Hundreds of Burrillville residents welcomed Gov. Gina Raimondo Monday night at a community meeting, where the majority voiced steadfast opposition to a proposed power plant.
The governor didn’t withdraw her support for the proposed project, as organizers had hoped, but she reassured residents the power plant is “not a done deal.”
Raimondo encouraged an auditorium of 600 people to be honest, open and direct about their concerns over the proposed power plant.
“I hope that you know that I’m here not only because I care, but because I know a lot of you have put a lot of effort into this issue over the past many months,” she said in her opening remarks.
For many months, grassroots activists with the groups Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion and Fighting Against Natural Gas have shown up at several of the governor’s public events to protest the proposed project. It’s at one of those events where Kathleen Martley invited the governor to Burrillville. She was the first of dozens of resident to speak at the meeting
“Governor, we don’t want this power plant, and we don’t need this power plant anywhere,” said Martley. She and others welcomed the governor with bouquets of flowers and expressed their gratitude to Raimondo for coming to hear them out.
The community meeting resembled prior meetings about the proposed power plant. For two hours, residents overwhelmingly voiced strong opposition to the power plant, elaborating a long list of concerns.
“I already have to listen to the Spectra gas station that is intruding on the tranquility of my life,” said resident Irene Watson, who expressed concern about the project's potential for air, light and noise pollution.
“And if we site this one plant here in Rhode Island, it’s going to make it impossible to meet the Resilient Rhode Island Act,” said Erin Olkowski, citing the state's pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
Jeremy Bailey said he and several other realtors in the room have lost multiple deals “because of the proposal of this power plant.”
Anxiety was also running high around plans to use a well, which had previously been closed under a court order, to cool the power plant. The well is contaminated with a gasoline additive known as MTBE, which poisoned many families in 2001.
The governor shook her head as resident Thomas Silvester talked about how his family’s health was negatively affected by drinking and showering with water contaminated with MTBE.
“One day when my wife had showered and then began to breastfeed my son, she realized his cheeks were bright red and in irregular shape, matching exactly where they would normally rest against her,” he said. “They were not red from wetness or spit, they were perfectly dry. It was from the residue of MTBE from when she would shower.”
The governor took notes at various points, promising to follow-up on certain issues raised by residents.
“I just want to make one quick comment back again on the water, because I know it’s an incredibly sensitive, real, scary topic in light of the history in Burrillville,” she said. “And I knew that coming up here, but I know it now more than ever. And being here with you and hearing from you drives it home more than ever.”
Only two people, representing business and labor groups, spoke in favor of the power plant. The governor reassured opponents of the project that the proposal is undergoing an independent and thorough review through the state’s Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB). She said she has no vote in that process.
“Your stories are moving,” said Raimondo. “They’re real and they ought to be listened to and the [EFSB] process will take them into account. I have confidence in that process. This isn’t a done deal. This is not a done deal."
The governor said she would weigh all residents' concerns as she balances the state’s need for jobs and affordable electricity prices. She reiterated her continued support for renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, but said she believes natural gas is near-term solution to the region’s energy crisis.
In the end, the governor didn’t withdraw her support for the power plant. Raimondo said she’d lobby to ensure impacts to public health, safety and the environment are minimized. Organizers of the event consider the meeting a small victory, but say they still have more work ahead to stop the power plant.
When asked if she’d withdraw her support for the project if concerns couldn’t be addressed, the governor said “yes.”