Providence City Council Continues Efforts to Ban LPG Expansion
December 4, 2021
PROVIDENCE — The City Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) to commit to a full review of a liquid propane gas (LPG) storage expansion requested by Sea 3 Providence LLC.
Sea 3, a subsidiary of New England propane provider Blackline Midstream LLC, put forth a proposal last March to add six 90,000-gallon storage tanks to its Port of Providence facility. The facility would also be linked up with a Port of Providence rail spur, opening it to rail shipments.
In a petition to the EFSB, Sea 3 billed the expansion as an “insignificant modification to a major energy facility,” which therefore should not be subject to a full review by the board. The council’s resolution requests the EFSB deny the petition and demand the board complete a full review of the proposed expansion.
Community opposition to the expansion has grown in recent months, with many citing concern over the impact of fossil fuels on the health of portside neighborhoods and the increased potential for LPG accidents in an area shared by industry and residents.
“Residents of South Providence have historically been ignored and underrepresented in the decision-making process surrounding the most intensive industrial land uses in the State,” City Council President Pro Tempore Pedro Espinal wrote in a statement following the council’s Dec. 2 meeting. “We as a community have come together as one voice to clearly state that we do not support any expansion or development in the Port of Providence that may lead to increased safety risks for the local residents. I look forward to moving forward with legislation and public advocacy that will uplift our community and conserve our environment.”
With the resolution, the City Council joins Mayor Jorge Elorza, Attorney General Peter Neronha, dozens of state legislators, and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management in opposing the Sea 3 expansion petition.
LPG ordinance gets early approval
An ordinance that would prohibit the bulk storage of LPG, also called liquefied petroleum gas, received its first pass during the recent City Council meeting with 13 aye votes and three absent council members.
Ordinance 32292, sponsored by Espinal, would amend city zoning ordinances to prohibit bulk LPG storage in all zones of Providence, effectively eliminating the storage of propane products in the Port of Providence.
The ordinance was passed up to the City Council after being unanimously passed by the Committee on Ordinances last month.
“We’re happy that the City Council is finally addressing environmental justice and inequality in the South Side,” David Veliz, director of the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty, said after the ordinance was passed by the subcommittee. “We’re just happy to see the system working.”
The ordinance was opposed by the City Plan Commission, which recommended LPG storage should not be prohibited but rather subject to a special-use permit and additional safety and pollution mitigation criteria, but saw strong community support and hours of testimony in favor of its passing.
“This is important to our community. We have an opportunity to do something, to actually get it right,” Espinal said. “When you talk about public safety, when you talk about public health and welfare of our community, this ordinance change actually does just that.”
The ordinance could take effect pending a final vote expected by the City Council in January.
Shoreline improvements in works
The City Council passed Resolution 34518 requesting the Department of Public Works install sidewalks and lighting and repave the easternmost end of Public Street.
In late July the Coastal Resources Management Council reaffirmed Public Street as a public coastal right of way after decades of encroachment by private properties. It is one of three public access points in the Washington Park and South Providence area, which is home to 2.5 miles of shoreline.
In September, Save The Bay and the Washington Park Neighborhood Association explored options to make the long-neglected access point more inviting and usable for a community that currently sees some of the worst coastal access per capita in the state, according to Save The Bay advocacy coordinator Jed Thorp. Thorp offered potential plans to convert neighboring lots to open space or increase waterfront walkability.
“As we know, access to the shoreline is greatly important to the people of Providence,” said Espinal, who represents Lower South Providence and Washington Park. “This is important to my community.”
The resolution will be transmitted to the mayor and DPW for further action.