It has been a long wait, but the people of Burrillville finally got their chance to speak out on the Clear River Energy Center (CREC), Invenergy’s proposed $700 million gas and oil burning electrical plant last night. The Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) held the first public comment hearing in the Burrillville High School auditorium, which holds 600 people. More than 100 people were outside, unable to get in. Hundreds of people signed up to speak, only 48 people got to do so.
The EFSB board is made up of Margaret Curran, chair of the RI Public Utilities Commission and Janet Coit, director of the Department of Environmental Management. The third seat on the board has recently been filled, since Parag Agrawal has been hired as the associate director of the Rhode Island Division of Planning. He begins his new job on April 18, so should be at the next EFSB hearing.
Tensions were high in the auditorium. Michael Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council and over a hundred union members arrived early, and many Burrillville natives resented their presence. One speaker from Burrillville claimed that the union members were “intimidating.” A union speaker objected to this, calling the accusation of intimidation, “B.S.”
As near as I can tell, the eight speakers in favor of the power plant were all union members. They made their case based on the 300 construction and 24 permanent jobs that would be created. Sabitoni said that he’s run into meetings like this before, where a community shows up to complain about a large project to be built in their town. He dismissed the concerns of Burrillville citizens as NIMBYism.
Donna Woods was the first speaker, and she was set the tone for the evening. She said that there is a fear that the decision to approve the power plant has already been made, despite Curran and Coit’s insistence to the contrary. During Wood’s testimony, Curran broke protocol and addressed Wood directly, insisting that no decision has been made.
“Many of us feel that we’ve been screaming underwater,” said Woods, “This is real life stuff and we’re really afraid.”
Residents of Burrillville and the surrounding communities are worried about the noise, air pollution, water pollution, the destruction of a pristine environment to make room for the power plant and their property values, which are already dropping. But many speakers spoke of the environmental dangers of fracking, about helping to prevent global warming and sea level rise, and about our greater duty to future generations.
Burrillville has experienced environmental disaster first hand. Well water was contaminated years ago with MBTE from a leaking gas station gas tank. MBTE causes cancer, and many in the auditorium last night have friends and relatives who suffered and died. Between the gas pipeline compressor stations, the Ocean State Power Plant and the MBTE disaster, many residents feel, in the words of one speaker, that, “Burrillville has given enough.”
Invenergy began the public comment hearing with a presentation. I wrote about this 30-60 minute long presentation and questioned the need for it here. Curran introduced the presentation saying it would last 20 minutes, but in fact it lasted longer, much closer to the originally estimated 30 minutes. After cutting the presentation short for time, Curran said that the full report was on the EFSB website, which is a point I made in my piece. An additional six members of the public could have spoken had Invenergy not been needlessly granted that time.
The frustration that the citizens of Burrillville feel about the proposed Invenergy power plant and the EFSB process is only expected to magnify over the next weeks and months. Frustration with their elected leaders in the Town Council, General Assembly and state wide offices is widespread and no one should be surprised if Burrillville seeks change in the upcoming elections.
The next public comment meeting is scheduled for 6pm, Monday, May 23.
- Full video of the EFSB hearing can be seen here
- Burrillville Town Council claims to be powerless against Spectra, Invenergy
- Burrillville Town Council argues with, disappoints residents on gas expansion project
- Power plant already adversely affecting Burrillville property values say realtors
- Burrillville state reps in the hot seat over Invenergy power plant