Community members and environmental allies cried foul Wednesday evening when the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) and National Grid held a public meeting at Veterans Memorial Auditorium under heavy security. The site of the meeting is nowhere near the site of the proposed liquefaction facility under consideration or the neighborhoods most affected.
People were denied access if they had computers or backpacks. Water bottles were emptied and snacks prohibited. No childcare was provided. Parking was at a premium.
During the hearing those making public comment were subject to draconian time limits, their mics turned off at the three minute mark without remorse.
As a result, the meeting was sparsely attended, maybe 75 people in all.
The RIDEM’s Office of Water Resources is deciding whether or not to issue a State of Rhode Island Water Quality Certification for National Grid’s proposed liquefaction facility to be located in the Port of Providence near communities of color in South Providence and Washington Park.
The project is opposed by No LNG in PVD, a grassroots community led environmental group opposed to the further environmental degradation of their air, land and water. Monica Huertas, who leads the the group, was prepared to make a strong case against the issuance of the water quality certificate, but much of her time was spent pointing out the injustice of the meeting site.
“I live a quarter mile from this facility.,” said Huertas. “I have four children. I had to drive around for parking, pay $15 for parking. Find a sitter to come down here. The children would not have been able to run around in this place right here. So I had to pay $60 for childcare for three hours, to come down here. Had it been any other place that we’re familiar with, I can think of a couple dozen places in South Providence and Washington Park [this meeting] could have been held at, where my children would have felt more comfortable coming.”
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And with that, a full third off Huertas’ public commentary was gone, leaving her two minutes to address the issues of the water quality certifficate.
“This proceeding is an embarrassment and a shame,” said Aaron Jaehnig, the first person called to speak. “[This public hearing is being] held in a theater in which people were wanded, had to go through metal detectors, were turned away at the door because they had laptops, were not allowed to bring in drinks… even though we’re supposedly going to be here for up to three hours. So if this is some sort of statement on how seriously DEM takes public involvement in their process then it’s a joke and a total and complete embarrassment.” [applause] “I was almost turned away because I had my computer. Someone else was turned away because they had their computer.”
Many people come to meetings like this with their comments on a computer. “Unfortunately I’m reading on my phone because my laptop was not allowed in here tonight,” said Timmons Roberts, a professor at Brown University and an expert on environmental justice.
“I just want to reiterate what some people might have said today that this particular hearing is inaccessible and not financially feasible for some people,” said Wassa Bagayoko. “I’m a relatively young person and I’ve been taught all my life that democracy works when the people are educated and when they show up and people are trying to show up and we are educated and yet thee council is not listening. And I think that is a gross misuse of their power.”
“I’m generally a positive person,” said Washington Park resident and mother Ellen Tuzzolo, “and tonight my positivity, frankly, has run all the way out… I can’t help but to notice that the rules seem to change when the white people who are in charge are deciding what is safe for our water when the people living there are people of color.”
“You all have an opportunity to do something different,” said Tuzzolo near the end of the nearly three hour meeting. “To show respect for the community that would be most directly impacted by this facility, and to hold a hearing there that is accessible to people that they can come to where you don’t have to pay $15 for parking, where we don’t have to be frisked and intimidated by people in uniforms. I’m a breastfeeding mother and I had to dump out my water. We can’t have snacks. It’s ridiculous. You all have an opportunity to do something different.”
“I live in Boston,” noted Clair Miller of the Toxics Action Center. “As I drove up tonight I thought, ‘This is kind of weird. It’s in a theater. I don’t know where to park. This doesn’t seem like a public hearing. I’m confused.’ I come in, I got you know, swiped and told I had to dump out my water bottle. ‘This is weird. This is not a normal public hearing. I guess that’s how they do it in Rhode Island.’
“The most basic form of honoring environmental justice is participation, is access to the community so they can literally participate. You get brownie points for having the interpreters, but I can guess that they didn’t get used. You know why? Because you’re not in the neighborhood. How hard can it be to go to a public school, to go to a library, any where?
“I am appalled. This is unbelievable.
“So to the folks behind me: Does this hearing honor environmental justice?”
“No!” said the crowd.
“Do we need a human hearing, in the neighborhood?”
“I was really short the last time I spoke because I was really upset because of the location, the fact that people were being checked on the way in – I’m still upset it,” said Senator Jeanine Calkin (Democrat, District 30, Warwick). “I think it’s a shame that we had to do this so I think that everyone deserves another hearing, in the community that is being affected by this.
“When I’m asked why I took this whole thing on, people would tell me, ‘You know, Jeanine, the government is no longer for the people, by the people, of the people. It’s for, by and of the corporations.’ You guys have a big opportunity to say that’s no longer the case.”
Here’s all the video of all the speakers:
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