Providence LNG Project Kicks Up Contaminated Dirt

Monica Huertas, right, of South Providence said the face-to-face talk with DEM staffers was intimidating. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Monica Huertas, right, of South Providence said the face-to-face talk with DEM staffers was intimidating. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The latest public meeting for the natural gas liquefaction facility proposed for the city’s industrial waterfront brought out many of the same issues as the July 13 event, including confusion about how the project is approved.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) hosted the Aug. 9 comment session, but the state agency doesn't OK the gas-storage facility. Instead, DEM authorizes the excavation work at the 42-acre site that has been polluted by decades of unchecked fossil-fuel activities.

The unearthing of contaminated soil has neighbors concerned about air and water pollution.

“They are piling [expletive] on top of [expletive],” said Monica Huertas, an organizer for the No LNG in PVD opposition group. She lives a quarter-mile from the site on Allens Avenue and brought her four young children to the recent meeting.

National Grid, the project developer, has promised to take precautions to reduce the spread of contaminated material and water by covering exposed soil and retaining and removing any groundwater and runoff.

To address sea-level rise, storm surge and higher waves expected from climate change, the site will be elevated to 21 feet above sea level. The massive LNG storage tank already at the site is bordered by a 31-foot protective dike.

“That keeps our equipment out of risk,” said William Howard, environmental compliance manager for National Grid.

Jessica Stensrud of Pawtucket said the precautions are inadequate. Polluted dust will take to the air and spread to nearby neighborhoods, she said.

“It’s not safe by my mind,” Stensrud said.

Stensrud appreciated that the recent public meeting, held at the Open Table of Christ Church on Broad Street, allowed her to sit face to face and get answers from DEM employees.

“I thought it was good," she said. "I could speak directly to my concerns and get it on the record."

Huertas said she felt uncomfortable speaking before two DEM employees and a stenographer. “You have to stand in front of all of these white people," she said. "It’s intimidating.”

Joe Carvalho of Fall River, Mass., fought the Weaver's Cove LNG terminal proposed for his city. Hess LNG withdrew the proposal in 2011. At this event, Carvalho brought a printout of 50 LNG safety violations committed by National Grid since 2009.

Final approval of the LNG project lies with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The state Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) must also authorize construction. Save The Bay submitted comments to CRMC, saying the project wouldn't have a detrimental impact on water quality.

CRMC intends to issue a report on the project by the end of the month, followed by one or two public hearings in September and/or October. CRMC has until Oct. 31 to determine if the project is in compliance with state and local policies and standards for coastal development.

DEM's public comment period ended Aug. 10.