Environmental Justice and Water Use Concerns Put Brockton Gas Power Plant Proposal on Hold

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

BROCKTON, Mass. — For close to three decades Pines duBois has been standing guard over the Jones River watershed. She’s been in plenty of fights, and the latest one is no different than those she's seen in the past.

Opponents of the proposed natural-gas power plant in Brockton are concerned the millions of gallons needed daily to cool the facility will impact three already-stressed watersheds. (JRWA)

Opponents of the proposed natural-gas power plant in Brockton are concerned the millions of gallons needed daily to cool the facility will impact three already-stressed watersheds. (JRWA)

The Jones River Watershed Association (JRWA), which duBois co-founded in 1985, Stop The Power, an anti-power plant group headed by Ed Byers, and a group of residents from Brockton and West Bridgewater, among others, have rallied against the proposed construction of a power plant near a Brockton housing development.

In 2011, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) conditionally approved a comprehensive plan application for Brockton Power Co. LLC to build and operate a 350-megawatt natural gas-fired power plant on a 13.2-acre lot at the Oak Hill Industrial Park, off Route 28.

For opponents such as duBois, the crux of their opposition is centered around two main concerns: environmental justice and water. They have questioned if the project has adequately addressed the requirements of the state’s environmental justice (EJ) policy. The policy reads, in part:

“Environmental justice is based on the principle that all people have a right to be protected from environmental pollution, and to live in and enjoy a clean and healthful environment. Environmental justice is the equal protection and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits.”

Stop The Power and its allies believe that during the application process the power plant’s impact on nearby residents was barely considered. Despite the DEP’s opinion that the submitted application is in conformance with current state air pollution control regulations, opponents have concerns about increased carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and nitrogen dioxide emissions in the neighborhood where the power plant would be built.

According to the DEP, however, the project site isn’t in an EJ area because: the properties adjacent to the site are a mix of industrial, public infrastructure and commercial properties; project site property lines don’t border any EJ neighborhood; the industrial park doesn’t include any residents and therefore is not an EJ neighborhood; and the nearest environmental justice areas with low-income and/or minority populations are 1,000 feet to the west, 1,700 feet to the north and 2,100 feet to the east.

The project remains on hold, as local and state officials deal with a rare EJ policy appeal. In early March, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard from lawyers for social justice and allied river groups in defense of a decision by the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board. It could be four months before the court announces a decision.

Brockton Power, formally called Brockton Clean Energy, a joint venture between Advanced Power and Siemen's Financial Services, has appealed a decision that denied a permit to build the gas-fired power plant, which opponents have said would increase the use of an already-stressed Silver Lake water supply.

The Energy Facilities Siting Board agreed, denying the company’s request to use Brockton’s municipal water supply to cool the facility. Brockton Power sued.

SilverLake.JPG

Silver Lake was well below healthy levels on this day last fall. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)Brockton Power wants to use 2 million gallons of water daily to cool the plant’s electrical generator. The water would come from the Brockton water supply, which diverts resources from the Jones River headwater at Silver Lake, Monponsett ponds in Halifax and Hanson, and Furnace Pond in Pembroke.

Three important watersheds, the Taunton, Jones and North rivers, that cover much of southeastern Massachusetts been negatively impacted by this system since 1965, according to the JRWA. Opponents of Brockton Power’s gas plant say water management concerns go well beyond this particular project. All three watersheds, they say, are already under considerable strain because of development pressures and climate change.

The Kingston-based nonprofit has been working since 1985 to protect the Jones River watershed’s wildlife, including the rare freshwater mussels found in Silver Lake. The organization's work also includes restoring habitat for river herring, rainbow smelt and American eels.

Water flow into the Jones River from its headwater is essential to the heath of the river and its watershed. Brockton Power’s proposed use of millions of gallons of water a day is a significant problem, according to plant opponents.

The Jones River is the largest river flowing into Cape Cod Bay, and its extended estuary provides important refuge and habitat for native and migrating species. In fact, Cape Cod Bay is already stressed by the demands of the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station, which draws millions of gallons of seawater daily to keep the plant’s single nuclear reactor cool.

During this circular process, thousands of pounds of fish and billions of marine organisms are killed annually.

The impacts of water diversion out of Cape Cod Bay, Silver Lake and three area rivers take a significant toll on vital and complex watersheds.

ecoRI News visited with duBois, who also is the association’s executive director, and Alex Mansfield, JRWA’s ecology program director, last year. During the nearly three-hour visit and tour of the Jones River watershed, both spoke of their concern about the continued draining of the region’s groundwater.

“They don’t see the value of the big picture,” duBois said that day last fall. She was referring to those who fail to incorporate environmental concerns into discussions about economic growth and job creation. “We don’t appreciate how things connect and relate to each other. It’s easy to contaminate these resources.”

Silver Lake, a 640-acre body of water that is 80 feet at its deepest depth, lies in three towns (Kingston, Pembroke and Plympton), and is the principal water supply for Brockton, a city of nearly 94,000. The city pulls about 10 million gallons from the lake daily.