Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
CHARLESTOWN, R.I. — The North South Trail, the lone hiking route that traverses Rhode Island from the Atlantic Ocean to Massachusetts and into New Hampshire, may get a new neighbor: the state's largest power plant.
For nearly three years, opponents of the $1 billion natural-gas project have seized on the potential damage to the 78-mile trail, as well as air, water and noise pollution affecting nearby parks, campgrounds and forests, as reason to halt the project.
Now three hikers are drawing attention to the threat to the trail and to one of Rhode Island’s largest tracts of undeveloped land. They kicked off their trek June 4 from Blue Shutters Beach.
“Growing up in Burrillville I spent years recreating in the forest around the proposed power plant. From biking/hiking on the trails to camping at the George Washington campground, I learned how special this area of Rhode Island is, and how any loss of its natural habitats and beauty is a price the state can't afford,” said Sean Trinque, the person who came up with with the idea for the June 4-6 hike.
Trinque’s father, Raymond, serves on the Burrillville Town Council and has been an outspoken critic of the proposed power plant. The hike, he said, shows what may be lost if the 1,000-megawatt project is approved. The event also raises awareness about underutilized public recreation areas such as the North South Trail.
“Trails in Rhode Island need to be expanded. They need to be advertised,” the elder Trinque said.
Former Gov. Lincoln Chafee joined the fight against the power plant in April, as we weighs a probable re-entry into politics. He noted that the proposed Clear River Energy Center would increase Rhode Island’s carbon emissions 38 percent.
“We cannot be just pumping carbon dioxide into the air when their are options,” Chafee said as he recognized the offshore wind farm off Block Island and the likelihood of importing hydroelectric power from Canada, an idea he championed as governor.
Rep. Cale Keable, D-Burrillville, praised Chafee for signing the Resilient Rhode Island Act in 2014, the law that set the state's climate emission-reduction goals. Keable called on Gov. Gina Raimondo to publicly oppose the proposed power plant because of its threat to lakes, ponds, reservoirs and protected areas.
“I cannot stress enough that this is not a Pascoag problem; this is not a Burrillville problem; this is a Rhode Island problem,” Keable said.
Brown University professor J. Timmons Roberts noted that the number of days above 80 degrees in Rhode Island has increased by two weeks per year since the 1960s. He mentioned a study that concludes that Rhode Island can get all of its power needs from renewable energy if the state draws 62 percent of its electricity from offshore wind. Roberts also made a plea for a bill creating a tax and dividend on all carbon-based fuel in Rhode Island.
“We can do that. We don’t need the Burrillville power plant,” Roberts said. “We need to go forward to renewables, not backwards to natural gas.”
He urged public protests like the North South Trail hike. “That’s really how we are going to win this battle on climate change. One Burrillville power plant at a time.”
The group hiked 34 miles on the first day, to the Oak Embers Campground in West Greenwich. They will spend the second night at the George Washington State Campground and Management Area in Chepachet. The hike is scheduled to end June 6 at noon at the Wallum Lake Beach pavilion in the Douglas State Forest in Douglas, Mass.