By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — The activist group No LNG in PVD has issued a call for National Grid to suspend construction at a site next to the Providence River, concerned that digging the toxic soil will spread pollutants. The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) recently approved a soil management permit for the site off Allens Avenue, but National Grid is being accused of not holding public meetings.
Soil and groundwater was contaminated at the site between 1910 and 1945, as a result of gas operations by the Providence Gas Co. The site also was used to process and store ammonia, toluene, propane and liquefied natural gas (LNG). Despite a partial cleanup since 1994, the soil contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), phenolic compounds, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including benzene and naphthalene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), ferri and ferro cyanide compounds, asbestos, lead and arsenic.
According to No LNG in PVD, National Grid recently began excavation at the site for the LNG cooling facility without fulfilling a requirement for a public input plan (PIP).
National Grid has sought fast-track approval for the project from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), but company spokesman David Graves said the work at the Fields Point facility in unrelated to the LNG project and therefore doesn't require a PIP. Activity at the site is year-round, as materials from other projects, such as pipeline replacement work, is stored there.
"Also, at no time have we requested to FERC that they not hold public hearings. The public involvement plan is related to the liquefaction project which, again, is unrelated to the work currently underway at 642 Allens Avenue," Graves said. "The permits for the work now underway were issued well before the request for a PIP was filed. Every project National Grid undertakes is planned and executed under rigid safety and environmental standards and the Allens Avenue work is no exception."
In 2015, National Grid submitted a proposal to FERC to develop the $180 million facility to produce LNG directly from a Spectra Energy pipeline that delivers fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale to Providence. LNG is produced by cooling natural gas to minus 260 degrees Fahrenheit, which reduces its volume by 600 times and puts it into liquid form. As described in its application, National Grid would then utilize tanker trucks to export the LNG produced in Providence, primarily to locations in Massachusetts.
Safety and health concerns has generated opposition from nearby residents, environmentalists, nine state legislators and Mayor Jorge Elorza.
In a prepared statement, Gina Rodríguez, a local resident and leader of No LNG in PVD, said, “This is our community, people live here and kids go to school here, why does National Grid think it’s okay to put our lives and our health at risk?”
Monica Huertas, also of No LNG in PVD, said, “It’s outrageous that there’s a known toxic site this close to my house, and we can go down Allens Avenue and see clouds of dust blowing off from the piles that National Grid is digging up. The whole point of this Public Involvement Plan law is to address things like that, but National Grid is just ignoring our concerns and DEM isn’t doing anything to stop them.”
“This is exactly what DEM’s site remediation regulations are for,” said Rep. Joseph Almeida, D-Providence. “In cases like this, where a project could release extremely dangerous contaminants, it is vital that the affected community have a role in overseeing remediation activities. Members of my district are already overburdened by environmental and health hazards. It is vital that DEM stop National Grid from kicking up a new load of previously buried poisons and toxics without giving this community any say.”