Noise Takes Center Stage at Power-Plant Hearing

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Noise from the proposed Burrillville power plant dominated the discourse at the project's latest public hearing.

Several residents who live near the natural-gas-pipeline compressor station complained of added noise from the recent build-out of the station and are concerned about additional noise from the nearly 1,000-megawatt power plant.

“We live in the country. We’re rural for a reason and these noise ordinances exist for a reason,” resident Jason Olkowlski said at the July 11 Planning Board meeting.

Urban planner and East Providence zoning official Edward Pimentel, hired by Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, delivered an analysis of air quality, noise and traffic. As expected, he concluded that the project complies with land-use goals, the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning regulations.

The 730-acre forested areas surrounding the power plant will buffer noise and the unsightly view of the $700 million facility, Pimentel said. “The area in question helps to offset a lot of these concerns that perhaps would result from a production facility," he said. "And that’s why I think with this site I think it’s quite appropriate and consistent with the (comprehensive) plan.”

Pimentel maintained that enforcement of noise regulations would keep the power plant from breaking the rules. As an example, he noted the effectiveness of enforcement of zoning rule to stop pollution problems created by debris processor Pond View during his tenure in East Providence.

“They couldn’t comply with the conditions of a variance — the operation is pretty much null and void now," he said. "That’s what happens when you don’t comply.”

That compliance included a grueling 18-year legal struggle between Pond View, residents and East Providence officials. Pimentel left the meeting early because of illness and wasn't available for follow-up questions.

Most of the residents who attended the meeting didn't agree with Pimentel’s report. Kathy Sherman lives across the street from the site of the proposed power plant with her husband, who is disabled from exposure to the carcinogenic herbicide Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. She said they suffer from the noise from the compressor station, which she claimed already exceeds town and Environmental Protection Agency noise ordinances.

“To here a promise that we are going to be able to come within the noise standard does not make any sense,” Sherman said. “These are our lives. These are our neighbors. We have children in that area. And to think that this is an acceptable practice does not comport with the comprehensive plan.”

Although the Planning Board couldn't take a public stance on Invenergy’s power-plant application, members of the Conservation Commission were eager to share their opinions.

Conservation Commission chairman Kevin Cleary called it “a little deceitful” that parts of the project are being constructed piecemeal in order to avoid a full environmental impact study.

“If you take all the little fragments in this project and roll them up in a ball of wax they meet the merits for an environmental impact study,” he said.

Town planner Thomas Kravitz submitted a request for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct an environmental review for the latest proposed expansion of the compressor station, which has completed one expansion and has two additional enlargements planned. The compressor station, owned by Spectra Energy of Houston, is already operating above town noise limits, Kravitz said.

Planning Board member Robert Woods recused himself from the recent hearing, after noting that he expressed opposition to the project prior to his appointment to the board in March.

The meeting was a continuation from a June 20 meeting. The Planning Board will deliver an advisory opinion to the state Energy Facilities Siting Board by the Sept. 9 deadline.