Advocates’ plea: Protect forest connection, say no to power plant

Advocates’ plea: Protect forest connection, say no to power plant

Kevin Cleary of the Burrillville Conservation Commission leans against a tree to point out the area above the treeline behind him. Should the Invenergy power plant be built, the top of the building could be seen over the tree-tops, with the orange glow of light pollution seen at night. (Breeze photos by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

GLOCESTER – As the July 19 date nears for the Energy Facility Siting Board to begin to hear impact testimony for the proposed Invenergy Power Plant in Burrillville, conservationists and environmentalists gathered at the Pulaski Memorial Recreation Center on Tuesday to speak about the “unacceptable risk” the plant would pose to nearby forests.

The plant would be located at a key point connecting 17,082 acres of continuous forest in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Save the Bay, The Nature Conservancy, The Audubon Society of Rhode Island, Blackstone Valley Tourism, the Metacomet Land Trust, and an Eagle Scout all joined Kevin Cleary, chairman of the Burrillville Conservation Commission, to speak against the forest fragmentation brought about due to the location of the plant.

Cleary and forester Paul Dolan hosted a nature hike around Peck Pond, stopping to point out rare birds, beaver dams, and ponds loaded with amphibians.

“We are here because we are alarmed,” Cleary said. Behind him, a bald eagle soared across the pond, landing on a nearby tree as families and children played in the swimming area below.

The forest is home to 47 species of animals, 17 of which are on the “species of greatest conservation need,” which includes some endangered or threatened species as well, he noted.

“This is a forest in jeopardy,” Cleary said, adding that if the plant is built, there will be long-term “deadly damage” to plants and animals.

According to Tim Mooney of the Nature Conservancy Rhode Island, the plant’s location in the forest is at an essential and critical “pinch point” for habitat connectivity.

“This corridor of un-fragmented forest is critical to the health of the ecosystem both on a daily basis and in response to disruptions,” Mooney said.

Connectivity helps genetic diversity in plants and animals, escape routes for natural disaster or human development, adaptions to season changes and availability of food, water and shelter, Mooney said.

“Animals require reliable pathways to find those resources, they just won’t stand still,” he said.

Halfway through the walk, high in the trees, a black-throated blue warbler sang out. It is a relative to the endangered cerulean warbler that calls the forest its home.

Meg Kerr, of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, said the site is within a state-identified critical wildlife habitat area. Light pollution from the plant would disrupt migratory patterns of birds, including the cerulean warbler that travels from Canada through northern Rhode Island before heading south.

“Birds need stars to navigate,” she said.

Topher Hamblett, of Save the Bay, said the organization is opposed to the plant because its “construction and operation would cause permanent damage and pose unacceptable risks to the Narragansett Bay Watershed.”

Forested areas with intact canopies, well-developed shrub and ground cover, and headwater streams are the filtering system for the Narragansett Bay Watershed that are crucial to native species of trout and other aquatic wildlife, Hamblett said.

“Rhode Island must not sacrifice these scarce, undeveloped areas that are so critical to a healthy Narragansett Bay, which is the heart of our state, and beloved by residents and visitors alike,” Hamblett said.

Dolan on Tuesday pointed to many markers on the tour as well.

“You can see and hear species that make this area special. This is yours and your children’s forest. Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” Dolan said.

Energy Facility Siting Board hearings will begin again on Thursday, July 19. According to the Energy Facility Siting Act, the EFSB, and not the town or state, has the decision-making power regarding whether the plant will be built in Burrillville.

Though the meetings are open to the public, there will be not public testimony heard during the meeting. Interested parties can contact the EFSB at www.ripuc.org/efsb .

Invenergy plans to build The Clear River Energy Center, a $1 billion fracked-gas and oil burning power plant located at the end of Algonquin Lane off Wallum Lake Road in Pascoag.

Once the forest is gone, it’s gone for good, said forester Paul Dolan, who managed the Pulaski Memorial State Forest for years.
The water traveled through 3,000 acres to get to this point, Paul Dolan said of the brook flowing into Pecks Pond. Brooks and streams serve as filters and add to the water quality, plant and animal life, and watershed.
A map of the continuous forest nearby the location of the proposed Invenergy power plant.

Comments

I am baffled as to why the Audobon Society, Save the Bay, The Nature Conservancy, etc are opposed to this power plant, but are not opposed to the planned massive solar farm in North Smithfield. The solar farm will destroy 300 acres of land and produce only 1/20th of the electricity of the power plant. It seems that this about attacking the big bad energy companies, rather than actually caring about destroying land.

RC, these groups are totally with you. Meg Kerr, the speaker present at the Pulaski Park Press Conference has been working tirelessly for more than a year as chair of a coalition of groups that is hammering out a bill that, if the RI legislature would pass it, would impose sensible regulation of solar sites throughout the state.

The problem is not with the people and groups fighting the Invenergy proposal; the problem is with our state reps and senators and the reluctance of Governor Raimondo to upset that status quo: Business-as-usual-in-Little-Rhody.

Personally, I think the site of the proposed N.S. solar farm is outrageous. That is a highly valued forested area from a conservation perspective. I would urge your group to collect all the info you can from RI DEM and The Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island to bolster your argument. Particularly, the TNC/RI DEM 2015 Wildlife Action Plan and it's superb "Conservation Opportunity Areas" digital map.