Last night representatives from Eversource, the Town of Hopkinton and residents met at Faith Community Church to discuss the Liquefied Natural Gas plant on Wilson Street. The Hopkinton LNG plant is the largest peak shaving facility east of the Mississippi river and serves more than 300,000 customers in the New England.
Built in the late 1960’s, the plant has come under scrutiny due to the age of the facility and questionable security protocols. Hopkinton residents, particularly the 2,000 that live in Legacy Farms, are increasingly concerned about the risk of an accident and the air quality in the surrounding area from plant emissions.
On May 9 residents appealed to the Select Board to schedule a public forum with Eversource to have their questions answered. Last night’s meeting was well attended: More than Hopkinton 75 residents, members of the Select Board, Town Manager Norman Khumalo, State Representative James Arena-DeRosa, Susan Nicholl (representing State Senator Karen Spilka), Fire Chief and Deputy Fire Chief Bill Miller and Gary Daugherty, and Police Chief Joseph Bennett were all present.
Prior to the meeting there was a tense round of negotiations between the parties on whether residents would be allowed to present. Representatives from Eversource, who scheduled the meeting, were reluctant to share the stage with Radhika Dixit, the designated spokesperson for Legacy Farms North residents. Dixit had prepared a lengthy and well-researched presentation outlining the history of the Hopkinton LNG facility and various risks associated with it. HopNews received a copy of the presentation and has posted it here for readers to review.
Dixit appealed to Select Board Chair Muriel Kramer who discussed the matter with Peter Bowman, the Community Relations specialist at Eversource. Ultimately Dixit did not present.
Following an opening statement from Jim Blackburn, Manager of LNG services at Eversource, a question & answer session ensued. Dixit took to the microphone and asked several pointed questions about the history of the plant and the air quality. She chided Eversource for their historical lack of transparency and emphasized that there are many children living in the shadow of this plant and that their parents are worried. Blackburn responded sympathetically, providing a lengthy answer addressing her concerns.
While we won’t provide a detailed transcript of the entire Q&A session, the essential message Eversource sent to the audience was “The plant is safe, there’s nothing to worry about, we’ve got this.”
On May 19, HopNews interviewed Blackburn and used last night’s forum to ask follow-up questions. Of great concern to residents is how well the facility would hold up in the event of an earthquake. Eversource conceded that they had never run the plant design through a seismic stress test simulation and had no plans to do so. They seemed genuinely confused about why they were being asked the question, given New England’s low level of seismic activity.
New England is not immune from earthquakes, however. The map below shows the location of earthquakes in New England between 1975 – 2017. Red stars indicate a magnitude greater than 5.0 on the Richter scale. The worst earthquake in recorded history occurred 30 miles east Cape Ann in 1755, with an estimated magnitude of 6.2. In Boston the Cape Ann earthquake damaged or destroyed about one third of the chimneys, bent a number of church steeples, and damaged several brick walls. Some streets in Boston were so covered with bricks that they were all but impassible.
Another issue many residents were concerned about is the air quality surrounding the plant. Eversource’ air quality permit expired in 2017, but Mass DEP regulations allow them to continue to operate provided they requested a renewal within six months (which they did) and continue to submit air quality analysis periodically. What was revealed, however, is that the air quality permit applies only to the emissions from certain equipment within the facility, not the overall air quality of the environment. No air quality analysis of the surrounding environment has ever been done, and the nearest monitoring station is in Southborough, several miles away.
HopNews pressed Eversource on why they continue to sue the Town of Hopkinton for tax abatement. “In testimony your own experts and consultants stated that the plant is worth less than the assessed value because of its age. Yet tonight you are saying that the plant is in perfect working condition and that its age is not a factor,” said HopNews editor Peter Thomas. “Why do you keep suing the town to avoid paying your fair share of taxes?”
Blackburn responded that Eversource is not attempting to “shirk its fair share of taxes” but that it is attempting to reduce its taxes so that it can reduce the amount its customers have to pay for their services.
Following the meeting, Dixit wrote: “I was glad that Eversource explained the heating elements and the foundation concerning the tanks, but I was not happy with their response about air quality and seismic tests. “Blackburn’s answer that there were “No cracks on tank B” was a clear lie. I was shocked to see how the town agreed to everything Eversource said and I was disappointed with the way the meeting was arranged.”
She also wrote directly to Select Board chair Kramer, other Select Board members and the town manager:
“Thank you so much for your support, Muriel, we sincerely appreciate it. But I wish the town management had made an effort to arrange a proper public forum instead of Eversource booking the hall, where we would have had an opportunity to present. We felt that the town doesn’t care about us at all. Also, Chief Miller’s response made us very uneasy. Overall, Eversource controlled the entire conversation, and they ran the show. We all know that the tanks are way beyond their capacity, and many tanks built in the 60s across the globe have been decommissioned. But Jim Blackburn mentioned that the tanks have only been used for 30% of their life; Eversource doesn’t want to pay tax to the town, but they want to keep using their old system. The town management has not pushed Eversource to do seismic analysis or air quality tests near the facility, and the town or DEP is also not doing it independently. Why is the fire department not pushing Roy McDowell to finish setting up the mitigation system, and why did the fire department not check the tanks in the recent drill? Only 4 of the lamps are now working. We wanted to ask all these questions with the slides but didn’t get enough chance as Jim and Eversource were going on and on about how best their system functions. It wasn’t an informative evening; we knew Eversource would go on without concrete data to support their statements.
We will all wait nervously for a disaster to occur, and we know that the federal agencies, town, and fire departments will take action only after that. But someone has to take responsibility, whether it is Eversource, Roy McDowell, or the town for approving this land for construction.
We sincerely thank you for sitting beside us and not with Eversource management; we are very thankful for your support.”
Watch the entire forum courtesy of our friends at HCAM-TV.