Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Opponents of a proposed natural-gas project on Allens Avenue objected to the location and format of a public meeting as much as the the fossil-fuel project itself.
Several of the some 80 people at the July 13 public hearing accused National Grid and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) of scaring off residents living near the project site by hosting the information session at the Providence Public Safety Complex, the city’s main police and fire station.
“You have this event in the police station tonight to make sure our neighbors didn’t feel safe going in here,” said Gina Rodriguez of the opposition group No LNG in PVD. “Hosting it here was an outright intimidation tactic.”
Others wanted to know why it took more than a year to hold a public meeting. “We fought for it,” Monica Huertas said.
They were also frustrated that the discussion was limited to two soil removal projects and not the liquefied natural gas (LNG) project.
“The fact that you keep calling this a public-engagement process when we’ve had no involvement and no input is a farce. It is a lie," Rodriguez said. "And it just shows how racist you are."
If the $100 million project receives air and water pollution permits from DEM, a road straightening and flattening project at the Fields Point site would begin in September. The LNG project would start in 2018 and take two years to complete.
National Grid tried to keep the focus of discussion on contaminated soil and water removal work within the 42-acre site. Most attendees, though, wanted to discuss the validity of the proposed gas liquefaction plant.
The property has a long history of contamination. It started as a coal gasification plant in 1910, and has been used as a fossil-fuel storage and processing plant for decades. The 175-foot tall, 2-billion-cubic-foot LNG storage tank was built in 1974.
National Grid didn't use the word “contaminated” to describe the polluted soil and groundwater on the property, only referring to the contaminants as “certain compounds present that are above DEM limits.” Those certain compounds include arsenic, benzene and lead.
Amy Willoughby, the project manager for National Grid, described “strict dust-control measures” such as water trucks and plastic sheeting that will contain polluted airborne dust during excavation. She said groundwater would be pumped into holding tanks and eventually shipped to disposal facilities outside Rhode Island. Stormwater containment structures would be built to control runoff. Air-pollution monitoring would take place during soil removal to measure volatile organic compounds and toxic particulate matter. The monitoring and pollution-control measures would cease after the projects are finished, Willoughby added.
Julian Rodriguez Drix of the nearby Washington Park neighborhood and Joe Carvalho of Fall River, Mass., said National Grid has a poor track record for cleanups. Rodriguez Drix noted the company's understating of pollution from the March 29 natural-gas leak on Allens Avenue and the failure of the clean-up crew to wear protective gear during the removal of the contaminated soil. Carvalho noted online searches and public information listing National Grid's history of violations and poor safety record.
"Tell me, why should we believe anything a fossil-fuel company tells us, especially in terms of public safety and public health?" Carvalho asked.
The Allens Avenue site was previously excavated and capped while being prepared for a proposed LNG shipping terminal. KeySpan LNG, a subsidiary of National Grid, withdrew plans for the project in 2005, after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied the application over safety concerns.
The new LNG proposal doesn't include plans to deliver LNG by ship. Natural gas would reach the plant through an existing pipeline. Once converted into LNG through extreme cooling, the concentrated gas would be shipped by special tanker trucks to LNG storage tanks in the region. National Grid insists that the liquefaction project wouldn't increase truck traffic in the area.
The stored LNG would eventually be re-gasified through warming to meet demand spikes during winter. According to National Grid, the new LNG facility isn’t expected to emit pollutants during operations. However, methane is released as excess LNG is flared, or burned off, when the cooling system is turned on and off.