Opponents Take Waste To Energy Battle To City Hall

Statewide environmental advocates to attend Woonsocket City Council meeting.

Opponents to Rep. Jon Brien's bill H 5315, authorizing the City of Woonsocket to pursue a waste to energy plant, are prepped to voice their opinions at tonight's City Council meeting, with members from environmental groups from across the state expected to attend.

The bill, held for further study after a legislative hearing on March 24, would lift the state's current ban on waste to energy facilities, ending Rhode Island's 20 year prohibition by making an exception for Woonsocket exclusively.    

"If this community wants the ability to explore waste to energy, they should be able to," Brien told Patch.

Concerned Citizens of Woonsocket, a coalition of local residents that worked to fight the proposal for a coal burning plant in the city back in 1987, have spearheaded an effort to defeat H 5315, passing out fliers across the city to encourage public participation. Members of the Audubon Society, the Sierre Club, Environmental Council of Rhode Island and, possibly, Conservation Law Foundation will join local forces to address the Woonsocket City Council at the Monday night meeting.

"Once they get permits and sign the contract, we're stuck with this and you can't get rid of it," said Leo Marcoux, one member of organization, which Marcoux said has more than 70 members.

The flier reads:

  • "Real Estate values fall dramatically, as much as 50%.
  • “Modern” incinerators release significant amounts of acid gases, mercury, harmful organic compounds, and toxic dust which even the EPA cannot measure.
  • Other pollutants are ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide.
  • Attend the Woonsocket City Council meeting on April 18, 2011 at 7:00 P.M. (169 Main St. Woonsocket, RI—2nd floor) to voice your opinion or hear more.

"False," Brien said of the handout. 

"These people will say anything and I don't understand why," Brien added.

The Woonsocket representative points to the waste to energy facility in nearby Millbury, MA as evidence. Brien says he contacted the small town just 22 miles north of the city, to ask about these issues.  Officials, he said, reported that their waste to energy plant has not affected property values or quality of life while injecting needed money into the economy.  Officials in Millbury could not be reached for comment.

Covanta Energy has created modern waste to energy facilities in 16 states and is currently operating 40 plants across the country.

Marcoux, meanwhile, has lived in Oak Grove for more than 55 years and uses the Synagro plant as an example of how this type of proposal can affect quality of life. "Nothing burns 100% clean," he said.

Marcoux looks at waste to energy projects gone awry, such as the trash burning power plant in Ohio which was reportedly plagued with problems during operation and eventually abandoned. Environmentalists additionally emphasize the need to focus on "truly" renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, and see increased recycling as the best method to address the state's landfill problem.

In a March 30 editorial in The Valley Breeze, resident Meddy Payette calls the city's pursuit of the facility embarrassing, referencing a Providence Journal PolitiFact piece which called Brien's logic for the plant false.

PolitiFact took issue with a statement in Brien's press release on H 5315 which stated "residents are paying through the nose for electricity that’s fueled by foreign oil, at prices that are skyrocketing." Power plants in Rhode Island, PolitiFact corrected, burn natural gas, not oil. The article also disputed Brien's statement "Rather than burying trash in the ground and that being the end of it, why not use it to create electricity," arguing that the state's Resource Recovery Corporation already generates electricity from trash.

"Only 20% of methane gas is captured and 80% goes into the environment," Brien said of the piece. Additionally, Brien argued that even if oil is not currently used regionally, it is nationally. A PACE University study found that 8% of the state's energy is created by burning foreign oil. "You can't make the argument that utility prices are not directly affected by oil. It's all tied together," Brien said.

Evidence of the safety of waste to energy plants, Brien asserts, are all over Europe. "In Europe, they find the idea of burying trash abhorrent and I have to say, they've got it right on this one."

A New York Times article published this year states that in Europe, "there are about 400 plants, with Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands leading the pack in expanding them and building new ones."

Brien believes the bill's opponents are reacting emotionally and falling prey to unsubstantiated fears that the plant could adversely affect their health. "Let's look at the empirical evidence. Is cancer skyrocketing in France or Germany?"   

More from statewide agencies that oppose the bill can be seen

Council members will have the opportunity to evaluate the strength and validity of both sides, when opponents come forward to make their case this evening. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. in Harris Hall.

Yvette M Ayotte April 18, 2011 at 10:20 AM
I believe the city of Woonsocket should look into this for our community. Burying our trash is not a good thing for this earth and we should be looking into more mordern, more efficient ways of getting rid of our trash. With all of our mordern technologies, there is something out there that is much more efficient. We need to look into this for the sake of our next generation. There is way too much pollution. Really, Woonsocket residents should have the say as to whether we want this or not. We won't be putting anything here that isn't good for our environment.
Mike Kind April 18, 2011 at 12:00 PM
I wish this debate really mattered. As it stands, our legislature's ruling body and the "Landfill Trust" will never let it come to a vote.
Allen L. Auclair April 18, 2011 at 12:21 PM
I believe that a Waste to Energy plant is a worthwhile idea for our community and for our state. We all want to reduce and reuse (recycle) as much as possible but some things can not be recycled and it makes no sense to bury those things in the ground. Are we going to outlaw Compact Flourescent Lights due to their Mercury content, or how about outlawing motor vehicles which emit hazardous combustion by-products, or maybe we should outlaw cigarettes and table salt due to their health risks. Where does government end and our right to choose begin? Let Woonsocket take at look at this Waste to Energy idea and decide for itself f it is right for them. -Woonsocket Citizen-
Carrie Porder April 18, 2011 at 12:31 PM
Excellent points, Allen. Woonsocket residents should have the right to look into the Waste to Energy idea. We need to start somewhere in cleaning up our city's pollution. And as Yvette said, "With all of our modern technologies, there is something out there that is much more efficient." Let us see what this could do for our community.
Rene Lamoureux April 18, 2011 at 12:39 PM
Just take a look at the photo above. How many homes do you see?
JRichard April 18, 2011 at 01:41 PM
My first thought when i saw the photo...looks like a pretty large footprint is required! I don't see this anywhere in Woonsocket!!
Lori April 18, 2011 at 02:25 PM
I don't think a trash burning plant should be anywhere near a residential community. Clean air should be the priority. Areas with homes, schools, hospitals, etc. should not be areas to consider building these plants. Also, better efforts at recycling is more environmentally acceptable. The other plants aren't built in heavily populated residential areas. The ONLY reason our poor city is thinking about this stinking idea is for money. I would rather have clean air and well-being and generate money from other avenues. How about some fund raising for the city. Or more grant writing efforts to help our community.
Lori April 18, 2011 at 02:27 PM
I don't see any homes!!!!! Exactly! And are we thinking about putting this thing a stones throw away from our Middle School and hundreds of homes. Unbelievable!!
Raymond Schleicher April 18, 2011 at 03:12 PM
We are only asking for the right to investigate whether a Waste to Energy plant would be safe for Woonsocket and if so would it save taxpayers a huge sum of taxes besides generatingnelectricity. I want this right to form a commission to investigate this, Why spend so much tax money every day bringing our trash to Johnston? Even though the landfill is producing electricity, the land fill keeps filling up. When it's full, what will they do?
Lori April 18, 2011 at 04:08 PM
The only way to "investigate" is to lift the ban which is in place for our safety. Exhaust from trash is not clean. Modern methods may be "cleaner" but it is still hazardous and even the EPA cannot trace everything that is coming out in the exhaust. The citizens of Woonsocket deserve better!!!!
Allen L. Auclair April 18, 2011 at 05:13 PM
I suggest that everyone read the ATSDR report regarding the Central Landfill. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has released its public health consultation for the Central Landfill in Johnston, R.I. I also suggest that everyone review the Air Pollution Control Permit for the Central Landfill and read the National Grid NEPOOL GIS report regarding our power sources and their air emissions. According to National Grid our Electricity comes from Natural Gas (36%), Nuclear (28.3%), Imported Power (13.3%), Coal (9.8%), Hydro (3.9%), Jet (3.1%), Wood (2.0%), and other sources. The majority of our electricity comes from non-renewable, "dirty" burning sources. Unless everyone is willing to take a technological step backwards 150 years, we have to consider all of our options, including waste to energy plants. Consider our future demands for electrical energy and how we can meet those demands. An "all-electric" vehicle does not pollute But it does need ELECTRICITY. Let's put this topic on the table to discuss and determine a good balance for our community needs. Approve the legislation.
Richard Heon April 18, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Erin B. April 18, 2011 at 06:39 PM
We already burn sludge produced by the Wastewater Treatment Plant at the incinerator. It's been there incinerating sludge for more than 35 years. Right now, the energy created by burning that sludge is wasted. Overturning the waste-to-energy ban would allow the City to build a facility capable of harnessing the energy that we are already creating (and presently wasting) regardless of accepting trash from other sources.
Sandy Phaneuf April 18, 2011 at 06:53 PM
Erin, It seems that this law does not need to pass in order for the city to harness energy from our current plant. I am unclear why the term "waste to energy" does not apply in that case and initial statements from politicians contained phrasing like "we believe" this "appears" to fall in a separate category. If anyone can clear this up definitively, I would be grateful (as I'm sure someone can.) To be clear, the bill is aimed at allowing Woonsocket to pursue an additional facility which would allow the city to process trash from all over Northern Rhode Island.
Steve April 18, 2011 at 08:52 PM
This plan to burn garbage is DOA! How about banning the city from burning this "Septic Sludge" you're talking about? Obviously Erin, you don't live near the Synagro facility in the summer months. Totally unbearable!!! This city needs to wake up, and quit portraying such a negative attitude and environment upon the city's residents! Wake up will ya!
give me a break April 18, 2011 at 10:22 PM
good unless we gonna get gas mask with this
give me a break April 18, 2011 at 10:27 PM
allen can we build next door to you???
give me a break April 18, 2011 at 10:28 PM
wanted someone wilingl to have it buit near thier home
Yvette M Ayotte May 28, 2011 at 04:24 PM
Raymond, I'm with you let's form that committe!!
Novan for Life May 28, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Thanks allen for making excellent points and to add to that what are these fears that people are so worried about. if its successful in europe why cant we try it, europe is ahead of us in education and in clean energy, they also are making scientific breakthroughs 20 years ahead of time
Novan for Life May 28, 2011 at 05:18 PM
so what does that have to do with anything do you live next to it well then don't run your mouth and let be build first before you judge something
Novan for Life May 28, 2011 at 05:21 PM
yeah and to prove to you its harmless stop whinning
Memere May 28, 2011 at 08:02 PM
I do not agree that a waste-to-energy plant should be built in Woonsocket. Such a plant should be built far away from homes and there is no place in Woonsocket that is far enough from homes to make this plant safe. The Synagro plant, that we were assured would not negatively impact our community , is positively AWFUL. We built 2 beautiful middle schools to benefit our young people and now they have to smell Synagro, and I am told it smells even with the windows closed at the schools. I am also told that the smell has caused some people to feel ill on some days. Is this really benefiting our young people????? People in the neighborhood of this plant have complained for years about the smell and who knows just how this will affect their health in years to come. They pay taxes too and, I'm sure will have problems trying to sell their properties in years to come. Who wants to buy property near a sludge burning facility?? Anyone who really believes that a waste-to-energy facility will lower our taxes is dreaming!!! That will NEVER happen in this city!
Memere May 28, 2011 at 08:15 PM
People in Woonsocket trying to sell their property ( if they CAN sell their property) are having to sell those properties for less than those same houses would sell for in other communities because of the condition of our city, our taxes, and I'm sure having Synagro here is not helping us either. Who in their right mind wants to live near a sludge burning facility AND a waste-to-energy facility????? And you can be very sure that Mr. Brien, who can afford to move if he wants to, would be the first to move to another community if his quality of life was negatively affected by these facilities. And who could blame him??? But what about all the people who cannot afford to move, is this fair to them????? These facilities should be built on open land far away from homes and schools. That a waste-to-energy plant should be built is a given. But NOT IN WOONSOCKET!!!!! Perhaps Cumberland or Lincoln, who both have a lot more open land than Woonsocket should build it in their communities. Do you really think that's going to happen?????????????


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