Sides Debate Burrillville Gas Pipeline Expansion

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Unions and environmentalists squared off during a Sept. 16 public hearing for a proposed pipeline project that intends to bring more natural gas to the region.

The Algonquin Incremental Market project (AIM) seeks to increase the carrying capacity of the existing 1,127-mile natural-gas pipeline that runs from New York to Massachusetts. The pipeline owner, Houston-based Spectra Energy, seeks to widen 26 miles of pipe, add 11.3 miles of new pipeline and install new industrial compressors at six compressor stations, including the Burrillville compressor station.

Environmentalists from across the state, as well as neighbors of the pump station, oppose the project, saying a draft report of the environmental impacts issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) fails to address asthma rates, noise, emergency response, emissions and climate change. Many argued at the recent hearing that the 60-year-old pipeline can't withstand the added pressure.

Kathleen Sherman, who has lived across the street from the compressor station for 27 years, said the noise level has increased in recent years. ”Every night it sounds like a diesel truck is outside my window," she said.

Local farmer Deborah Yablonski said that during the past three years she has started hearing a hum each night from the power station. “It’s a bad thing," she said. "I came here for the beauty of Burrillville."

The pipeline can only hurt the town, she added. "We're never going to see any benefit from it. It’s going to destroy the value of our property.”

Support for the project came from groups such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the American Petroleum Institute. Resident John Phillips, a laborer and trainer with the Labors International Union of North America, worked at the compressor station and vouched for its safety.

“That place has been there for decades. Nothing has ever happened,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned this is a safe project.”

Local resident Paul MacDonald, of the Providence Central Labor Council, said the compressor station expansion will bring much needed jobs. Much like living near the Central Landfill in Johnston or T.F. Green Airport in Warwick, the problems associated with living near the compressor station are necessary to help the greater good, he said.

“It’s a problem for all of us because we need good energy, good reliable energy, energy that will take care of our needs in the future," MacDonald said. “Gas will be there for us for a long time."

Other supporters said more natural gas is needed in Rhode Island, as proved by winter spikes in demand that have forced local power plants to burn oil, coal and even jet fuel.

About 75 people attended the two-hour hearing at the Crystal Lake Golf Club. A slight majority of attendees opposed the project.

FERC scheduled the hearing after the Sierra Club and the Green Party of Rhode Island urged the state's congressional delegation to allow additional public input. The five-member FERC board reviews siting plans for natural-gas and hydroelectric facilities. FERC also issues environmental impacts statements (EIS) for such projects. It issued a draft EIS on Aug. 6.

Despite the outcry, many at the hearing expect FERC to approve the project due to fact that the environmental impact report is one of several weighed by the commission. Other reports assess the need for the project, impact on natural-gas rates, the cost to consumers and market demand.

“That's why a lot of people aren’t here,” Yablonski said. She said other residents told her, “They are going to (build) it anyway. What can we do?”

FERC is expected to issue its final environmental impact study by the end of the year. A decision on the overall project is expected soon after.

The state Department of Environmental Management is expected to assess the project's air quality.

Public hearings for the AIM project also were held recently in Dedham, Mass., Norwich and Danbury, Conn., and Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.