More than 50 people packed the Burrillville Town Council chamber to register their objection to the Spectra energy pipeline expansion and the new $700 million “Clear River” methane power plant that’s proposed for Wallum Lake Road by Invenergy. Kathy Martley, of Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion (BASE), presented the town council with research she had gathered outlining the health risks and dangers of pipelines and power plants in the community.
Council President John Pacheco III and the other councilors did not seem very receptive to the concerns of the citizens in attendance. In response to questions raised at previous meetings about half the town council recently toured the Spectra plant and examined the work being done on the pipeline. They left satisfied that the pipes were not corroding and that the noise levels were within acceptable limits.
One town councilor said that during the tour they were told that Spectra was digging up some pipelines, so the noise was louder than usual. She seemed surprised that those in attendance laughed. But it was less funny when the town council revealed that all the information they have on Spectra’s actions and all the information they have on safety and public health issues comes from Spectra, and there are no other sources of information available.
“We have no legal authority to regulate or look at their reports,” said Pacheco, “We have to rely on Spectra.”
This was the refrain of the Burrillville Town Council throughout the meeting. Only FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Agency) can regulate Spectra, claims the town council. Spectra doesn’t even have to obey the town’s noise ordinances. “We don’t have control over Spectra and we can’t enforce local ordinances” against them, said Town Councilor David Place.
Meanwhile the vibrations from the pipeline compressors are so overpowering that plates rattle in the cabinets of Kathy Sherman’s home, who lives across the street from Spectra, she said. She warned the town council that there may be dire impacts on Burrillville due to Spectra’s expansion that have nothing to do with health or the environment.
“When you have people leaving, not paying their taxes, you will suffer for that,” she said.
Said Kathy Martley of BASE, “The value of this town is going into the toilet. I urge you to pass a resolution to oppose this power plant.” The crowd overwhelmingly agreed, applauding and cheering Martley’s words. But the town council seemed unwilling to be moved by their voters.
“FERC and the governor have all the power,” says Councilor Nancy Binns, “we don’t.”
Several times Council President Pacheco tried to close off comment, and several times those in attendance had to insist on being heard. “Why don’t we get to vote on this?” asked a man at the back of the crowd, “Newport votes on gambling over and over again, but we just have to accept this?”
Instead of addressing the man’s concerns, Councilor Stephen Rawson insisted that discussing the new power plant would be illegal, since it’s not on the agenda, only the pipeline expansion is. This was news to Kathy Martley of BASE, who told me after the meeting that she’s pretty sure she asked that both items be on tonight’s docket.
Spectra held an open meeting recently in Burrillville. Residents were annoyed that “union people” holding signs in support of Spectra arrived early and took up all the parking spaces at the too small venue. Others complain that they don’t get proper notification about meetings from Spectra.
“Don’t you get notification of meetings?” asks a councilor.
“NO!” shouts virtually everyone in frustration.
“We asked about their notification process,” says Councilor Donald Fox, “they admitted that they aren’t as good as they used to be.”
Meanwhile, says Kathy Sherman, “No one from Spectra will return calls.”
The Town Councilors don’t want to be discussing this. They claim to be powerless in the face of Spectra. They recommend contacting Governor Gina Raimondo or State Representative Cale Keable. A man behind me says, referring to Keable, “He’s useless.”
Burrillville is home to two interstate methane gas pipelines, two methane gas compressor stations and the Ocean State power plant. Spectra Energy’s compressor station is already being expanded and a second expansion has been proposed. The proposed “Clear River” power plant plans to use Pascoag’s MBTE (methyl tert-butyl ether) tainted water supply for cooling.
In their press release, BASE suggested three things the town council could do in opposition to new methane energy infrastructure:
-Invenergy, the company that wants to build the plant, will try to negotiate with the town for a lower tax rate. If the Town refuses to negotiate with Invenergy and refuses to give them a tax break, the plant won’t be built.
-The Town will be asked by State agencies to submit official opinions about the power plant. If the Town Council says that they are against the plant, the State permits might not get approved.
-The power plant would need huge amounts of water to operate. The town has some power to deny Invenergy access to the local water supply and the pipes that will be needed to transport the water.
Amanda, another member of BASE, wants to know what the town council has done to move Burrillville towards a renewable energy future. After a few minutes of prevaricating, Councilor David Place is forced to admit that they’ve done almost nothing.
Invenergy also builds renewable energy power plants says Amanda, before demanding that the town council tell Invenergy to, “go solar or go home!”
After public comment on the subject is finally closed, and the citizens leave the building and gather outside on the sidewalk, no one seems happy with the performance of the town council. There is anger and frustration and talk of electing town councilors willing to stand with them against Spectra and Invenergy.
“When I started this two years ago, they could ignore me,” says Kathy Martley, of BASE, “They can’t ignore us any more.”