Expert says proposed power plant site is ‘most diverse and valuable’ land in Rhode Island

Anthony Zemba

WARWICK – The Energy Facility Siting Board heard testimony this week from a biodiversity expert who described the site where Invenergy Thermal hopes to build a power plant in Burrillville as “amazing,” and the developer’s assessment of rare species on the land “inadequate.”

Anthony Zemba told the board, “I rarely have come across a site that has this many numbers of species of greatest concern on it.”

The testimony came as the EFSB continues its final hearings on Invenergy’s application to build the gas fired Clear River Energy Center. Environmental impact is one of the key issues the EFSB is expected to consider in determining the fate of the proposed facility.

Zemba was called in to testify by the town of Burrillville and Conservation Law Foundation, the two entities providing legal opposition against the Chicago-based energy company.

“This really is a truly amazing site,” he told the board. “As a location for a power plant, this is one of the worst uses I could think of.”

The expert, who currently works as an environmental specialist for Fitzgerald & Halliday, Inc., where he is the senior ecologist and soil scientist, added that the proposed power plant would “obliterate valuable habitats with the added insult of spewing toxic air admissions and pumping more carbon into the atmosphere.”

Invenergy’s study of the proposed site found 47 species identified in the Rhode Island Action Plan as Species of Greatest Conservation Need, including some that are endangered or threatened.

In his testimony, Zemba said that the Invenergy study doesn’t measure the full impact, since it failed to monitor through various seasons or over several years. Without the full lifecycle study, suites of species that pass through or use the habitat over different seasons are not accounted for, he noted.

For example, Zemba said Invenergy didn’t look for several species of conservation need including cottontail rabbits, some butterflies, moths, snakes and bats.

Attorneys working on behalf of the developer had their chance to cross-examine Zemba last week. Many questions focused on the Connecticut-based scientist’s lack of experience in the state, with Zemba noting that such a proposal would require far more significant environmental regulation elsewhere.

Burrillville Town Manager Michael Wood pointed to the holes Zemba noted in the company’s environmental study.

“This is just one more example of Invenergy’s shortcuts,” said Wood. “Their inadequate environmental study means there isn’t a full picture to draw a conclusion regarding impact. This is a pristine site, and Rhode Island has very few of these sites left throughout the state!”

A coalition of environmental organizations has come out in opposition to the proposed plant, including Save the Bay, the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, the Metacomet Land Trust and the Burrillville Conservation Commission. They say that if built, the plant would have wide-ranging and devastating consequences.

Conservationists note that the proposed power plant site is on a wildlife corridor pinch-point – a 26.6 square mile mature-canopy forest that stretches across three states and is part of the last contiguous forestland along the Eastern Seaboard.

Zemba gave a similar account in testimony last week, calling the site, “some of the most biologically diverse and valuable property in the entire state.”

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