Wednesday night’s Burrillville Town Council meeting began on a cautionary note as Council President John Pacheco warned those in attendance against outbursts, threats or cursing. These meetings are recorded, said Pacheco. The last meeting went too far, said Pacheco, and anyone acting that way tonight will be asked to leave. “Keep it civil, please,” said Pacheco.
Pacheco also acknowledged a change of policy regarding public comment under the Open Meetings Act. At previous meetings the town council maintained that they were not allowed to respond to comments and that only items on the agenda were allowed during public comment. Tonight Pacheco agreed that neither of these conditions are required under the law. This meant that tonight’s meeting was much more robust with the town council now having to say that they don’t want to answer certain questions, rather than saying that they are unable to answer.
Residents of Burrillville are up in arms about Invenergy‘s proposed fracked gas and diesel-oil burning power plant planned for the town. The plant’s owners promise lower taxes but residents say it will bring noise and pollution, as well as destroy precious wildlife habitats. The town council has been slow to respond to resident concerns about the power plant, and many feel that Town Manager Michael Wood has been actively working to bring the plant to town, rather than working in the best interests of residents.
Civility was maintained, but the anger of town residents was clearly on display. It was revealed at this meeting that on Saturday a group of anti-Power Plant protesters were asked to leave the Farmer’s Market because of their signs, petitions and tee shirts. This directive, say residents, came from Town Manager Wood. When asked about this at the meeting, Wood said that he only told the police and Burrillville Farmers’ Market Association Market Manager Deb Yablonski to not allow signs, not petitions and shirts. Wood said there is a long standing rule against “politicking” at the farmer’s market.
(When RI Future called Wood’s office earlier in the day to discuss this, Wood was out of the office and did not return our call)
Barry Craig, a lawyer, asked that the Town Council “provide guidance to the town manager” on the First Amendment, including the right to free speech and assembly. Lauren Niedel, a resident of nearby Glocester, rose to object to the word “politicking” saying that opposition to the power plant is not a political campaign.
Burrillville resident Jan Luby rose to express her distrust of Town Manager Wood. “I don’t believe our Town Manager is with us on this,” said Luby, “You’ve lied to us and we’ve caught you in those lies.” Christopher Watson rose to say, “He does not like this town, he does not treat the people of this town with respect.”
It was Jeremy Bailey who brought the conversation about Michael Wood to a boil, calling the town manager “a cancerous tumor.” Noting that he has heard from many people that Town Manager Wood is a bully, Bailey told the people on the stage, which included the entire town council and legal counsel of the Burrillville, “I bet there are people on the stage right now who have been bullied by Wood.” Bailey asked that the town council pass a resolution removing Wood from power, buying out his contract if necessary.
The town council took no action on Wood’s contract.
Residents were also concerned that the evening’s “executive session” of the town council, where the public is not allowed to observe, was being called by Wood to fast track a tax agreement with Invenergy for the power plant, ahead of Representative Cale Keable‘s bill that would allow the voters of the town to approve or reject such a tax treaty. Though the executive meeting was called by Wood and did concern Invenergy, residents were assured that no such action would take place.
There were a multitude of interconnecting issues discussed at the town council meeting concerning both the power plant proposed by Invenergy and the LNG compressor station upgrade proposed by Spectra. The compressor station emits a constant noise, which occasionally becomes extremely loud. Loud enough that some residents receive notifications ahead of “blow offs.” Residents fear that the new power plant will add to the noise once constructed, never mind the noise from trucks delivering materials to the build site and the sounds of construction.
Kathy Sherman said that Spectra, in their own materials, acknowledges that they are above the town mandated limit of 55 decibels. During a blow off, where LNG is literally released into the atmosphere to relive pressure in the pipeline, the sound is great enough that Sherman feels it would have given her husband a heart attack if he wasn’t given ample warning. Blow off, said resident Stephanie Sloman, emits 45 thousand tons of LNG a year from that one compressor station in Burrillville.
Spectra plans to build a bigger (and presumably larger) compressor station there soon.
Nicholas Cook gave a demonstration of the noise levels heard by residents. The low tone generated by Cook is not heard well on the recording below, but the sound immediately annoyed town solicitor Oleg Nikolyszyn, who asked that the sound be turned off almost immediately. Imagine that sound lasting from 10pm to 4am, almost every night, said resident Kathy Sherman, who lives 2050 feet from the compressor station.
You can watch Nick Cook’s noise demonstration, and all the rest of the Burrillville Town Council meeting, at least those parts concerning the power plant, below.