To the Citizens of Woonsocket and the Woonsocket City Council:
My dear friends:
Let’s put the potential sale of Woonsocket water to Invenergy in perspective. You have been down this road many times before with promises of cheaper water bills, lower taxes, improved infrastructure and more. The big box stores that came your way promised everything and, in return they all but decimated local family owned businesses. Relatives, family and friends who worked in your cities mills and factories tell stories of industrialists expanding their fortunes with low paying jobs and by ignoring basic environmental rules: spewing smoke and soot from burning cheap coal and oil; dumping chemicals and dies in the rivers and streams that powered their mills; and, jettisoning thousands of tons of razor-sharp tailings along banks and canals they used to transport their goods. The sale of water to Invenergy is another example in a long list of examples, that will do little to improve the lives of the citizens of the City of Woonsocket.
Before they first moved into your city, these companies of years past asked you to pay for pipes, roads, ponds and other infrastructure in exchange for promises of jobs, better health and lower taxes. But today you are paying increased taxes for “brown fields” and toxic places left behind by textile and manufacturing. Once they packed up and took off, you are left paying the bill. They left nothing to help clean up these places.
Today, hundreds of volunteers from the Blackstone River Watershed Council and Friends of the Blackstone spend countless hours attempting to clean up the Blackstone and with federal help, hold accountable those who made it a mess long ago. Millions of your tax dollars are spent yearly in trying to bring the River back to life. This process has taken decades to clean up. And it’s not done yet. From this perspective, many of you know that those initial promises of a better life were never kept.
Invenergy is attempting to do the same: promise as much as they can and pay for it with as little as they can offer.
Over the years you have seen mayor’s and city councils striving to make Woonsocket great again. Today, there is a lot that is special about your city: the beauty of your surroundings along the Blackstone River, the hard and dedicated work ethic of its citizens and volunteers, River Fest, Autumn Fest, its historic French Canadian culture, your Queen Anne Victorian, Colonial Revival and Tudor Revival styles of your buildings in the North End, non-profits such as Neighborhood Works and Riverzedge that have national reputation for doing good for your city and for all of Rhode Island.
But not all has been good in Woonsocket. In the past 20 years or so Woonsocket has been accustomed to being listed, according to the Center for Disease Control, as a “core city” where 25 percent or more children live below the poverty threshold. A population decrease is taking place with an exodus of young and old alike – nearly 5% since the 2000 US Census. A decrease in the rural population where 100% of you now live in urban areas in Woonsocket. Gone are the farms of the past. In their place are abandoned industrial sites toxic with the waste from an industrial age void of clean air and clean water regulations. All is not bleak for your city. With a decrease in the manufacturing sector, Woonsocket has seen a decrease in the asthma rates from 38.0 per 10,000 in 2008 down to an all-time low of 21.2 per 10,000 in 2012. And the trend towards lower asthma rates from cleaner air continues. All that could change with the sale of your water.
Over the next several weeks, your Mayor and City Council will seek information and comments that may lead them to sell water to a fracked gas – fracked oil power plant in the middle of the woods in northwestern Rhode Island. This one power plant will be the largest power plant in all of New England. On October 29, 2015, the Chicago-based company known as Invenergy submitted an application to the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board – the three-person governing body that alone will decide whether or not the power plant is permitted and built. In part, the information provided in the application to the EFSB states that this one power plant “…will be a major source for NOx, CO, VOC, CO2, PM10, and PM2.5.”
Let’s put this in perspective and help define what these letters and numbers mean.
NOx – also known as nitrogen oxides are according to the EPA, “a family of poisonous, highly reactive gasses. [The gas] often appears as a brownish gas. It is a strong oxidizing agent and plays a major role in the atmospheric reactions with volatile organic compounds (VOC) that produce ozone (smog) on hot summer days.” This one power plant will produce 285.15 tons of nitrogen oxides per year. The power plant will produce over 220 tons per year of CO: carbon monoxide – an odorless, colorless toxic gas that can kill. The gas turbines will spit out over 3.6 million tons of CO2 per year shredding any chance for Rhode Island to meet its Resilient Rhode Island greenhouse gas reductions. Table 6.1-2 on page 32 of Invenergy’s report to the EFSB also lists Butadiene, Acetaldehyde, Acrolein, Arsenic and Benzene, along with many others, as coming out of their 240-foot tall smoke stacks. This one plant alone will set Rhode Island back nearly 40 years in CO2 production. And the fine particulate matter that is represented by PM2.5 and PM10 are tiny particles that impact the health and air quality of the over 41,000 people that live in Woonsocket. If ever you want to know the impact of this project in northwestern Rhode Island to the people of Woonsocket, this is it. And if ever you need a reason to oppose the sale of water, this is it as well. And here’s why.
It’s important to remember that wind patterns in most of Rhode Island and especially in northern Rhode Island blow from west to east. For sure, the northwest corner of Rhode Island will shoulder much of the burden of dealing with the impacts of the power plant if it is built. But places such as Woonsocket and Cumberland will get the brunt of all of that is released into our air. And in all likelihood, asthma rates will increase. As the median age of Woonsocket’s population increases during the 40-year life span of this power plant – according to US Census data, health issues from poorer quality air could be a major issue for your city negating any financial benefit or promises offered by the power plant company.
I believe that many of you on the City Council and as residents question the value of selling water to a power plant. But you need to be heard and you need to ask questions. Why enter into an arrangement with an outside company when others have already rejected just such an arrangement? And you would be right to ask that questions.
Why were there no discussions with representatives from Burrillville before the proposal to sell water took place? Has your Mayor talked with the town council and the town manager from Burrillville before entering into negotiations with Invenergy?
Two-way communication takes place all the time between town or city governments. It is not for lack of precedence. On many occasions our two towns have talked before. Telephone calls, email messages and written correspondence are still in use in both towns. And we have used all of them to stay in touch. Woonsocket, like many municipalities, have existing cooperative agreements with other towns – shared fire, rescue, police, school, roads and more. So we both know how to talk to one another. We both know that the lines of communication exist and are used as policies and social needs change. Discussions among police, fire chiefs, directors of housing rehabilitation and inspection services are commonplace and ongoing with well thought out and written cooperative agreements in place as the result of our collective conversations. These agreements are based on mutual trust, the need to stay informed and a shared duty to protect all citizens of both towns.
And we have good reason to stay in touch.
Many Woonsocket citizens have moved out and now live in the northwest corner of Rhode Island. Burrillville is the home to Fernwood and Stillwater Mill – two places that owe millions of their funding dollars to NeighborWorks – Blackstone River Valley, a nonprofit community development corporation that makes affordable housing opportunities available throughout northern Rhode Island. Many of us in northern Rhode Island have supported Woonsocket-based NeighborWorks when we vote to approve an election year bond referendum on affordable housing. Fernwood and Stillwater Mill provide affordable housing for nearly 120 families – many of them from Woonsocket. I hope you agree that supporting a power plant that would jeopardize those millions of dollars of investment is not a good idea. As of this writing, the City of Woonsocket is an island in a sea of opposition to the Invenergy project. Burrillville, North Smithfield, Lincoln and Cumberland have already come out with resolutions supporting the Burrillville Town Council’s opposition or in direct opposition to the power plant.
And they are joined by Thompson, CT, Scituate, Hopkinton, Richmond, Charlestown, South Kingstown, Middletown and Tiverton. Opposition is growing. Discussions have taken place in all towns and cities including Cranston, Pawtucket, Smithfield, West Greenwich, Narragansett and Providence. Many resolutions are already in place waiting for town and city councils to approve them. Opposition is nothing new for constructing this power plant. Every environmental group in Rhode Island has come out in opposition: The Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone, The Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor, Save the Bay, The Nature Conservancy, Clean Water Action, Environmental Council of Rhode Island, The Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, The Audubon Society and many, many more. Nearly 60 so far. And the list keeps growing.
Both Pascoag Utility District and Harrisville Water have already rejected Invenergy’s offer to purchase water. Why is Woonsocket contemplating something that others reject? Has Woonsocket’s Utility District talked to Pascoag Utility District about this issue?
I can tell you that they are waiting for your call and would be more than happy to share what they know.
One item they may share with you is that if this water sale goes through, Woonsocket could open themselves up to litigation and, as in the past, you will pay for the clean up. The transport of substances that may lead to detrimental impacts from one municipality to another may lead to litigation by that municipality. Woonsocket could open themselves up to expensive attorney fees and liability if anything happens with the pipeline and the water that’s in the pipeline.
Also the folks who sit on the board of both the Pascoag Utility and Harrisville Water might tell you that your city, Woonsocket, will lose access to your water forever as claims of a 20 to 40 year lease could disappear as Invenergy retools their facility in the future and still need your water. Future growth will all but be impossible as demands for clean drinkable water increase and you have none to give. If the drought continues, how will your municipality cope when your citizens and your environment cry for water at the same time you are pushing 720 gallons per minute beyond your borders to a fracked gas power plant in the middle of the woods? That’s upwards of 1 million gallons of water per day that could flow away from your schools, your hospital, your business district, your citizens, your reservoirs, the Blackstone River and others.
And here is the biggest perspective of them all…what do you get in return?
If you do an internet search on water rates and the sale of water to industry, the amount of money you could save on your water rates is less than a few nickels per person. Woonsocket’s reputation as a trusting, cooperative government and municipality will all but go away. That will be your legacy if you approve the plan to sell water to Invenergy. From a historical point of view, giving up land or selling water to industry has never proven beneficial for the City of Woonsocket. Perhaps it’s time to ask, since others rejected this proposal, what do they know that you don’t?