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A more surreal than usual Ancients and Horribles Parade



I’ve been going to the Glocester Ancients and Horribles Parade for almost 20 years now, always as a spectator, never as a participant. It’s a parade long known for its political incorrectness and more than occasional lapses of good taste. It’s also fun.

This year, I was honored to march in the parade, invited by people from Burrillville eager to celebrate their victory over Invenergy, the company that wanted to build a $1B fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant in northwestern Rhode Island, only to be denied a permit after a four year long battle against community activists and environmentalists opposed to the project.

The experience became surreal when I arrived to see most of the people I would be marching with wearing Captain America tee shirts, much like the tee shirts I often wear, and also holding cut out pictures of my face. Amazing. Ridiculous. Awesome.

They even had a seat of honor on their float for me, which I declined to sit in until near the end of the parade, so I could impress my family.

The float sported a large inflatable dragon, labelled Invenergy, and kids carried swords to battle and defeat the dragon.

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Once we started walking, the parade seemed over in a flash. I waved to the people I knew in the crowd, and received a couple of warm hugs and greetings as we walked. I was walking with people dressed as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Welden Shitehouse) and Governor Gina Raimondo, two prominent elected officials who routinely and repeatedly failed to assist the people of Burrillville in their battle with Invenergy.

Senator Whitehouse, although touted as an environmental champion, took a neutral stance on the fracked gas project, while Governor Raimondo actively worked to facilitate the plant’s licensing and construction.

One of the neater parts of the float was a chapter listing for a book called “How to Slay a Corporate Dragon.” There were 20 chapters listed:

  1. Get Burrillville Land Trust Paul Roselli to teach Learn the Facts
  2. You need Captain America Steve Ahlquist
  3. Use highly intelligent researcher Spike Dino
  4. How to Use Common Sense by Ken Putnam
  5. 37 cities and towns put forth formal opposing resolutions, including MA and CT.
  6. Advertise on buses, papers, cars and lawns, roadsides, coffee mugs, hats and shirts.
  7. Acquire GREAT lawyers, Jerry Elmer CLF and Mike McElroy, Burrillville’s layer
  8. Gather rebels for the cause
  9. Use a well funded group of people to have bake sales, bike runs, wine tastings, general donations, community support and bottle painting
  10. Have singer/songwriter Jan Luby create song “It’s Just a Patch of Woods”
  11. Have sister towns of Pascoag, Woonsocket, Harrisville, PWSB, the Narragansett Indian Tribe and Charlestown deny a water supply
  12. Get dedicated people to protest RAIN, WIND or dark of night
  13. Bring together environmental groups to oppose plant
  14. How to deal with the lack of support from Gin and Sheldon
  15. Use social media to get out the word. Be vocal.
  16. Delay – Delay – Delay!
  17. Speak to anyone that will listen.
  18. Be at all hearings.
  19. Thank all the people behind the scenes.
  20. Celebrate Denial – June 20, 2019

I worked on the Invenergy story for just under four years, attending countless public hearings. I’ve seen the ups and downs of this process, and the effect it had on the lives of community members in Burrillville. The people of Burrillville did not want to spend countless hours fighting the power plant, they wanted to be with their families and live their lives. The power plant coming to their town led to four years of existential angst and real fear.

“Now that it’s over, I feel there’s a real weight lifted,” said one of the power plant opponents to me as we walked. “I was planning to move, can you believe that? Now I don’t know what I’m doing next…”

In addition to honoring me, the float also listed other people instrumental in defeating Invenergy’s power plant.

Kathy Martley, listed as “Burillville’s Paul Revere” was the first person to raise concerns about the expansion of fracked gas infrastructure in the Town. Long before Invenergy announced their power plant plans, Martley and her group, BASE (Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion) were raising the alarm about the enlargement of Spectra’s compression stations, a necessary first step towards the building of any power plants in the area.

Paul Roselli, president of the Burrillville Land Trust, did dozens of trainings across the state, explaining exactly what Invenergy intended to do an the dangers the power plant posed to the community.

The float noted the amazing legal skills of Michael McElroy, the lawyer for the Town of Burrillville, and Jerry Elmer, Senior Attorney at Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). Their efforts won the day.

Finally, the float noted the contributions of the three members of the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), Janet Coit, Meredith Brady and Chair Margaret Curran, who unanimously decided against licensing the power plant.

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.