SOMERSET — For nearly six hours last Wednesday afternoon, a 32-foot former lobster boat, flying an American flag and carrying a sign on its cabin that declared “#coal is stupid,” stood at anchor alongside the pier at Brayton Point Energy Terminal, and won a stare-down with a 688 foot cargo vessel over 20 times its size, the Energy Enterprise.
The action may have been a preview of protests being planned against the power plant by New England activists on July 27 and July 28.
Skippering the little boat, named the Henry David T (for Thoreau) were two environmental activists — Ken Ward, 57, from the Boston area, and Jay O’Hara, 31, from Cape Cod.
Their goal — it was a protest — was to prevent the offloading of the larger vessel’s estimated 40,000 tons of coal to the power plant, and for one afternoon they succeeded.
Until the lobster boat pulled anchor — a task that proved way more difficult than anyone imagined — the behemoth vessel was unable to dock at its designated berth, and remained instead tethered at the far end of the pier.
The Energy Enterprise only delivers coal from Hampton Roads, Virginia, said Marla Marcum, a member of the shore-side support team for the protesters, and on Wednesday it was filled with the stuff, originating from West Virginia — which “most likely means it’s mountain top removal coal,” she said.
“The goal of this action is to block delivery of coal to the Brayton Point Power Station,” said Ms. Marcum. “At this point in time we think burning coal is stupid.”
Ms. Marcum was speaking in the early afternoon to an assemblage of press and residents from the neighborhood adjacent to the plant that had gathered at the end of a street right-of-way at shore’s edge, to watch the drama on the water a few hundred yards away.
The action, and consequences
Earlier Wednesday, the lobster boat had taken up its position at the pier and dropped anchor about 9:30 a.m., Ms. Marcum said. The Energy Enterprise had passed under the Mt. Hope Bridge about 11 a.m..
A little before then, at 10:50 a.m., said Coast Guard Petty Officer Robert Simpson, “the Coast Guard received a report from the energy company saying that the Henry David T. was anchored at the terminal, “and that the Energy Enterprise would be unable to moor up.”
The Coast Guard then deployed four vessels to deal with the problem, said Officer Simpson — two 45-foot response boats, one 25-foot response boat, and one aid-to-navigation team from Bristol in a 49-foot vessel.
That’s when complications set in. Officer Simpson said that the two men on the lobster boat were unable to lift anchor. “The anchor was just too heavy,” he said. It was a hand-hauled anchor, not winch or machine operated.
A Coast Guard crew “went on board and they couldn’t haul it up either,” Officer Simpson said. So the Boston Police Department was asked to send down a dive crew, which they did. They couldn’t lift the anchor either, he said.
Finally, a commercial salvage boat and crew from Fall River was called out, Officer Simpson said, and they yanked the anchor up with a crane. By that time it was about 5:30-6 p.m.
The Energy Enterprise moved to its berth about 6:30-6:45, Officer Simpson said, and started offloading Thursday morning.
Mr. Ward and Mr. O’Hara reported on their liveblog (http://www.coalisstupid.org) that the only penalty they have received from the Coast Guard “was an official warning from the Coast Guard for failing to have a fog horn on board.”
Somerset Police Department Captain Stephen Moniz and Lieutenant Armand Cabral both confirm that Mr. Ward and Mr. O’Hara will face charges of disturbing the peace and disorderly conduct, and that the department is investigating with environmental police the possibility of additional charges.
Meanwhile, Brayton Point power plant neighbors complain about the impact of the plant’s operations on their homes and health. On resident in his ’70’s, who declined to give his name, said he has cancer, his wife has cancer, and so did eight others on his street alone (naming them). “We call it cancer alley,” he said of his street.
He said he has tax abatements due to the damage from plant emissions to his home, is low income, and is afraid police will cite him for traffic offenses if he speaks out publicly.
“We get coal dust whenever there’s a south wind and it’s always a south wind here.” he said.”They should shut that place down. It’s really a money thing. They don’t give a damn.”
Hearing these complaints on Wednesday, Ms. Marcum, who said she was seminary trained and is the Christian Education Director of the United Methodist Church in Lexington, said “people here deserve a just transition. What are the people going to do? You can’t scrub the CO2 out of the plant.”
Dominion, the current corporate owner of the Brayton Point plant, at its website (https://www.dom.com/about/stations/fossil/brayton-point-power-station.jsp) says it has spent $1.1 billion in environmental improvements to its plant operations since 2005, about half of it ($570 million) to reduce the amount of cooling water the plant uses and discharges into the bay. It says it has signed a purchase and sale agreement for the sale of the plant to a private equity firm, which will be signed before the end of the second quarter of 2013.
The company is reportedly the largest employer in Somerset and is the largest single tax contributor to the town’s tax base.
What’s next — the July action
A statement Wednesday from Mr. Ward and Mr. O’Hara said, “Atmospheric carbon hit 400 ppm last Friday, May 13, 2013, at Manua Loa and global carbon emissions last year were nearly two-thirds above 1990. We are on track to achieve a temperature increase of 6°C / 11.8°F by 2100, at least, and on a steep upward trajectory thereafter. There is no question that without abrupt political change, a second flood of biblical proportions will erase the conditions in which life remotely like that we know now is made possible.”
They said, “Brayton Point should be shut down immediately – and by ‘immediately,’ we mean today –– for more than one reason. First, every day of additional emissions is a terrible, immoral imposition on our children and, in ways we do not fully understand, on the other living things of God’s creation. Second, we do not need this power plant.”
Ms. Marcum and the two men on the lobster boat are affiliated with the activist organization #Coal Is Stupid (www.coalisstupid.org), and with the national organization 350.org (www.350.org) and its state counterpart, 350 Massachusetts.
“We’re calling for people to demand an energy transition from coal and fossil fuels and deadly energy to other renewable energy solutions,” Ms. Marcum said. “Coal is killing people,” she said, “coal is the worst offender.”
350.Org and 350 Massachusetts, as part of a coordinated effort at eight locations nation-wide, have launched a protest action for July 27 and July 28 called Summer Heat (www.joinsummerheat.org ), which will focus locally on the Brayton Point power plant. “Over one thousand citizens will come together for a mobilization at the Brayton Point Coal Plant, the largest fossil fuel plant between Maryland and Maine,” the organizations say on their website.