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Protesters In New York, Connecticut, Concerned Over Border Plant

Jesse Steinmetz
New England News Collaborative
Protesters in Dover, New York, gather outside the Cricket Valley Energy Center, which is slated to open in 2020.

A new natural gas-fired power plant is slated to open in the Hudson Valley in 2020. The plant is only a few miles from the border with Connecticut, and from several schools. That has some residents in both states concerned.

The Kent School is a private school on the banks of the Housatonic River, about five miles from the 1,100 megawatt Cricket Valley Energy Center being built in Dover, New York.

Mike Benjamin was on the roof of the school earlier this summer, showing off an air quality monitoring device. “From this perspective it looks basically like a big box, but on the inside there are three different air pollution monitors, one for ozone, one for particulate matter, and one for nitrogen dioxide,” Benjamin said.

He is the founder of Western Connecticut Clean Air Action, a group formed last year in response to the plant’s construction. WCCAA helped get an air quality analyzer installed in Kent, as well as in seven other locations across northwest Connecticut.

“We feel this is a precious resource that needs protection,” Benjamin said.

Cricket Valley Energy Center was proposed in 2009, then approved by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, with construction starting in 2017. But, some residents of Connecticut have blamed the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for not notifying them soon enough. 

“This is one area where DEEP learned a valuable lesson,” said Paul Farrell, director of Air Planning at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

Credit Jesse Steinmetz / New England News Collaborative
New England News Collaborative
Mike Benjamin of Western Connecticut Clean Air Action atop the Kent School, in Kent, Connecticut, with an air quality analyzer, set up to monitor changes in air quality.

“We were provided notice of this proposed permit years ago and it went into this bureaucratic black hole, for lack of a better word,” Farrell said. “And we did not do as well of a job as we should have in getting the word out that we received this notification.

Farrell told Connecticut Public Radio that he hears residents’ concerns, and that’s why DEEP is working with towns to conduct the air quality testing.

“To say whether this one source with a couple hundred tons per year additional load is going to somehow trigger an avalanche of negative outcomes, it’s hard to say,” Farrell said. 

“We will continue to monitor air quality in Connecticut, we will continue to be vigilant. If we see anything in particular that causes us concern from this facility we are definitely prepared to explore that further.”

By the time the plant opens in 2020, there will be more than one year’s worth of data from these analyzers. 

Cricket Valley and other New York officials declined to comment for this story, but the plant does have supporters in the town of Dover, including Michael Tierney, the superintendent of Dover Union Free School District. For him, the plant means much-needed revenue for the financially-strapped schools.

“They did give us a gift of a half-a-million dollars to build and put in lights for the track and field,” Tierney said. “We also got a gift of $20,000 a year, every year, that we call discretionary funds, that the board can use for projects that have to deal with kids.”

Over the course of 33 years, Cricket Valley says it will pay more than $150 million to the town, reducing the tax burden to support the schools. 

And Superintendent Tierney’s not concerned about air quality being affected by the plant. Dover has a monitor at the high school that will gather data for a baseline level of pollutants before the plant gets up and running.

But protesters like Charles Davenport aren’t convinced by the generosity promised by plant operator Advanced Power AG, or claims regarding air quality.

“People say that they like kids, but then they build these things that are gonna poison them,” Davenport said.

Davenport, a founder of Stop Cricket Valley, has been protesting at least once a week outside the site since Spring of 2018.

“Bob Dylan said, ‘You don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,’” Davenport said.  “Don’t tell me you can put a major source of pollution right in the middle of a community and not hurt anybody.”

So, what happens if all the air quality analyzers from Dover to Kent and beyond track a significant decrease in air quality once the plant opens? That’s what WCCAA’s Mike Benjamin is watching.

“With enough data, we believe it would be possible to make a case if the air pollution levels change significantly in our region that that facility is, to some extent, implicated,” Benjamin said.

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