this large, ugly building on the waterfront, even if it is redeveloped. There’s other ways to draw people to the waterfront. … I think people have to remember that green space and trees, etc. in itself is a draw and can be an economic boost.”

(Sneyd) The Moran plant’s future has been debated before. Three years ago, voters rejected renovating it to house the YMCA. A year later, a majority responding to a survey said tear it down.

On Tuesday, they’ve got two questions to answer – renovate it for the museum and recreation, as the mayor advocates; or demolish it as the Green Democratic Alliance wants.

Those aren’t the only questions on Burlington’s ballot concerning the waterfront or power plants. The city’s electric department wants to float nearly $40 million in bonds.

That would pay for a scrubber to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions from a power plant near the Winooski River that burns wood chips.

The money also would go toward burying a tangle of power lines on the waterfront. And it would pay for a new design to protect Burlington against power blackouts.

Mayor Kiss says the projects are vital to Burlington’s future.

(Kiss) “Talk about an economic development issue. It really does promise to give Burlington more stable power, greener power, more environmentally safe power. And it will provide security to the city in terms of potential outages.”

(Sneyd) The mayor says the Electric Department’s plan is to sell renewable energy credits and invest other money that would generate enough revenue to pay off the bonds. That would mean electric rates wouldn’t have to go up to make payments.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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