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Harvard Faces Power Plant Lawsuit

Violation of State Ruling Alleged

Opponents of Harvard's $110 million Medical Area power plant project will file a lawsuit against the University this week, alleging Harvard has violated a ruling of a state environmental agency, an attorney for the groups opposing the power plant said yesterday.

Thomas B. Bracken, attorney for the Town of Brookline and the Brookline Citizens to Protect the Environment, said the groups' suit charges that Harvard has continued to build the diesel electric generating portion of the plant in the face of a January 31 state ruling against the construction.

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Quality Engineering (DEQE) specifically disapproved the "construction (installation) and operation of the proposed diesel portion" of the plant on January 31 because of the allegedly dangerous level of nitrogen dioxide the diesels would produce, although it permitted Harvard to continue construction of the steam- and chilled water-producing portions of the facility.

L. Edward Lashman, director of external projects, denied this week Harvard had disobeyed the DEQE ruling. "We are building in exact conformance with the permission we have been given," he said.

Lashman said Harvard initiated an appeal of the DEQE ruling in February both within the department and in State Superior Court, but dates have not been set for either proceeding.

A coalition of citizens' groups representing 5000 Medical Area residents opposed to the power plant this week charged Harvard with stalling the hearing for the appeal within the DEQE in the hope that new federal nitrogen dioxide standards due in August will be higher than the plant's projected emissions. Four members of the coalition will testify at Environmental Protection Agency hearings in Washington today on the need for a low standard.

The DEQE's appellatory procedure has been delayed because Harvard and the opponents of the plant have not agreed on a hearings officer, Lashman said. The court case is a "back-up" appeal which Harvard will pursue if the DEQE does not reverse its decision, he added.

In response to another legal challenge to the power plant, lawyers for the University yesterday filed a motion in Suffolk Superior Court to dismiss a complaint from the Selectmen of Brookline, who say Harvard should have obtained a "certificate of need" before beginning the project.

Massachusetts law requires medical institutions to demonstrate their need for any new equipment or facility costing more than $100,000. Lashman said Harvard did not try to obtain a certificate of need for the power plant because the state Department of Public Health ruled in August 1975 that the University did not need one.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court will probably render a decision before the end of May on a third lawsuit--an appeal by the Boston Edison Company claiming the Boston Redevelopment Authority followed improper procedure in allowing Harvard to make engineering, design and cost changes, and to eliminate trash incineration facilities in the power plant plans in October 1977.

Despite these ongoing legal battles, Harvard has already spent $42 million on the plant--about one-third its total estimated cost. The exterior structure is now complete, and the facility may be providing steam and chilled water to the Medical School, several Harvard teaching hospitals and other institutions in the Medical Area by the summer of 1979.