Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Remembrance Garden Dedicated To Parsons

BROCKTON--From Plymouth County Commissioner Anthony O'Brien:
Register of Deeds employees and title examiners held a dedication of a Remembrance Garden at the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds office in Plymouth Wednesday, August 24 in memory of Marilyn Parsons, a title examiner for 40 years, who died last year after suffering a stroke while working in her garden.
Parsons was an avid gardener widely known for sharing plants with family and friends.
The small Remembance Garden includes a Kwanzan Cherry tree, bench, and flowers. Materials were either donated by local businesses or purchased from donations by her family, current & former co-workers, and friends who also attended the dedication.
Pictured above, left to right: County Register John Buckley, Marilyn's husband Russ Parsons, Project Committee co-chairs Ellen Kennedy and Tiara Tracy, and County Commissioner Anthony O'Brien.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Irene Knocks Out Trees, Power Across South Shore

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Douglas Avenue resident Lucy Nugent knows exactly why her electricity has been out since 1 p.m. Sunday.
Nugent was on the second floor of her home at 14 Douglas Avenue sewing when a large, and old tree (pictured at top) was knocked over, taking down electrical lines with it during a wind surge as Tropical Storm Irene roared up the East Coast, leaving more than 700,000 customers in Massachusetts without electricity during the height of the storm Sunday, Aug. 28.
“There was a thud…and a noise like a muffled crash and then the lights, and everything went off,” Nugent said.
Nugent said being without power has been “no big deal,” and expects, and hopes, her electricity will be restored by nightfall.
Surrounded by Winter Street and Howard Street, Nugent said areas all around Douglas have electricity, but Douglas seems to be on its own.
“We must be on some type of grid of its own,” Nugent said.
As of about 11:45 a.m. today, National Grid reported more than 77,000 power outages in Plymouth County, including more than 27,000 in Brockton, 6,500 in Pembroke, nearly 5,700 in Scituate, and nearly 10,000 more in East Bridgewater and Bridgewater.
Hayward Street, on the West Bridgewater border, was closed to traffic as crews worked to clear utility lines of trees and restore electrical service to the area. (Pictured at right)
By the time Irene reached Massachusetts it had been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm and although she did not reach the destructive force felt during Hurricane Bob in 1991, and Gloria in 1985, it has been reported Irene is responsible for 18 deaths along her path and severe flooding in coastal areas including Long Island and Cape Cod, and surging, deadly rivers in Vermont.
From Virginia to Maine, residents are taking stock of the storm the National Weather Service estimated cut a swatch more than 300 miles outward from its center.
Logan Airport in Boston canceled more than 15,000 flights and Amtrak canceled service on most of the East Coast and as of this afternoon, Amtrak service is still not at full-capacity.
During the height of the storm, sheets of rain pummeled the South Shore as wind wildly whipped trees and shrubs.
Blue Hills Weather Observatory reported winds up to 81 mph. Gusts averaged 40 to 60 mph throughout the day.
Birute Silvia, a Keith Avenue extension resident, sweeps sticks, twigs and leaves that have been left on her driveway.
She is concentrating on the small debris, because the more than 30-foot tree that came crashing down from her neighbor’s yard has bisected her backyard and crushed numerous shrubs, plants and decorations in her award-winning gardens.
(Pictured at right)
Like thousands of others, Silvia, 72, said she is learning the steps she now has to take to contact her homeowner’s insurance and figure out who is responsible to pay for the damage to her garden from her neighbor’s tree.
“It is what it is,” Silvia said.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New Technology, Battles For Programs In ER Doc's Future

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the the third article in a three-part series about Dr. Gary Witman, an emergency room doctor at Good Samaritan Medical Center, who last summer lost the use of his arms and legs after a rogue wave paralyzed him while at the beach.
Links to previous articles and Dr. Witman's personal blog are below.

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Nearly a year since the accident that has left him paralyzed from the neck down, Good Samaritan emergency room Dr. Gary Witman has had his voice return after vocal cord damage and just Wednesday afternoon he was able to move his thumb—a seemingly small, but enormous feat during what is expected to be years and decades of therapy that will coincide with battles with health insurance representatives for costly programs Witman will need to regain whatever movement in his body he can.
“The first thing they say is ‘No,’ You have to fight for everything,” said Dee Dee exasperatingly when she talks about paying for Gary’s extensive, and expensive medical care during the initial two months of recovery and a year’s worth of subsequent rehabilitation that began last fall when Gary was flown from Massachusetts to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colorado—one of the few spinal cord rehabilitation facilities in the U.S.
They would have loved to stay in Boston at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, well-known for physical and rehabilitative therapies, but Spaulding, Gary said, offers general care and he needed specialized treatment offered at Craig, and other centers like Shepherd Center in Atlanta or Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation in New Jersey. 4k3BqJaYF_Y/s1600/wedding2.JPG">
The Witmans—through help from family and friends--now have a handicapped van which they have used to travel to Los Angeles for daughter Samantha’s wedding, a week later to Philadephia for another wedding and Toronto, Canada for business reasons, and Baltimore, Maryland for a month-long battery of intensive therapies at Kennedy Krieger Institute.
Last fall when Gary had to leave Brigham and Women’s in Boston for Colorado for physical rehabilitation, the only available option was a medical evacuation flight via jet plane.
“It cost $18,000 to fly him to Colorado,” Dee Dee exclaimed. The flight was denied at first.
“What was he supposed to do? Take a bus," she said.
If an $18,000 flight wasn’t enough, during the 21 days Gary was in Brigham and Women’s surgical ICU it cost $15,000 per day, or about $315,000.
After countless phone calls and the help of Susan Brown, the benefits manager for Good Samaritan, the flight to Colorado was assured, however the battle over payments, Gary’s eligibility for government medical programs, and their desire to attain the best services, therapies, technology and rehabilitative programs—traditional or experimental--is expected to be a life-long, day-to-day battle.
"They deny, and deny, and deny," Dee Dee said. "You'd think they were they to help people. I think they get paid to deny," she said.
A recent study by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation found approximately 5.6 million people, or 1 in every 50 Americans, suffer partial or complete paralysis.
The number one cause of paralysis is from a stroke, followed by multiple sclerosis and then spinal cord injuries which are mostly caused by motor vehicle accidents, work-related incidents, and sporting or recreational activities.
Whether a paraplegic or quadriplegic, patients and their families face a mountain of costs, paperwork, and red-tape associated with their new lives in wheelchairs.
According to the National Spinal Cord Injury Association, the average first year costs for quadriplegics— is about $400,000.

“You have to stay on them. They say no to everything and hope you’ll go away,” Dee Dee said, vowing to fight for every therapy and every penny they are entitled to.
Mountains of costs are compounded by mountains of medical complications.
People who have been paralyzed have a multitude of secondary medical complications such as cardiovascular, respiratory, bladder and bowel function problems, sexual function and temperature control issues, skin care and bed sore worries, and loss of touch and feeling—a loss of sensation that is a new disorienting sensation for paralyzed people.
Depression is a constant plague for patients, and Gary said he counts himself lucky, because through it all he never became darkly depressed or, like so many others who have suffered catastrophic injuries, contemplated suicide.
“I wanted to live and I have so many people to thank for helping me get here,” Gary said—topping the list wife, Dee Dee, his children, friends and colleagues. ““I don’t think of myself as a quadriplegic or a tetraplegic,” he said. “I think of myself as someone who can’t do all the things I used to do.”
While there are a lot of things he can’t do, like ski down the slopes with Dee Dee or save patients in an emergency room, there are a lot of things he can do—especially with his mind—which both Dee Dee and Gary agree is a miracle that he didn’t suffer any brain damage.
After more than three months at Craig Hospital in Colorado many medical problems Gary suffered were resolved including, anemia and hypoxia, severe deficiencies of much needed oxygen to his body tissues; excessive edema or swelling caused by excessive fluids in body tissues; and the need to use a feeding tube for nutrients.
While medical problems were resolved, he underwent aggressive physical and occupational therapies designed to get him back into a “normal” role as fast as possible, but with the caveat that normal would be much different than a few short months ago before the accident.
“The reality began to set in that tetraplegia is a life-long condition and one is not going to get up and walk,” Gary said.
What has been a god-send is a computer and software that function on a “sip-and-puff” system that allows Gary to operate a motorized wheelchair and Dragon voice-activated software that lets him use a computer to surf the Web, communicate with family and friends on his blog, “The Life and Spines of Dr. Gary,” possibly rejoin the staff at Good Samaritan in some way, and create presentations like the one he gave about his experience in May when he returned to the hospital for the first time.
Technology such as Dragon software and the sip-and-puff wheelchair have made a marked improvement in the quality of life for many paralyzed people.
Medical advances have also changed the prognosis for spinal cord injured people.
A generation ago, patients with paralysis had few options to increase their mobility and advice was to not try, or shouldn’t or couldn’t try, because it wouldn’t help anyway—there’s no cure for paralysis.
Since, due to advocacy and fundraising by non-profit organizations like the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation numerous experimental methods have been initiated, and in some cases have helped some people actually walk again.
Functional electrical stimulation, the sending of an electrical current or wave to the muscles and nerves, has been an integral therapy since the 1980s when a paralyzed college student, Nan Davis made headlines in 1983 when she got out of her wheelchair and, powered by a special functional electrical stimulation system, walked to the stage to accept her diploma.
Since the ‘80s, functional stimulation has taken on many forms including a device used at home called an EMPI, and an exercise bicycle that has shown dramatic benefits, not only in increased movement, but offers the benefits of exercise—increased heart and lung function, building of muscle and bone mass, and improved strength and stamina—for those who cannot exercise on their own.
In Massachusetts the only functional electrical stimulation cycles to be found, Gary said, are at Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital in Braintree and Boston University Medical Center in Boston.
Dr. Steve Williams, chair of Rehabilitative Studies and head of New England Regional Spinal Cord Injury Center at BU Medical Center, has been treating Witman for many months now and is pleased with Witman’s progress which has gone from an A on the American Spinal Cord Injury Association, or ASIA scale, or having no movement below the neck at all, to a C, where there is some sensation below the level of injury.
However he doesn’t want to be too pessimistic or too optimistic, and notes spinal cord injury patients usually show the greatest amount of improvement in the first and second years after injury.
“He’s got a long way to go,” Williams said.
Williams said the stimulation cycle helps increase brain activity in an unusual way—through the soles of the feet.
“We don’t know how or why,” Williams said, but data has shown the pedals of the bike stimulate the soles of the feet which send electrical messages from the feet, up the legs, through the torso and to the brain and back.
Stimulation has been shown to increase nerve activity in the brain, which increases movement and range of motion, but it is a slow, grueling process, that for some can be miraculous, and for others, it all depends.
“Yes, I have seen people who have been paralyzed walk, but, like every person, every injury is different,” Williams said.
Dee Dee said the bike gives Gary an obvious lift and they have seen a noticeable improvement in all areas. “It’s very exciting when Gary is on the bike. He shows so much improvement,” Dee Dee said.
Williams said Witman’s case is unusual because Gary did not hit his head on the beach sand—which would have made sense that he suffered severe neck and spine injury.
Mind-boggling to all—medical personnel included—is that the wave caused the injury to Gary.
In most circumstances it is the impact the head, neck or spine takes from an accident, wave or otherwise that causes bones to snap or fracture causing pressure on the spine which results in paralysis.
The accident did not cause any bones to break or fracture, and there was no sign of injury to his vertebrae. What was found was a “perfect storm” of bleeding in his spinal cord from C-3 to C-5, and edema, or fluid, through the rest of the spinal canal caused by the force of the wave, only.
“When he was knocked down the bone moved against the spinal cord,” Williams said. When Gary’s spinal cord was pinched by the bone the cells it caused bleeding in the spine and cells--neurons—died because of the bleeding.
The death of the cells, Williams said, causes messages to be sent to the brain telling the brain the cells are now dead. Because the brain has been told the cells are dead, messages from the brain no longer tell those body parts to move because they will no longer work.
In essence, Williams said, communication to the spine from the brain no longer takes place.
The only explanation for Gary’s injury is that in 1994, Witman was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of one or more areas of the spine that can cause pressure on the spine which can result in paralysis.
He had surgery about a year later. Sixteen years later, Dee Dee and Gary hypothesize it was the stenosis and subsequent surgery that not only caused the paralysis, but probably saved his life because there was enough elasticity in his spine to prevent a death-causing fracture.

“If it was another person, that person probably would have died,” Dee Dee said. “It caused his injuries, but it probably saved his life. That’s the irony,” she said.
A creepy remembrance trickles in when the Witmans are reminded of the stenosis surgery.
When Gary was flown to Craig Hospital in Colorado for rehabilitation, the plane made a stop to refuel. The plane refueled in Rockford, Illinois, the same city signs of stenosis in Gary’s spine first appeared 16 years before.
Gary is willing to try cutting-edge and experimental treatments in his attempt to find a cure for his paralysis.
He has researched new advancements in stem cell research. Witman has his eye on surgically implanted spine electrical stimulation that in an article in Lancet medical journal in May helped a 23-year-old paraplegic, after more than two years of experiments and stimulation, stand, with assistance for balance, on his own two feet for about 4.25 minutes and was able to take a few steps.
Witman said he is willing to face experimental electrical stimulation to his brain, a risk he is willing to take if it will help him regain movement, or possibly walk.
“I’ll be a human guinea pig—what have I got to lose,” Gary said.

Click here to read Part 1 of Dr. Witman's story...

Click here to read Part 2 of Dr. Witman's story...

Click here to visit Dr. Witman's blog, "The Life and Spine of Dr. Gary B. Witman," ....http://garywitman.tumblr.com/

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Unusual Earthquake Shakes East Coast

BROCKTON--The United States Geological Survey said an earthquake centered near Mineral, Virginia was felt more than 500 miles away in Boston and as far away north as Ontario, Canada, and south to Alabama.
The United States Geological Survey said the quake struck at 1:51 p.m. The strongest quake measured 5.8 and lasted 20 to 30 seconds, and was felt the most in Virginia, including Washington D.C., where several national monuments were cracked.
Survey officials reported two small aftershocks, of magnitude 2.8 and 2.2, within 90 minutes of the original jolt.
Buildings in Boston and up and down the East Coast were evacuated and many people were shocked at the sudden rumbling of the earth that, to some in Brockton, felt like a commuter train rushing through.
Cities and towns north and south of Boston reported rumbling and shaking for about 10seconds.
Media reports say it is the first time in nearly 100 years Boston and the surrounding area has felt an earthquake rumble through the area.
According to the USGS, historically 19 earthquakes of intensity V or greater, have centered in Massachusetts--unlike yesterday's rattling, which began in Virginia and sent seismic waves more than 1,000 miles away.
A shock in 1755 reached intensity VIII at Boston and was felt across the state.
In addition, Massachusetts was affected by some of the more severe Canadian shocks plus the earthquake of 1929 that centered on Grand Banks of Newfoundland.
The residents of Nantucket Island were jolted by a moderate earthquake on October 24, 1965.
Very slight damage, mostly to ornaments, was reported. Doors, windows, and dishes rattled, and house timbers creaked.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Life's No Beach After Paralyzing Accident

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second in a three-part series about Good Samaritan Medical Center emergency room Dr. Gary Witman, who last August was paralyzed by a wave during a day at the beach in Rhode Island.
Click here to read the first article...
To follow Dr. Witman's personal blog, "The Life & Spines of Dr. Gary Witman," click here...
By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—On Aug. 31, 2010, Good Samaritan Medical Center emergency room Dr. Gary Witman and his wife Dianne, better known as Dee Dee, visited some friends at a private section of Narragansett Beach in Rhode Island for his once-per-year visit to the ocean.
“Gary doesn’t like the beach. I love skiing. You don’t know how many accidents we’ve had (skiing),” Dee Dee said. “There’s so much irony in all of this,” she said.
Gary doesn’t particularly care for the beach and only goes once a year. Dee Dee loves the ocean and her friends had a cabana on a private section of Narragansett Beach that the Witmans once visited regularly until the town banned those not living in town from the privilege about 6 or 7 years ago.
The Witmans hadn’t been back to Narragansett Beach since the Town of Narragansett excluded non-residents from the section with cabanas.
Gary agreed to what was expected to be a fun Tuesday visiting with beloved friends from Pittsburgh, gabbing about family triumphs and disappointments, and splashing around in the beach’s waves that children and adults alike grab bogey boards and surf boards to ride the surges to shore.
It never crossed their minds one rogue wave, a day at the beach, would turn their lives upside down.
“Never, never, never take anything for granted,” Dee Dee said.
In many ways the Witmans were living the good life, an upper middle class, bordering on wealthy, American dream.
Gary, a much respected emergency room doctor at Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton since 1997, worked as a resident at Brown University, and put people back together as an overnight shift emergency room intern--when he met Dee Dee also a working student. Witman worked the overnight shift at Good Samaritan until his accident.
His salary and private investments, and Dee Dee’s position as a political consultant afforded the family a beautiful home in Providence, the opportunity to send all three of their adult children, Samantha, 32, Zachary, 29, and Amanda Rose, 26, to college, and watch them build families of their own.
The couple enjoyed traveling and dinner parties and Dee Dee’s involvement as a volunteer in Rhode Island made the pair—both down-to-earth and funny-- an admired and well-liked two-some.
While there are still parties and the Witmans still travel—some for therapies and some for family events like oldest daughter Samantha’s wedding in Los Angeles—it is all much different, much more difficult, and much, much slower.
“It was such a freak accident, but we are living with it, we’re adjusting,” Dee Dee said after a recent physical therapy session at Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital, where Gary visits two or three times a week and travels 60-90 minutes from their home in Providence to Braintree or Boston University Medical Center for therapy unavailable in their home state.
“One day at a time,” Dee Dee said.
A year later, as Gary fights to regain some of his old life, now without the use of his arms and legs and confined to a wheelchair, and Dee Dee attends him 24-7 helping him eat, drink, bathe, change clothes, and nearly every other daily activity the vibrant couple once so easily enjoyed—they wonder why it all happened and have been spooked by some ironies and coincidences.
“It was a quiet day. The waves were quiet. They weren’t surging,” Dee Dee said, unusual for a beach with an ever-present instructor who offers surf lessons by the half-hour and hour.
Gary remembers the moment the wave crashed into him and sent him sprawling wildly. When the wave hit, Gary was bent over as he stooped to pick up Dee Dee’s hat that had accidentally fallen into the water.
The wave hit his upper body and he immediately knew he was paralyzed after hearing a “pop.”
Due to numerous reasons we posted yesterday Dr. Witman slammed his head on hard-packed sand. That did not happen--to the astonishment of family, friends and every medical person who has treated Witman--an added irony to the tragedy.
The injury was caused by the power and surge of the wave.
Unable to move or yell for help, Witman said he knew he was paralyzed and, while not a religious man—it’s never too late to learn he said--prayed someone would notice he was floating face down in the water quickly drowning.
“The lifeguards did nothing. They just sat on their butts,” Gary said. “It was Dee Dee and other doctors from California who happened to be there who saved me. The lifeguards just sat there on their chairs and none of them came to my rescue,” he said.
Before help arrived Gary nearly drowned in about 3 feet of water, about 50 feet from shore—no sharks, no power boats, he wasn't miles out to see in a 100-year storm. There was no apparent danger, except that Witman was paralyzed, face-down in the water helpless to help himself.
Dee Dee, who had been knocked over and washed up on shore by the same wave, turned around and looked for her husband of 36 years after recovering from her own spill.
She saw Gary face down in the water. She began to yell for help and raced toward Witman.
Other beachgoers also began to run to help the face-down floating doctor.
“Thirty-seconds of my life seemed like forever,” Witman said.
Torrents of thoughts ran through his mind as he waited for help. He envisioned himself like a rubber duck floating in a bath tub. He prayed for help. He had a darkly cheerful thought his life insurance policy would be ample for his family if he died. He didn’t want to die. He wanted to live, he thought as salty water filled both his lungs.
He passed out before rescuers reached him and he remembers nothing about being dragged to shore.
Dee Dee and the other beachgoers turned over Witman, allowing the water to clear and opening air ways to his seawater-filled lungs. Dee Dee and four others dragged Gary's motionless body to shore.
Still showing the sense of humor that has won them many friends, Witman said he and Dee Dee still joke about the tell-tale sign, that indeed, he had been paralyzed.
“What was most impressive to my wife was my presentation of priapism,” Witman said, using the medical word for an erection.
Dee Dee called 911. Fifteen minutes later a rescue team from Narragansett arrived at the beach. Witman was immobilized, placed on a board with his neck in a collar and was to be raced by ambulance to Rhode Island Hospital--a Level I trauma center 30 minutes away.
While in the ambulance and having regained consciousness, Gary said—along with asking Dee Dee to tell ER Chief Rick Herman he wouldn’t be able to work that night--he made the first demand of a long list of demands—often lifesaving--based on his medical knowledge.
Witman said he couldn’t breathe and knew he was having respiratory distress—a life-threatening condition-- and did not feel he could survive the 30 minutes to Rhode Island Hospital.
Upon his request, Witman was taken to South County Hospital, the closest hospital of any kind to the beach. Witman requested the attending emergency room physician perform an urgent intubation—the insertion of a tube down the throat to open air passages.
The procedure saved his life, but he lost his voice for about eight months because the tube harmed his right vocal cord.
It was the first in many gaffes by doctors and others that has left Witman with a less than exemplary opinion of some medical personnel and procedures, and a gloomy vision of what life is really like for a patient when it comes to medical care and paying for that medical care.
Within 24 hours he was stabilized at South County and Gary was eventually transferred to Rhode Island Hospital where he suffered more complications—including a barely-won bout with highly dangerous pneumonia that developed in both lungs from the ocean water that filled his lungs while he was floating upside down and helpless.
In his weakened and traumatic state the pneumonia could have, and almost did, kill him.
At Rhode Island Hospital, Dee Dee and son Zachary were told it was likely Gary would never be removed from a ventilator.
After three weeks in the ICU unit where he barely beat the pneumonia, lived on a feeding tube, had no bowel movement for nine days and his testicles grew to the size of tennis balls, Witman wanted out.
“Get me to Boston,” Gary told his family and friends, and they requested he be transferred to Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Transferring was not an easy process.
A medical helicopter was available, but he had to wait 18 hours before a pilot could be found to fly him to Boston.
Once in Boston, Witman said he has no memory of the first three days at Brigham and Women’s where he spent 21 days in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit.
While at Brigham and Women’s the worst thing that happened—besides some visitors having their belongings stolen--was he caught a fever of 104.6 degrees—a volatile situation that could have killed him.
A cooling blanket could have helped, Witman said, but the resident who was working had no experience using one and only provided Tylenol which did little to bring the fever down.
“My son spent the entire night putting ice on my head,” Witman said.
There had to be a reason for the fever, Witman said, and it began to dawn on him the cause of the fever was an allergic reaction to an antibiotic he was prescribed to control infections.
Outside help was needed. Witman’s son Zachary worked the telephone lines until they could reach Good Samaritan’s Dr. Dan McQuillen, an infectious disease specialist and Dr. Derrick Crook, chairman of the Infectious Disease Department at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, England.
As fever poured from Gary, Zachary iced his father’s head and the telephone lines buzzed in the darkness of the wee early morning hours between England, Boston and Brockton, and the group came to the conclusion Witman’s fever was triggered by the antibiotic.
The trio insisted it be cut-off and another administered in its place. The change was made, Gary’s fever broke, and with the fever’s departure went most of the life-threatening medical situations he faced during the two months after the injury.
Gary continued to recover and medical discussions shifted from fighting for survival to rehabilitation and physical and occupational therapies.
The next phase would perhaps be the worst: barring a medical miracle, the family would have to prepare mentally and physically for Gary’s life in a wheelchair, the household needed to be reorganized, work schedules juggled, and the war with health insurance representatives would be waged.
“When I was an emergency room doctor I never thought about the financial consequences of saving a patient—how much it might cost them later,” Gary said. “We’re learning,” he said.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Accident Doesn't Paralyze Witman's Fight

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—One wave.
One rogue ocean wave in Rhode Island last August 31 forever changed the life of Dr. Gary Witman, an emergency room doctor at Brockton’s Good Samaritan Medical Center, who in one surge of Mother Nature’s power has gone from a leading ER doctor to struggling quadriplegic—not only fighting for his life and to walk again, but also fighting for the medical care and denials of that care from health insurance companies.
“I only go to the beach once a year—and that day was it,” Witman said after a recent session at Braintree Rehabilitation Hospital, where he is undergoing extensive physical and occupational therapies.
Sometimes it is difficult for him to speak—although speaking is progress—and he practically lives in an electrified wheelchair that is now the only means for Witman to get around.
He uses a "puffer," or strawlike device to operate the wheelchair, and his wife of 36years, Diane, better known as Dee Dee, is constantly on the move helping him with all of the once-taken-for-granted needs of everyday life from helping Witman eat, drink, bathe, change clothes, get in and out of bed and run the household.
"This isn't love--it's more than love," Dee Dee said, as she wiped a drip from Gary's mouth as juice spilled from his lips and down his face.
"This is like. I love him, but I like him, too. This is companionship, friendship--this is committment," she said.
Unlike some of the thousands in the U.S. who suffer from quadriplegia—commonly called tetraplegia-- Witman, 61, a determined, sharp-witted, gregarious, and humorous father of three adult children, said while there are things he can no longer do, he will not be anchored by this enormous and unwanted change in his life.
He has no desire to stay home and wither away, and doesn’t care if people are uncomfortable seeing him wheel around hotels for his daughter’s wedding in California, or around the streets of his neighborhood in Rhode Island, or around the grounds of the hospital he expects to return.
“There was never going be retirement,” Witman said. “People tell me I should just retire, stay home, take care of myself. That’s what I’m doing. Taking care of myself. With or without this, I never intended to retire,” he said.
At the moment of the accident nearly a year ago, immediately realizing he was paralyzed and unable to move, roll over or yell for help during the time he was face-down in 3 feet of water only 50 feet from shore, Witman said he contemplated several things while waiting to die:
He was glad he took out a substantial life insurance policy for his family and that the universe is not in the control of humans.
“What I recall most was the sound of the waves and the fact that I was bobbing on the ocean like a rubber duck in the bathtub,” Witman said. “I felt absolutely helpless and awed by the power of Mother Nature,” he said.
Since the wave caused injuries to his spinal cord in several places, Witman, has made an amazing amount of progress, including the ability to speak eight months after the accident, he and Dee Dee have had a rude awakening to what it is like on the other side of medicine—including frustrating battles with insurance companies over services and rehab programs.
“I’m not only a doctor now. I’m a patient,” Witman said. “I’m on the other side,” he said.
While there is progress, Witman has a long way to go to reach some of the goals he has set for himself: possibly walking again and returning as a regular member of the Good Samaritan Medical Center staff.
He has been in touch with new hospital President Jeffrey Liebman to create some type of position that would allow Witman to use his keen mind, if not body, to help at the hospital where he has been a leader since 1997 when he joined the staff.
“We’re going to try to custom-shape something,” Witman said.
His friend and colleague at Good Samaritan’s emergency room Dr. Christopher Johnson said Witman’s accident was a shock to all in the close-knit Good Samaritan community.
When Witman gave a presentation to the hospital’s paramedic service in May, Witman’s wheelchair was surrounded by paramedics, doctors, nurses and other staff wishing him well and giving him kisses and hugs. (Photo at top with Dr. David Mudd, left)
“Through all of this, at some point he’s going to prevail,” Johnson said. (Pictured above)
Johnson said it is inevitable that Witman will, in some shape or form, return to the hospital as a doctor.
“He loves medicine and he has an unbridled and unmatched energy,” Johnson said. “He has dedicated his life to medicine. He’s one of those doctors you can call at 3 a.m. for help and he doesn’t mind,” he said.
Johnson said Witman is sorely missed at the hospital.
“He’s such an intellectual, so dedicated and he has so much knowledge,” Johnson said. “He’s really missed by the staff and patients,” he said.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

AG Coakley Brockton Visit Highlights Copper Stripping Problem

Attorney General Martha Coakley Monday met with local officials and visited a three-family property in Brockton that was stripped of copper to highlight the need for legislation to address the illegal stripping and dealing of metal in the state.
The abandoned property is in the process of being repaired and renovated by Neighborhood Housing Services of the South Shore.
Coakley and state Sen. James E. Timilty filed a bill in January called An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing which aims to address the illegal stripping and dealing of metal through the creation of a central Secondary Metals Computer Registry and an Abandoned Property Registry.
During the visit, Coakley toured the property to observe the damage caused by copper stripping. She was joined by local officials and legislators including Timilty and Brockton Mayor Linda Balzotti.
“This property highlights the serious issues that come with the stripping of metals from vacant properties,” Coakley said in a prepared statement.
“Metal stripping adds costs to the rehabilitation of these properties and can pose public safety threats due to gas leaks and structural damage caused by pipe stripping. Our legislation will provide law enforcement and communities with the tools they need to address metals dealing and continue to revitalize their neighborhoods,” she said.
Sen. Timilty, D-Walpole, said in a prepared statement he is proud to co-sponsor the bill with Coakley and Senate President Theresa Murray.
“My office has heard from historical societies, veterans groups, utility companies, sculpture artists, police chiefs, the brewers guild, and many others who support (the bill)," Timilty said.
"These much needed regulations intend to curb metals theft by going after those who profit from stolen goods, while protecting the legitimate secondary metals industry,” he said.
In the last few years, Coakley’s office has seen an uptick in reports of abandoned properties.
The mortgage foreclosure crisis has caused many properties throughout Massachusetts to be abandoned.
Many of these vacant properties pose a threat to public safety due to building code violations, dilapidation, and criminal activity such as theft, drug dealing, and arson.
Many of these properties have been significantly damaged by acts of vandalism, including the stripping of copper and other metals, which are then resold on the secondary market.
The City of Brockton has worked to sell, rehab or repair vacant and foreclosed properties.
Over the past three years, the Highland Goddard Street neighborhood of Brockton has seen a transformation.
When the City began neighborhood walk throughs and clean ups three years ago, there were 15 vacant homes in foreclosure.
Thanks to the efforts fo the City and non-profit and for-profit developers, today there are none.
Based on the experience of Coakley’s Abandoned Housing Initiative, two of the largest obstacles to revitalizing vacant residential properties in Massachusetts are the cost of rehabilitation and identifying the parties responsible for the property. The AG’s Abandoned Housing Initiative uses the state sanitary code’s receivership statute to assist cities and towns in rehabbing many of these problem properties. According to rehabilitation experts working with the AG’s office, the stripping of copper can cause up to $15,000 worth of damage to a residence, often times aiding in the conclusion that rehabilitation is not a financially feasible option.
An Act Regulating Secondary Metals Dealing has the potential to have a profound effect on the problem of abandoned and vacant properties in Massachusetts.
The new law mandates the creation of an Abandoned Property Registry, a two-year pilot program established and maintained by the Division of Banks to catalog all foreclosed, abandoned, and vacant properties in the Commonwealth.
The creation of the Abandoned Property Registry will assist municipalities and law enforcement officials in locating the owners of abandoned properties or the criminal offenders involved in stealing metal from such structures.
The legislation also establishes the Secondary Metals Computer Registry, which will be maintained by the Executive Office of Public Safety.
The Registry is designed to increase the availability of the records and identities of metal scrap dealers, sellers and their wares to law enforcement. The legislation also allows for more accurate record keeping and tracking of items and their sellers, so that stolen metals are more easily recovered.
Coakley testified in support of the legislation in July, and the bill is currently before Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Investigation Continues In Bridgeway Liquors Shooting

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Police continue to investigate a shooting at Bridgeway Liquors Friday, Aug. 12 that took the life of a 19-year-old Brockton man.
Russ Eonas, a spokesman for Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz said James Ortiz, 19, of Brockton was killed Friday night at the liquor store at 142 Howard Street.
A Norwood man, Vincent Wadlington, 17, has been charged with unlawful carrying of a firearm, possession of ammunition without a license, and unlawful carrying of a loaded firearm, Eonas said.
Eonas said no one has been charged with homicide.
“The investigation is on-going,” Eonas said.
Wadlington was arraigned in Brockton District Court, Monday, Aug. 15, and held on $500 bail. He is scheduled for a pretrial conference Oct. 11.
Malkiat Singh, owner of Bridgeway Liquors, said he and his nephew were working Friday night and preparing to close, when at about 10:45 p.m. a group of cars pulled into the parking lot.
“They were yelling and fighting in the parking lot,” Singh said. “They came from somewhere else,” he said.
Singh said he heard the yelling and then three males ran through the store—two chasing one.
“One guy grabbed a bottle to defend himself,” Singh said.
Singh said none of the three men was Ortiz.
Singh said he told them if they had a fight to take it out side and leave the property.
As his nephew called police, Singh said he heard five or six gun shots and knew something bad had happened.
“He died right there,” Singh said pointing to an area of the parking lot in front of the store that is now covered in sand to soak up the blood from head, neck and leg wounds suffered by Ortiz.
Another man, 21-year-old Donte Ortiz, James Ortiz’s brother, was stabbed in the back.
"It all happened in five minutes," Singh said.
Singh said the suspects sped away, but some members of the group left cars in the parking lot, which police towed.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Brockton Mosquito Spraying Begins Tonight

BROCKTON--The Brockton Board of Health has announced there will be mosquito ground spraying throughout the city and school grounds Thursday, Aug. 11, following test samples last week that detected the West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus in mosquitoes.
In a prepared statement, the Board of Health said groundspraying will take place later this evening, Aug. 11, weather permitting, and will include the entire city, including all school grounds, playgrounds, Rox Stadium and Brockton fairgrounds.
Fifteen of the city's public and private schools will take place tonight, weather permitting, with the remaining schools to be done on Monday and Tuesday.
Brockton's playgrounds, schools, Rox Stadium and fairgrounds were sprayed at the end of June, early July, but because of the detection of the diseases, officials said the city requested the whole city be sprayed by Plymouth County Mosquito Control.
While no humans in the state have yet to contract either of the mosquito-borne illnesses, residents are urged to take precautions to prevent getting mosquito bites.
Click here for more information about precautions to prevent bites, test samplings, and state and local board of health contacts...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Sometimes Scary, Sometimes Spectacular Power of Social Media

EDITOR'S NOTE: We at BrocktonPost.com are pleased to welcome Liz Downey as a contributing correspondent. Downey is a Norwell resident, who holds a master's degree in English from Bridgewater State College and in 2009 earned a bachelor's from Stonehill College in English and theater arts. We look forward to her submissions. She has her own website, http://www.lizdowney.com/ and can be reached via email at etdownney@gmail.com.

By Liz Downey
BrocktonPost Correspondent
Two weeks ago, a popular Southern California DJ who goes by the name of Kaskade tweeted about what was supposed to be a small, private, invitation-only film screening of The Electric Daisy Carnival Experience at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.
He spilled the details of this event in a single 140-character hiccup that echoed to the timelines of his 90,000 followers:
Of course, it wasn’t until that evening when Kaskade, overcome by police riot squads, circling helicopters, and thousands of fans who filled the streets of Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard, tweeted:
He just tweeted that a little too late.
Many of the thousands were already out-of-control, jumping on top of squad cars, and subsequently, arrested.
For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, adding a hashtag (#) to a word or phrase can help it trend on Twitter. For something to trend on Twitter, great numbers of people have to tweet about the hashtagged keyword or phrase in order for it to show up on the Twitter website as a “trending topic.”
Today, my boyfriend messaged me about a startling, trending topic on Twitter: #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend.
The “trend” was tweeted amongst hateful and angry statements and inappropriate uses of humor.
It was also met by users horrified by the trend, who sought to renounce anyone making light of physical abuse.
Of course, these do-gooders overlooked the fact that replying to and reusing the hashtag only strengthens its “trendiness.”
What probably began as one inappropriate joke grew to unimaginably large proportions because it was broadcast on the Internet.
What these stories really should be telling you is that what you say matters. Yes--it does.
What you say on the Internet matters beyond the scope of your imagination.
And yet, this power can be also used for good.
If you say interesting things, seem likeable and passionate about your topic, you will harness more of an audience. Crafting the perfect tweet or Facebook status can generate more of these people. Eloquence is empowered if your message has a call to action.
In this case, saying stuff online can be a lead generator for your business.
Social media has also been the hub of legal change.
The Casey Anthony Trial was the biggest trial to date on social media sites. I think, of course, that this trial will be surpassed at some point by an even more dramatic trial. Further, the population of people on these sites will continue to grow as the population does.
However, the important part is this: everyone had something to be mad about with Casey Anthony. Because of social media outlets, users were able to articulate specifically why they were enraged at her release: not notifying police of her daughter’s disappearance.
In response to the heavily texted and tweeted discussion, the people came together on Facebook creating a group to advocate a new legal measure called “Caylee’s Law” after Anthony’s daughter which would make it a criminal act not to report you child missing within 24 hours of his or her disappearance.
The page has over 690,000 Facebook Fans. The petition has over 1.25 million signatures.
Countless other examples could be cited. On the small side, pets and owners are reunited much more quickly.
On the large side, Egyptians used social networking to overthrow their government. Either way, it should be clear to you, reader, that social media isn’t a fad. It’s not going away.
It’s a force to deal with and to master.
Click here to view videos of the Kaskade riot on YouTube...
(Twitter logo courtesy of Twitter.com. Egypt riot photo courtesy of friezsnake-YouTube. Caylee Anthony photo courtesy Change.org. Casey Anthony photo courtesy Facebook)

Verizon Strikers Say They Are Defending The Middle Class

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Verizon worker Vic Smith of Bridgewater said union members will do what it takes to save jobs from being sent overseas and to protect the middle class, as he and dozens of other striking workers picketed at two locations in Brockton.
“We’re all standing here together,” Smith said Tuesday afternoon as he (pictured at top) and more than 30 other Verizon employees made it difficult for the telephone company’s trucks to enter the plant at the end of West Chestnut and Pearl streets, on the West Side of Brockton.
As Smith spoke, fellow strikers struck up a chant, shouting “we’re united," and passersby heading to area shops and restaurants, honked their horns and waved.
Two Brockton police officers, hired by Verizon, slowly moved a group of 5 or 6 strikers from the path of the Verizon truck as it pulled in at the intersection of Pearl and West Chestnut, a 50-yard strip of road leading to the plant.
When picketers moved, the truck rolled a few yards toward an open fence where a core group of about 30 strikers carried signs and blocked the entrance to the Verizon plant.
Sting's "Message in a bottle" blared from a car stereo parked on the side of the road where employees set up beach chairs and tables.
The two police officers slowly walked to the strikers, who broke their circle and formed on each side of the truck.
The driver--either an active or retired member of Verizon management who has been trained to step in during emergencies and strikes—pulled past the group and into the facility as strikers shouted at him.
Strikers said they live in Brockton, Bridgewater, Raynham, Taunton, Easton, Whitman, Abington and other towns across the South Shore and have joined more than 45,000 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and Communication Workers of America from Massachusetts to Virginia in a battle with Verizon management over what strikers call the battle for the middle class.
In Massachusetts, 6,500 IBEW and CWA workers have joined the strike.
Union workers went on strike at Midnight, Sunday, Aug. 7, after negotiations with company heads in Rye, New York ended Saturday with no agreement on a new contract.
Local union leaders said when the unions' three-year contract expired Saturday night with no agreement, the unions had no choice, but walk off the job.
“Going on strike is an absolute last resort,” said Eric Hetrick, business manager of IBEW Local 2322, which represents members in Southeast, Mass., Cape Cod and the Islands.
“The last thing a union business manager wants to ask its members is to strike,” Hetrick said.
Hetrick said IBEW workers who are participating in the strike will begin paying their own bills after this week when they get their last check from Verizon because the IBEW does not have a defense fund to help pay bills while workers are on strike.
CWA members, Hetrick said, have had additional dues set aside for a defense fund and believes members have about two months before the fund runs out.
The last Verizon strike was in 1989. It lasted 17 weeks.
Picketers downplayed reports of sabotage and cut lines in Tewksbury and Plymouth, noting crying sabotage and cut lines is the first play in management’s playbook during a strike.
Verizon officials could not immediately be reached for comment, but a prepared statement on the company’s website notes the contract includes employees who work in Verizon’s landline operations, which has lost nearly 60 percent of its customers over the last 10 years, while Verizon’s cellphone customers have increased by 94 million during the same period.
Picketers said Verizon, which netted a profit of $16 billion last year, is being greedy and only wants to give bonuses to its head managers and destroy the middle class.
Hetrick said the $16 billion profit was after “everything right down to paying for paper clips” and workers believe the company has plenty to offer employees without damaging the company’s bottomline.
“We’re not talking about getting rich here,” Hetrick said. “Workers want to be able to buy a house, raise their kids and send them to college, and pay their bills. None of us are going to get rich on what we’re asking,” he said.
Hetrick said one of the main points on the table is Verizon’s demand it be able to move thousands of customer service employees who handle landline billing and service calls from customers in the Northeast to the Philippines and India.
“It’s about losing jobs here in the Northeast. Here in the United States,” Hetrick said. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow," he said.
Another sticking point, Hetrick said, is Verizon’s demand employees pay for health care costs.
He said Verizon has asked employees to pay on average $4,000 to $6,000 per year for health care insurance.
Hetrick said Verizon employees currently do not pay anything for health care premiums.
He said he understands millions of Americans often pay an 80-20 percent share, with employees paying 20 percent, of health care costs, but added IBEW and CWA representatives have offered health care proposals where employees would still not pay any premiums and it would save Verizon money.
He said Verizon officials would not discuss the unions’ counterproposals.
Negotiators met in New York Monday and Tuesday, and were expected to resume talks this morning.
Picketers in Brockton said, although it may be difficult if the strike is prolonged, like 1989 when it lasted more than four months, they said they are fighting for the middle class.
"We're united, we're united, we're united," they shouted.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Officials Offer Precautions To Avoid Mosquito Bites

The City of Brockton Board of Health was notified Friday, Aug. 5 by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus have been detected in mosquitoes collected from the city.
State Board of Health officials said there have been no humans infected with either mosquito-borne virus, so far, in 2011.
Bridgewater, Brockton, and a host of other communities this summer have been identified as having mosquito samples bearing the viruses, and officials urge residents to take precautions to avoid contracting the illnesses, including using specific insect repellent, staying indoors during peak mosquito hours and repairing ripped or broken door and window screens.
During 2010, according to state Board of Health statistics, seven Massachusetts residents were infected by the West Nile virus. Residents in Hampden, Worcester, and three in Suffolk County were treated for either fever or meningoencephalitis.
No human in Plymouth or Norfolk County contracted the infection during 2010, however nationwide the number of West Nile virus cases increased in 2010 to 981 cases versus 720 in 2009.
Here are a few steps to take to avoid getting mosquito bites:
Avoid Mosquito Bites
•Apply Insect Repellent when Outdoors. Use a repellent with DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide), permethrin, picaridin (KBR 3023), oil of lemon eucalyptus [p-methane 3, 8-diol (PMD)] or IR3535 according to the instructions on the product label. DEET products should not be used on infants under two months of age and should be used in concentrations of 30% or less on older children. Oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under three years of age.

•Be Aware of Peak Mosquito Hours. The hours from dusk to dawn are peak biting times for many mosquitoes. Consider rescheduling outdoor activities that occur during evening or early morning.

•Clothing Can Help Reduce Mosquito Bites. Wearing long-sleeves, long pants and socks when outdoors will help keep mosquitoes away from your skin.

Mosquito-Proof Your Home
•Drain Standing Water. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Limit the number of places around your home for mosquitoes to breed by either draining or discarding items that hold water. Check rain gutters and drains. Empty any unused flowerpots and wading pools, and change water in bird baths frequently.

•Install or Repair Screens. Keep mosquitoes outside by having tightly-fitting screens on all windows and doors.

More information is available on the DPH website: www.mass.gov/dph/wnv.
Information about WNV and Eastern Equine Encephalitis is also available by calling the DPH recorded information line at 1-866-MASS-WNV (1-866-627-7968), or the Epidemiology Program at 617-983-6800.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Brockton PD Nab Suspect Behind Bushes

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—A 37-year-old Springfield man faces armed robbery charges after a Brockton Police canine found the man hiding in bushes near Walnut Street, not far from where a man fled from a purple Plymouth Neon suspected in two gas station robberies in Stoughton Sunday morning.
Brockton Police Capt. Manuel Gomes said Brockton Police caught Samuel Stovall, 37, of Springfield, after a more than 60-minute search led police and canine officer Mason, to the Walnut Street and Crowell Street area—about 1/2 mile from where a purple Plymouth Neon crashed at the intersection of Hereford and Pleasant streets.
“I like to tell the guys, you didn’t catch ‘em, the dog did,” Gomes said, noting the officers involved did a great job tracking down the suspect.
Stovall was transported to Stoughton where he was arrested and expected in court this morning for arraignment.
The search for Stovall began Sunday, Aug. 7 at about 9:30 a.m. when a bulletin to local police departments from Stoughton Police reported a man with a knife allegedly robbed the Prestige Gulf on Turnpike Street and Stoughton Gulf on Dykman Way.
Police were alerted the man used a knife to force cashiers at both stations to turnover an undetermined amount of money.
Gomes said Brockton Officer Albert Gazzaro spotted the Plymouth Neon in Brockton, turned on his siren and began to chase the vehicle.
After a short distance, Gomes said, the car crashed at the intersection of Hereford and Pleasant Streets. The driver, a black male, ran out of the car leaving a female passenger behind.
Gomes said a call went out to area canine units, including State Police.
Police set up cruisers at various intersections surrounding the N. Warren Avenue area from Pleasant Street, including Crowell and Walnut streets as they searched for the run away man.
Brockton Officer John Sturdevant arrived and canine officer Mason began to pick up the scent from the crashed vehicle.
Gomes said the woman in the vehicle helped police with information about where Stovall might try to run and what the pair had been doing prior to the accident.
As Sturdevant and Mason scoured the neighborhood, other officers questioned walkers and those in driveways.
Police found a hat and a shirt Stovall may have discarded as he ran away from the accident scene.
Gomes said Stovall was eventually caught at about 11 a.m. behind a house hiding behind bushes near Walnut and Crowell streets.
Gomes said Stovall has dozens of misdemeanors and felonies, including numerous drug and robbery convictions, dating back to a juvenile criminal past.
“He is well-known to authorities,” Gomes said. “Obviously, he is a career, a habitual criminal,” he said.
Gomes said in the crashed car police found a large, folding knife and cigarettes that allegedly link Stovall with the Stoughton robberies.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Power Plant Sides Vow Fight To The End

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Opposite sides of a battle to construct or stop a proposed 350-megawatt power plant in Brockton are claiming victory after a decision by the state Department of Environmental Protection has given its approval to a needed air quality permit for the project and has rejected the city’s and opponents’ claim the area is subject to Environmental Justice restrictions.
Jonathan Winslow, project manager for Brockton Power, the company that has proposed building the $350 million natural gas plant on Oak Hill Way, said the air permit approval by the DEP is a clear sign the project will meet the environmental standards necessary for the project—despite opponents’ assertions the project will be a health and safety risk to the surrounding community.
“We cleared a major regulatory hurdle when the DEP approved the air permit,” Winslow said.
In its approval issued last month, the state DEP concluded “the project site is not located in an Environmental Justice area as determined by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.”
The approval notes the “nearest Environmental Justice areas with low income and/or minority populations are 1,000 feet to the west, 1,700 feet to the north, and 2,100 feet to the east,” and concludes, “the project site property lines do not border any Environmental Justice neighborhood. The industrial park does not include any residents and therefore is not an Environmental Justice neighborhood.”
While power plant officials count the DEP’s decision as a win, so do the opponents of the project, including Brockton Mayor Linda Balzotti.
“They are not in a good position at all,” Balzotti said.
She said she believes the city and an opponents’ group Stop The Power gained a victory because the decision also includes a stipulation that because the power plant is not under construction as of July 1, 2011 the project will need to gain another permit, Prevention of Significant Deterioration, or PSD, from the Massachusetts DEP that measures ambient air quality.
“They now have to get the PSD, there is an appeal of the air permit and we are putting that together now,” Balzotti said. “The air permit is not the be all, end all,” Balzotti said.
Eddie Byers, a leader in Stop The Power, initially believed the PSD permit would hold the power plant to a higher air quality standard, however, he is not sure what the new rules will mean.
"The PSD is another layer, another requirement they have to go through," Byers said.
Brockton Power’s Winslow said he disagrees with Byers' assertion the PSD permit will require air quality standards.
He also noted power plant officials fully expected the PSD requirement, with or without the DEP air permit approval because it was known by all parties as early as April, when Balzotti received a letter about the permit.
“We knew all along we would have to seek the PSD. The PSD is not a requirement that is a result of the DEP air permit approval,” Winslow said. “I don’t know why they think the standard is higher. Contrary to some public statements by city officials and opponents, the standards that will be used are equivalent to those used as a part of the DEP air permit process,” he said.
Gene Benson, legal counsel and services program director with Alternatives for Community and Environment, who is working with Stop The Power, said it is unclear if the PSD standards for air quality, which regulate greenhouse emissions such as carbon dioxide, will be the same because the permit is a new requirement with the state DEP.
In the past, Benson said, the state DEP regulated the PSD permit, then authority transferred to the the federal EPA and recently authority has bounced back to the state level.
Benson, who has been on vacation, said he has not had a chance to research the PSD standards, but said power plant opponents have disagreed with the state DEP’s decision on the air permit and are working on an appeal.
“We raised a number of issues during the draft and believe some of the findings are erroneous,” Benson said, noting laws do not put a cap on greenhouse gases.
“The law doesn’t prohibit air pollution. It says you can only pollute so much,” Benson said.
The PSD standards are not the only issue at dispute over the power plant and it looks as if the battle will continue at least for a few more months.
There are several suits and appeals in Superior Court and Land Court over the project and eventually Brockton City Council will have to make a decision that would allow or prevent the use of city water as a part of the project.
The most recent decision by the Energy Facilities Siting Board has favored opponents when the board rejected the use of the city’s drinking water to cool the plants’ turbines.
The power plant has offered to pay the city $3 million a year to use the drinking water after the city rejected a plan for the power plant to pay the city $500,000 per year for treated waste water to cool the turbines.
Winslow said power plant officials have requested the EFSB revisit the drinking water decision and awaits the board’s review of its request, expected in late August or September.
Many opponents of the power plant have said they hoped power plant officials would pack up and go away if opponents held out long enough or cost power plant backers enough money that an ongoing battle would not be worth it.
A source close to power plant officials said about $20 million has been spent so far to bring the power plant to Brockton, and there is no expectation that the company will fold its tent and seek another location.
Private investment firm Siemens, the company that is behind Brockton Power, according to public documents has pledged $350 million to pay for the project.
“This isn’t about money,” Winslow said. “We’ve appealed the denials that are unjust to the core. The location is zoned for an electrical plant, it’s in an industrial park. If you can’t build it there, you can’t build it anywhere,” he said.
Winslow said Brockton Power, even in the face of stalwart opposition, does not plan on going anywhere.
“This is the business we’re in,” Winslow said. “We believe this is a good project. We have made many changes to make it an even better project…and we believe it will be a great benefit to the community,” he said.
He said the site has been zoned for more than 40 years for an electrical generation plant, it will bring much needed revenues and taxes to the City of Brockton, and the project has received nearly all the major state and federal approvals necessary to build the plant and are fighting the denials of local construction, environmental and zoning permits.
According to William Bottiggi, general manager of Braintree Electrical and Light Department, which opened in June, 2009 a town-owned and operated 110-megawatt natural gas plant near the Braintree Red Line station, said off the top, the proposed Brockton power plant could generate more than $1 million per month from ISO New England, a public-private company that oversees and regulates the wholesale electricity market for New England.
Bottiggi said, while the price per kilowatt of power changes and generators can participate in an auction that could increase or decrease those revenues, but electrical plants have been paid between $4 and $4.50 per kilowatt of electricity until June when the price dropped to $3.12 per kilowatt per month, which has been locked-in until May 2012.
The Brockton power plant is expected to generate up to 350-megawatts of electricity per month, or about $1.1 million per month at $3.12 per kilowatt, if the Brockton plant reaches the 350-megawatt capacity.
“That is a payment just to operate,” Bottiggi said.
Bottiggi said the power plant would also make more money from any residential, business and commercial customers it would sell its power to, but added it is difficult to calculate how much money the power plant could generate because of fluctuations in prices, state regulations, and service packages that offer discounts for low-income and bulk users.
Power plant officials have said the plant’s electricity would be sold to about 150 to 200 customers in Connecticut. (Correction: Brockton's power plant would supply about 230,000 households with electricity to the ISO grid)
Stop The Power's Byers said opponents plan to fight the project until the very end, and believes residents against the project have an ace in the hole: the power plant’s need for drinking or treated wastewater to cool the plant’s turbines—an approval that comes from the Brockton City Council whose members, except for Councilor-at-large Todd Petti, have been against the project and have said they will reject any city water for the project.
“If the city and the residents don’t want it, it’s not going to go through,” Byers said.
(Photo above shows a 170-megawatt natural gas plant in Dighton)