Coalition sounds alarm bells on destruction of forest

Environmental, tourism and conservation officials unite in opposition to proposed power plant

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BURRILLVILLE – They trudged more than a mile into the forest, sweating in their skirts, button-down shirts and khakis, camera equipment and notepads in hand.

Bald eagles and turkey vultures flew above their heads, while at ground level, they could see evidence of frogs, turtles and beavers. Calls of black-throated green warblers, chipping sparrows and pine warblers provided a backdrop, as they strolled between trees – some up to 90 and 100 years old.

Members of the press, called in by a coalition of environmentalists and nature enthusiasts, got to see first-hand this week the diverse and pristine forest by which Invenergy Thermal, LLC, hopes to build a 1,000 megawatt power plant.

The “Walk in the Woods,” as the unique press conference was dubbed, began with pleas from representatives from a local Boy Scout Troop, the Rhode Island Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Save the Bay, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, the Metacomet Land Trust, and the Burrillville Conservation Commission.

“We are here now because we are alarmed,” said Kevin Cleary, chairman of the BCC. “Rhode Islanders need to know what is at stake here. This is a forest in jeopardy.”

The proposed site for the plant, the opponents noted, is in the midst of a 26.6 square mile forest that stretches across three states – the last contiguous forestland along the Eastern Seaboard. The Rhode Island Action Plan identified 47 species of greatest conservation need on the site, including some that are endangered or threatened.

Tim Mooney from The Nature Conservancy noted that his organization, “rarely takes a position on a specific development project.”

“We are compelled to oppose this new power plant,” Mooney said, calling the forest “one of the healthiest, most important places in the eastern United States.”

Reporters stand on a small bridge over a stream on a hiking trail at Pulaski Memorial State Forest.

The event came as the state entity that determines where projects such as Invenergy’s proposed fossil fuel burning plant can be built – the Energy Facility Siting Board – continues its final hearings on the facility. Organized opposition from residents has grown throughout the three-year approval process on the proposal from the Chicago-based developer, and as a decision draws near, it seems, conservationists aim to make their final push with the public.

“This site where the Invenergy plant will be located is in a critical wildlife area,” said Meg Kurr, director of policy for Audubon of RI, adding that birds, “need these in tact forests for migration.”

Bob Billington of BVTC said he thinks it’s unfair to ask the town of Burrillville to host the power plant site.

“Once a place is destroyed, it’s almost impossible, or at least incredibly expensive to retrieve,” said Billington. “The people of the Blackstone Valley have worked for more than five decades to protect their open landscapes.”

The proposed plant would be located roughly 9,000 feet away from Pulaski Memorial State Forest, a popular local destination for swimming, fishing and hiking where officials held the Tuesday morning press conference. Billington emphasized the area’s importance to tourism, noting that some 100,000 people visit the forest for outdoor recreation every year.

Kyle Peterson said the nearby Buck Hill Boy Scout Reservation is one of his favorite places, filled with “undisturbed wildlife that allows young men to be at one with nature.”

Kyle Peterson of Boy Scout Troop 1139 in Slatersville

“If this ecosystem is compromised, that peaceful environment as we know it will be destroyed.”

The EFSB is expected to continue hearings on the plant through the end of November, with a decision to be issued in early 2019.