By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — Ten members of the General Assembly, a City Council member and six environmental groups signed off on a letter opposing National Grid’s proposed natural-gas project that they say will pollute the city's waterfront and nearby neighborhoods.
In the Aug. 10 letter to the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM), the group says the Port of Providence is prone to flooding and high winds “leading to a potential for release of contaminants.” The proposed $100 million natural-gas facility would also contribute to climate change, according to the letter. Global warming has already increased the frequency of storms and this unpredictable weather will make it difficult to contain harmful substances during construction, according to the project's opponents.
Pile driving and digging at the site will introduce contaminants into the water table or trigger a leak at a nearby natural-gas pipeline, the letter states. Opponents of the project urge DEM to deny the site remediation project, known as a short-term response action plan (STRAP). Instead, they argue that DEM must require National Grid to perform a more rigorous cleanup of the site. The letter also asks DEM to conduct a comprehensive health-risk assessment.
DEM says it can't force National Grid to clean the site. Rather, the state agency can only review National Grid's plan to manage contaminated soil and water prior to construction of the liquefaction project.
Contamination of the 42-acre site began in 1910, with the operation of a coal gasification plant. Other fossil-fuel processing and storage businesses operated at the same location for decades. Arsenic, benzene and lead are among the major contaminants identified by National Grid. A 127-foot-tall natural-gas storage tank was built in 1974. After considerable opposition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), in 2005, rejected a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipping terminal at the site. The developer at the time was KeySpan LNG, which is now a subsidiary of National Grid.
The proposed liquefaction facility wouldn't rely on ship transportation but instead would draw natural gas from a nearby pipeline. The liquefaction plant would concentrate the gas through intense cooling. Special tanker trucks would deliver the concentrated gas to storage facilities in Rhode Island and neighboring states. National Grid maintains that added storage is needed to meet demand in winter and summer.
As it stands, FERC will deny or approve the project, while DEM and the state Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) require compliance with air, water and coastal regulations. CRMC is expected to host public hearings in September and/or October.
The 15-page letter is signed by Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence; Rep. Chris Blazejewski, D-Providence; Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence; Rep. Susan Donovan, D-Bristol; Rep. John Lombardi, D-Providence; Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, D-Providence; Rep. Aaron Regunberg, D-Providence; Rep. Moira Walsh, D-Providence; Sen. Jeanine Calkin, D-Warwick; Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, and Providence City Council member Sam Zurier.
The following organizations also signed: Climate Action RI, the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island, The FANG Collective, Fossil Free Rhode Island, Sierra Club Rhode Island Chapter and Sisters of Mercy Ecology.
Nineteen other individuals endorsed the letter. The comment is the latest in a series signed by opponents and organized by the advocacy group No LNG in PVD. The Aug. 10 letter was submitted on the last day DEM accepted pubic comment on National Grid’s site management plan.