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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Better late than never?

CCA weighs in on contract to allow local water to be used by fossil fuel plant developers
By Will Collette

Photo by Bob Plain, RI's Future on protest by tribal members
An October 6 e-mail by Charlestown Town Council President Virginia Lee  (read below) was forwarded to me. 

It included draft testimony (read below) that is to be presented tonight (October 10) to the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) by Charlestown’s redoubtable Planning Commissar Ruth Platner.

The testimony is against an apparent agreement between some leaders of the Narragansett Indian Tribe and Invenergy Thermal Development, developer of the controversial proposed Burrillville fossil fuel power plant, to serve as a back-up water source.

Invenergy must show it has access to adequate water sources to meet permitting requirements.

Burrillville and other northern RI municipalities declined to provide Invenergy that back-up water guarantee, except Johnston. Johnston wants to offer Invenergy Providence water from the Scituate Reservoir as the source, much to the dismay of everyone fighting the plant and in face of a challenge from Providence.

Since Johnston's water deal may not work out, Invenergy needed someone else to sign up as a back-up provider and that’s where the Narragansetts come in.

They have water rights on their land to draw from the aquifers from which we ALL draw our water. 

The Providence Journal was the first to go public on September 28 that the Tribal Government had done the deal and we covered it that night.

Then our colleague Tim Faulkner at EcoRI confirmed the deal and got Tribal Medicine Man John Brown to go on the record giving his reasons why the Tribe took an undisclosed amount of money from the company. In a nutshell: “What else would you have us do?”

Bill Plain, our colleague at Rhode Island’s Future, covered a protest against the water deal and spoke to prominent Narragansett leaders who characterize the deal as illegitimate. From the remarks recorded by Bob at the protest, it looks like the Tribe is about to undergo another round of internal struggle.

It’s taken more than a week since the first public reports for the normally quick-draw opposition to emerge from the Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party) who own every elected official in Charlestown.

Here is Virginia Lee’s e-mail:

From: Virginia Lee <>
Date: Fri, Oct 6, 2017 at 2:49 PM
Subject: Please speak out at the Energy Facilities Siting Board meeting Tuesday night 10/10.

To: Jean Gagnier <>, Frank Landolfi <>, Gary Wright <>, Paul Machaud <>, Dinalyn Spears <>

Cc: Derrik Kennedy <>, Ken Burke <>, Kathy Crawley <>, Karen Jarret <>, Julia Landstreet <>, Kelly Presley <>

The Narragansett Indian Tribe has evidently signed a contract with Invenergy to provide water to the power plant the company is proposing to build in Burrillville RI. We just heard about the water withdrawal in the press last Friday but have not seen any documents nor the contract and the public hearing is this Tuesday night, the same night as our Charlestown Town Council monthly meeting. The Town of Charlestown was not notified in advance, still has not been notified, yet the water is coming from wells in our town that may draw down the water table and potentially affect the sole source aquifer designated by EPA for all of our towns. The EFSB should now hold a public hearing in Charlestown, as an effected party; probably in your town too.

Have you been notified? Do you have any policy or regulation regarding inter-basin transfer of water?

Attached, FYI, is a rough draft of a statement that the head of our planning commission will be making. I urge you to attend.

Best regards,

The style and content of the draft statement (below) closely resemble other documents I have seen produced by Planning Commissar Platner. I can almost hear her fingernails-on-chalkboard delivery of the words as I read them.

The statement leads with the claim that the water in question belongs to the town of Charlestown, an assertion that may not gain agreement from the Narragansett Indian Tribe which views their land as sovereign tribal land. 

In no part of the Invenergy materials released to date is there any statement the water would be drawn from any location other than tribal lands.

Of course, that means the water will come from the underground aquifer that supplies all drinking water wells Charlestown residents use. 

The draft is also filled with pique over process and notification. In that respect, it resembles Charlestown’s early statements in opposition to the now-dead Amtrak plan to cut a new Old Saybrook to Kenyon Bypass through the northern part of Charlestown. Now as then, Charlestown claims to have been blind-sided though that is not quite the whole story.

In the case of the Bypass, to cover for the fact that Charlestown town officials weren’t paying attention to material sent to them, we blamed Amtrak for not giving us a hand-delivered copy of their plans on a golden pillow.

In this instance, we pay attorney Joe Larisa $25,000 a year to watch the Narragansett Tribe’s every movement but clearly he missed this one.

His latest bills to the town show he put in more time monitoring the Tribe’s internal conflicts than most other matters.

But if we want to get picky about process and notice, it seems odd that Virginia Lee waited to send her e-mail about the October 10 EFSB hearing until later afternoon, Friday October 6. 

I'd say that also is a pretty good example of inadequate notice.

Anyway, here’s the draft. After you have read it, let’s see what other ways we can make a stronger case for Charlestown.

Copy of the draft:

The Energy Facilities Siting Board should not allow the developers of the Invenergy power plant to use an agreement to withdraw groundwater from the Town of Charlestown to satisfy any requirement for a backup water supply.

Narragansett Tribal Settlement Land and some other parcels owned by the tribe are entirely within the municipal boundaries of the Town of Charlestown.

On the date Invenergy Thermal Development signed a contract with the government of the Narragansett Tribe to supply water to Invenergy’s power plant, the Town of Charlestown became an affected town.

Despite being an affected town, Charlestown has not yet received any notice from Invenergy or from the Energy Facilities Siting Board that they have an interest in these proceedings. In fact the timing of the knowledge of the potential water withdrawal and the date of this hearing have worked to exclude the Town of Charlestown from participating in any official way.

Individual members of the community and town government first had an opportunity to learn a little about this when news media reported the agreement to withdraw water from Charlestown on September 29.

Rhode Island’s Open Meetings Act does not allow Town Council members to talk to each other outside of advertised public meetings. The first opportunity for all the members of the Charlestown Town Council to learn the details of this proposal, receive legal advice, and discuss this issue with each other is tonight at their Town Council meeting where the issue of Invenergy’s plan to use water from Charlestown is on their agenda for discussion and vote and possible action.

Their first opportunity for a Town Council discussion is tonight, your meeting is tonight, the extremely short time frame between awareness of this issue and tonight’s meeting has made their participation here impossible.

There has never been any formal notice to Charlestown by the Siting Board that we are a stake-holder in these proceedings. As an affected community the Siting Board is required not just to notice us, but to hold a public hearing in Charlestown before you close your hearings and make a decision. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-98-9.1(b), the Board is required to “have at least one public hearing in each town or city affected prior to holding its own hearings and prior to taking final action on the application.

When the Energy Facilities Siting Board holds that hearing in Charlestown you will learn in detail the importance of our aquifers, ground, and surface waters. Tribal land in Charlestown is in both the Coastal Ponds watershed and in the watershed of the Pawcatuck River. The Pawcatuck River is nominated by Congress as Wild and Scenic River and the Coastal Ponds are considered to have global significance and are home to a National Wildlife Refuge. Wherever this water is withdrawn in Charlestown it has the potential to impact natural resources of national significance. These are resources important to wildlife, recreation, and Rhode Island’s tourism economy.

Charlestown does not have a public water system. All residents and businesses get their water from private wells that depend on the high quality and quantity of groundwater. In Charlestown, water withdrawn from the ground is returned to the same basin. Charlestown has objected in the past to any transfer of water out of town or from one basin to another. CRMC rules do not allow the transfer of water from one coastal pond’s watershed to another. Charlestown, RIDEM, US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and others have spent millions of dollars to permanently protect thousands of acres of land in Charlestown. Much of the basis for that protection has been to protect ground and surface waters.

Water is very important in Charlestown. Before withdrawing water from Charlestown you need to hear from our Town Council, from our legal council [SIC – it’s “counsel”], from our Planning Commission, from our Conservation Commission, from CRMC, from US Fish and Wildlife Service, from large landowners like The Nature Conservancy, from the Charlestown land trust, and certainly from the members of the Narragansett. But without notice and proper engagement all of those stake holders have been excluded from this process.

I agree it is important to detail Charlestown’s complex environment and the central role of groundwater in our town. However, these points can and probably will be easily rebutted by noting the deal only calls for a transfer of around 15,000 gallons per day on an as needed basis.

That’s not enough to put much of dent in local water supplies, except perhaps very near the well that might be used. 

Every summer, Cathy and I deal with what we call the Burlingame Effect where our well water has more sediment than the rest of the year. We blame water draw from the campgrounds a short distance north of us for a recurring phenomenon that coincides with camping season. It costs us an extra water sediment filter.

Though this plan to draw water shared by all of us in Charlestown could be our “ticket of admission” to official standing in the fight against the Burrillville power plant, I hope we also voice our strong opposition to the plant itself for what it is.

The Invenergy project takes Rhode Island in the wrong direction. We need to stop relying on fossil fuel and switch to green energy. It is our best, perhaps only, hope to slow down climate change. Blocking Invenergy is part of that process.

Charlestown is far more threatened by loss of land and water from climate-change driven sea level rise and from more frequent and intense storms than we are from the draw of 15,000 gallons of groundwater.

We need to stop the Invenergy plant itself, not just because of those 15,000 gallons, but because of more profound Big Picture problems.

This is not some radical fringe, lefty-pinko position. In fact, the Town Council adopted a resolution on December 12, 2016 to oppose the Invenergy power plant proposal.


WHEREAS, on October 29, 2015 Invenergy Thermal Development LLC filed an application to Construct the Clear River Energy Center Power Plant in Burrillville, RI with the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB); and

WHEREAS, in the months since the filing of that application, the Town of Burrillville has conducted extensive study of the application with and through credentialed professionals, including studies of noise, water, traffic and air quality, among others; and

WHEREAS, after considering expert testimony and conducting thorough public hearing the Burrillville Planning Board and Zoning Board of Review have advised the EFSB that Burrillville, RI is not a suitable site for the Clear River Energy Center; and

WHEREAS, the Burrillville Building Inspector and Burrillville Tax Assessor, have also submitted advisory opinions to the EFSB expressing the impact the proposed Clear River Energy Center would have on the Town of Burrillville; and

WHEREAS, during the past eleven months, many citizens of the Rhode Island, as well as our neighboring communities in Massachusetts and Connecticut, have expressed clear opposition to the siting of the Clear River Energy Center for reasons including the impacts on property, environment, water and traffic; and

WHEREAS, the Charlestown Town Council joins with the citizens and officials of the Town of Burrillville as well as residents throughout the State of Rhode expressing concerns and objections to the siting of the Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville, RI.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that we, the Town Council of the Town of Charlestown, RI, do hereby oppose the siting of the Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville, RI.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this resolution of the Town Council of the Town of Charlestown, RI, be submitted to the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board for consideration during their hearings on Invenergy Thermal Development LLC’s application to construct the Clear River Energy Center power plant in Burrillville, RI.

By resolution of the Charlestown Town Council
At a meeting duly held on December 12, 2016.

If it was my statement to give, I would lead with the town’s complete opposition to the power plant and to any deal by anybody that enables that project to proceed. 

The commitment of our water, in any amount, to this project should give us official standing in the proceedings, but it is our very existence as a coastal community that is at stake unless we draw the line against further fossil fuel development.

That's the Big Picture and I believe that is why we must fight.