Hard to Trust Siting Process for Proposed Burrillville Fossil-Fuel Power Plant

By BETH MILHAM and CLAUDIA GORMAN

JOHNSTON, R.I. — We witnessed a travesty in democratic process on Jan. 10. A Town Council meeting was called solely to vote on authorizing a cooling-water contract with Invenergy, the Chicago-based company proposing the Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville.

With only the barest minimum legal advance notice — 48 hours on the secretary of state website — the council met in a room holding 87 spectators. Johnston's population is about 29,000, and the meeting site was next door to a middle school, presumably with an auditorium, but calls from residents shut out of the meeting to “change the venue” were ignored. The Johnston Town Council meeting was scheduled for exactly the same day and time as the Woonsocket Town Council’s. Coincidence, or divide and conquer?

The room was filled when we arrived a half-hour early, and, we learned, had been even 15 minutes before that. Most of the occupants were men, many wearing union T-shirts. (The Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council solidly favors the project.)

We could remain in the corridor if we didn’t block passage. We heard the meeting convened at 7:01 p.m., and in less than 5 minutes, a cheer went up from inside, and the room began to empty. Later, we learned that the Town Council had voted unanimously in favor of the motion.

The Johnston Town Council voted with no opportunity for citizen input, positive or negative, in a hall that excluded a great number of interested people, with notice that tried to preclude the citizens’ even knowing about it.

We’re asked to “trust the process” set forth for siting this project. Does this example of the “process” foster trust?

Beth Milham is a Newport resident and Claudia Gorman is a Middletown resident.