Fears Power Plant Hurts Burrillville Real-Estate Market

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Real-estate prices are up across much of Rhode Island, with the exception of Burrillville, and local Realtors say the proposed power plant is to blame.

According to the Rhode Island Association of Realtors, it’s taking longer to sell homes in Burrillville and homes that are selling are losing value. In June, prices dropped 13 percent compared to a year earlier, while the state average increased 4 percent. Properties also had the highest increase in days on the market, taking 83 percent longer to sell.

For the quarter ending in June, the median home price in Rhode Island was up 6.6 percent, while Burrillville saw a 7.5 percent drop in price and a 19 percent increase in days on the market.

“While everything is going the other way (across Rhode Island) Burrillville is going down,” said Burrillville real-estate agent and resident Paul Lefebvre.

Lefebvre, who has sold real estate in Rhode Island for nearly 12 years, said prospective homebuyers are cautious about the prospect of the state’s largest power plant being built in a community sought for its natural solitude.

“Who the hell wants to buy a house three miles from a power plant, or even point-five miles from a power plant,” Lefebvre said.

The fossil-fuel power plant will displace wildlife and wetlands, and increase traffic, noise and light pollution, according to the Burrillville Conservation Commission. The power plant also poses a risk of leaking dangerous fuels into groundwater while drawing down the local watershed.

At public hearings, residents have expressed concern about the spread of pollution from steam emissions and wastewater that flows into the sewage system. The plant's cooling water would be drawn from a well contaminated by the gasoline additive methyl tert-butyl ether, a potential human carcinogen that was linked to several illnesses in the Burrillville village of Pascoag in 2001.

Since the proposed power plant was announced last August, residents have feared that the natural-gas/diesel facility will degrade property values.

“To knowingly and adversely affect the values of properties is unjust and unfair,” Elaine Bibeault of Town Farm Road said during a March 31 public hearing at Burrillville High School. “We have done nothing wrong to justify punishing (the) few for the benefit of many others. Would it be right for me to approach you and inform you I’m taking thousands of dollars away from your personal assets?”

The Rhode Island Association of Realtors explained to ecoRI News that the recent drop in home sales and prices and the longer selling times aren't necessarily a trend but part of an atypical quarter that other communities experienced. The business group noted that sales in Burrillville were positive in recent months. In May, days-on-the-market improved and year-over-year sales doubled in April.

Lefebvre, who serves on the association's government affairs committee, has been pressing the business group to publicly oppose the $700 million Clear River Energy Center. The association recently told ecoRI News that the power plant is a local issue, but it intends to monitor any impacts the proposed facility has on the real-estate market.

The association suggested seeking comment from the regional real-estate advocacy group that covers Burrillville, Cumberland, Central Falls, Lincoln, North Smithfield, Pawtucket and Woonsocket.

The Northern Rhode Island Board of Realtors didn't respond to requests for comment, but a board member told Lefebvre that the group intends to meet with representatives of the power plant this month.

As part of the application process, the Burrillville tax assessor will issue a report that examines the proposed power plant’s effect on local property values. The analysis is one of 12 advisory opinions being sought on behalf of the Energy Facilities Siting Board, the state committee considering the power plant’s application.

The application by Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development LLC doesn't address the project’s impact on the property taxes in Burrillville. It only looks at the economic benefits of new construction jobs from 2016 until 2019 and lower energy costs for Rhode Island electricity customers during the first four years of operation.

The Rhode Island Department of Health hosts the next public hearing, Aug. 9 at 5:30 p.m. at Burrillville High School. The agency will take comments on noise and air pollution, drinking-water quality, climate change and health, emergency response and electromagnetic fields.