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One more time: The EFSB comes to Burrillville



The second last Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) public testimony hearing in Burrillville had an easy familiarity to it. Everyone seemed more relaxed because everyone had been here before. The board itself came off the stage of the Burrillville Middle School and set up on the floor, the same level as the people who crowded the auditorium. Those speaking covered a lot of familiar ground, because even though the EFSB held this hearing in response to new information about a proposed water source in Charlestown, so little information had been released about the new plan that people had almost nothing to testify about.

Invenergy wants to build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plan in the heart of the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island. The company secured an alternative water source by contacting with the Narragansett Indian Tribe. The tribe shares a common, single source aquifer with the Town of Charlestown, and Charlestown motioned for and received limited intervenor status from the EFSB, meaning they were now part of the application process.

The information from Tribal leaders about the Narragansett water deal is incomplete and even contradictory. Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas, who is in a dispute about tribal leadership with members of the Narragansett Indian Tribal Council, indicated in a letter that the water would not be drawn from Charlestown after all, but from Westerly. All Invenergy has provided is a spot on a map.

So what can be said about the water, in the absence of verified details? Not much. Instead, those testifying before the EFSB concentrated on the case they have been building across the seemingly endless public testimony hearings held over the last two years: The power plant is not needed, it is a polluting monster that will destroy air quality, water quality and natural habitats, and Invenergy itself has been a bad actor in these proceedings.

When Invenergy’s Director of Development John Niland rose to give his presentation ahead of public testimony, dozens of red signs were held aloft by residents emblazoned with the words, “Enough is Enough.” The power point presentation by Niland was virtually the same as the one he delivered in Charlestown the night before: a sales pitch similar to the one he has repeatedly presented to the town for the last two years.

Niland delivered his presentation in front of large posters listing the communities in Rhode Island that have voted to oppose the construction of his power plant.

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The night before, people expected to be presented with details about the water plan. They were disappointed. At the meeting in Burrillville, Niland changed his talk slightly: for instance, instead of saying that Invenergy has contracted with a water supply company as he had in Charlestown, in Burrillville he mentioned the name of the company, Benn Water. This isn’t new information, of course. It has long been known that Benn Water was Invenergy’s contractor for water.

In all 48 people testified. No one testified in favor of the proposed power plant. Leaders and members of the Building Trades, who support the power plant because of the much needed jobs it will bring, were conspicuously absent in Burrillville, as they had been absent in Charlestown the night before.

Burrillville Town Councilor Ray Trinque (Speaker 26) presented the board with a piece of mail he had received from Invenergy announcing the hearing in Burrillville. As has happened in the past, Invenergy’s mailer directed residents to the wrong location for the meeting. Instead of the Burrillville Middle School, the mailer sent those interested in the meeting to the Burrillville High School.  When Trinque asked how many people received the mailer, most of the audience held up their hands. When Trinque asked how many people went to the high school for the meeting, over half a dozen hands went up.

It’s impossible to know how many residents left the High School and went home, rather than to the actual location of the meeting.

Whether misinforming the public is a tactic of Invenergy or the latest in a series of mistakes made by the company is almost irrelevant. “This just proves that over and over and over, Invenergy cannot be trusted to do simple things,” said Trinque. “Like figure out where something is going to be, and send something to everybody in the Town of Burrillville that gets hem to the right place at the right time.”

The next hearing of the Energy Facility Siting Board will be on Tuesday, December 12, 2017, beginning at 9:30AM in Hearing Room A of the Public Utilities Commission office building, 89 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, Rhode Island to hear argument on pending motions filed in Docket SB-2015-06.

The hearing concerns the following motions:

  • The Town of Burrillville filed a Motion Seeking an Order of the EFSB Requiring an
    Independent Environmental Impact Document and Appointing an Independent Environmental
    Expert to Evaluate the Adverse Environmental Impacts of Invenergy’s Proposed Power Plant.
  • Invenergy filed a Motion for Protective Treatment of Confidential Information contained in an
    attachment to the Supplemental Testimony of John Niland.
  • The Town of Charlestown filed a Motion for Clarification/Instructions and/or for an Extension.
  • The Town of Charlestown filed a Motion for Funding as an Affected Community.

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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.