Noise Takes Center Stage at Power Plant Hearing
July 12, 2016
BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Noise from the proposed Burrillville power plant dominated the discourse at the project’s latest public hearing.
Several residents who live near the natural gas pipeline compressor station complained of added noise from the recent buildout of the station and are concerned about additional noise from the nearly 1,000-megawatt power plant.
“We live in the country. We’re rural for a reason and these noise ordinances exist for a reason,” resident Jason Olkowlski said at the July 11 Planning Board meeting.
Urban planner and East Providence zoning official Edward Pimentel, hired by Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, delivered an analysis of air quality, noise, and traffic. As expected, he concluded the project complies with land-use goals, the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning regulations.
The 730-acre forested areas surrounding the power plant will buffer noise and the unsightly view of the $700 million facility, Pimentel said. “The area in question helps to offset a lot of these concerns that perhaps would result from a production facility,” he said. “And that’s why I think with this site I think it’s quite appropriate and consistent with the (comprehensive) plan.”
Pimentel maintained that enforcement of noise regulations would keep the power plant from breaking the rules. As an example, he noted the effectiveness of enforcement of zoning rule to stop pollution problems created by debris processor Pond View during his tenure in East Providence.
“They couldn’t comply with the conditions of a variance — the operation is pretty much null and void now,” he said. “That’s what happens when you don’t comply.”
That compliance included a grueling 18-year legal struggle between Pond View, residents and East Providence officials. Pimentel left the meeting early because of illness and wasn’t available for follow-up questions.
Most of the residents who attended the meeting didn’t agree with Pimentel’s report. Kathy Sherman lives across the street from the site of the proposed power plant with her husband, who is disabled from exposure to the carcinogenic herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. She said they suffer from the noise from the compressor station, which she claimed already exceeds town and Environmental Protection Agency noise ordinances.
“To here a promise that we are going to be able to come within the noise standard does not make any sense,” Sherman said. “These are our lives. These are our neighbors. We have children in that area. And to think that this is an acceptable practice does not comport with the comprehensive plan.”
Although the Planning Board couldn’t take a public stance on Invenergy’s power plant application, members of the Conservation Commission were eager to share their opinions.
Conservation Commission chairman Kevin Cleary called it “a little deceitful” that parts of the project are being constructed piecemeal in order to avoid a full environmental impact study.
“If you take all the little fragments in this project and roll them up in a ball of wax they meet the merits for an environmental impact study,” he said.
Town planner Thomas Kravitz submitted a request for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct an environmental review for the latest proposed expansion of the compressor station, which has completed one expansion and has two additional enlargements planned. The compressor station, owned by Spectra Energy of Houston, is already operating above town noise limits, Kravitz said.
Planning Board member Robert Woods recused himself from the recent hearing, after noting that he expressed opposition to the project prior to his appointment to the board in March.
The meeting was a continuation from a June 20 meeting. The Planning Board will deliver an advisory opinion to the state Energy Facility Siting Board by the Sept. 9 deadline.
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There was little mention, unfortunately, on the effect of the noise footprint, both human-audible and low-frequency, on the surrounding wildlife environment. No mention whatsoever on the light footprint impact of the plant on wildlife, either.
It is astonishing that so little attention is being paid to the location of this power plant, on the north east borderline of a major, 4,000 acre State Forest: George Washington Wildlife Management Area/Pulaski Recreation Area.
Not one major conservation "advocacy" organization has weighed in yet: not Audubon, not The Nature Conservancy, not the Rhode Island Tree Council. If readers—and you journalists—want to examine the ecological impact of this power plant in detail, go online and access this map from DEM’s 2015 Wildlife Action Plan, the"Rhode Island Conservation Opportunities" interactive map.
This is the best, most current map indicating the location and value of our most critical wild landscapes.
Shut off all the master layers on the map first. Then open the "layers list" and start with the "Conservation Opportunities Areas.’ Zero in on Burrillville. Zero in on the power plant site which is the land southwest of Wallum Lake Road along Iron Mine Brook. Now open each sub-layer, one by one, and keep your eye on Iron Mine Brook. Double check by finding the plant’s exact location in Invenergy’s application documents on file with the EFSB, and also available on the Town of Burrillville website page dedicated to the power plant.
This exercise is an indictment of not only of the power plant site, but especially of the so called "conservation" organizations in this state who have so far refused to speak up because of their political connections to the Raimondo administration and the business community.
The class politics surrounding this issue are especially disturbing. Would a power plant be sited on the property line of a State Forest in South County? Next to Acadia, Burlingame, Big River, or any of the Audubon or Nature Conservancy properties in that region?
No. Of course not. Those organizations would scream.
But in the Northwest Corner, where thousands of protected acres are exactly what they represent themselves to be, wildlife habitat—as the map shows, one of the most highly valued ecosystems in the state, second only to the Acadia complex—you can get away with murder. Audubon owns nothing there, neither does The Nature Conservancy. With very few miles of marked trails present, the urban "Greens," who support those organizations, don’t patronize the area and therefore don’t pressure the leaders to do something.
Out of sight, out of mind. Or, perhaps a more apt way to put it, the parking lots for these State lands seldom see a Volvo.
Will the DEM "data request" to Invenergy, filed 7/12 with the Energy Facilities Siting Board, be the game changer with regard to the neglect of the "conservation" aspect of the Burrillville power plant?
Very well could be. As one media source headlined it, the report is "blistering."
This might give "The Big Three," Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and Save the Bay, the political cover they feel they need to go out on the limb with their inside business & Raimondo benefactors and act upon their convictions rather than their bank balances. Save the Bay, in coming out last week agains the Providence Port referendum, demonstrated that it still has a big reserve of its old-time moxie, and perhaps enough to tackle the power plant, too. Audubon and TNC just might follow its example regards the power plant, and the plucky but beleaguered legion of northwest corner opponents might see their movement spread statewide.