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CRMC hearing consumed by public testimony against National Grid’s Port project



Jennifer Cervenka

“We are not required to have any public hearings,” said Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) Chair Jennifer Cervenka at the start of Tuesday’s hearing, the second hearing on to take up National Grid‘s proposed liquefaction facility to be located on Fields Point in the Port of Providence. This was after Cervenka told opponents of the project, who filled the room, that “It’s our intention to make a decision tonight,” about the facility.

The original intention for the meeting was that public commentary would be cut off after about two hours, to give National Grid ample time to present to rebut public comment and give the company the last word in the proceedings. Then, the CRMC would discuss the issue and, presumably, pass it because, from the beginning, that has been the only option presented by CRMC Executive Director Grover Fugate. Instead, public comment consumed the entire four hours of the meeting, and even ran past the scheduled 9pm end time.

Along the way, the public learned some important facts. For instance, early in the meeting Fugate said that a decision was necessary because the deadline for making a decision was in December. That turned out to be not true, as late in the proceedings Fugate said, “I acknowledged that I made a mistake and the decision is due February 28th.”

So why the rush? And is the board truly helpless against National Grid? If so, why have hearings at all?

Those opposed to National Grid’s plans worked to make the case that the CRMC has both the ability and the moral obligation to reject National Grid’s proposal. Many noted that nearby neighborhoods such as Washington Park already face the highest levels of asthma in all of New England. The siting of the liquefaction facility, located in a neighborhood that is 80 percent poor and 64 percent low income is textbook environmental racism. Both National Grid and the CRMC seem not only unconcerned by charges of environmental racism, they seem downright annoyed when environmental racism is mentioned.

At the last meeting and this meeting, Fugate said that he had been getting guidance on CRMC’s authority from NOAA. However, when approached by the Sierra Club‘s Aaron Jaenig about filing an Access to Public Records Request for copies of the guidance NOAA presented to Fugate, Fugate said that all communications were done as phone calls. There is no written guidance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In all, 50 people spoke during Tuesday’s public commentary. 48 people spoke against the facility. Only two spoke in favor, Michael Sabitoni of the Rhode Island Building Trades and Greg Mancini of Build Rhode Island. Much of the testimony against the plant came from members of NoLNGinPVD, a coalition of groups fighting the issue of fracked gas and other toxic chemicals stored in the Port.

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Those speaking against the proposal cited a long list of reasons to oppose the plant. They asked the CRMC to be brave, to fight the plant, to do the job the CRMC was established to do. Some noted that National Grid just the day before initiated a procedure to begin a 15 percent increase onto ratepayers.

“You’re all people,” said Fred Ordonez executive director of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), who offices are less than two miles from the proposed facility. “You’re not apps or computer programs that can just assimilate the information and say it does or does not go within these guidelines. You’re all people who are independent. You can make any choice you want.”

Chair Cervenka at one point tried to cut off the testimony of a speaker who said a vote in favor of the plant was cowardly. When the speaker refused to stop talking, Chair Cervenka and and Director Fugate stood and left their chairs. Capitol Police and State Police moved in as the speaker was surrounded by community members. It was certainly dramatic, but ultimately the police backed off and the speaker finished her testimony.

It was a startling reaction to emotional and powerful testimony and immediately brought to mind the way community activist Justice Gaines was treated when ze brought up environmental racism at the previous meeting.

You can watch the testimony below, it is edited from two cameras. I started the second camera when I noticed the police officers entering the room:

There were many excellent speakers at the meeting and all are in the video below. I’d like to call special attention to Ward 3 Providence City Councilor Nirva LaFortune‘s testimony, but really, there’s no choosing the best. Other elected officials who spoke at the hearing include Rhode Island State Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick) and Rhode Island State Representatives Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) and Marcia Ranglin-Vassell (Democrat, District 5, Providence).

Here’s all the testimony, in order. At the next meeting, to be held on December 12, National Grid will present their rebuttal and the CRMC will deliberate and decide on the project, ten weeks before the deadline.

National Grid

Michael Sabitoni

Greg Mancini

Lorraine Savard

David Helfer

Kate Schapira

Jan Luby

Aaron Regunberg

Justin Boyan

Marcia Ranglin-Vassell

Nirva LaFortune

Jennifer Cervenka

Matt Perry

Fred Ordonez

Jennifer Brown

Kate Aubin

Josh Catone

Grover Fugate

Sofia Owen

Karen Palmer

Lara Brown-Lavoie

Rebecca Kislak

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.