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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Charlestown demands seat at the table

By Steve Ahlquist in Rhode Island’s Future

Narragansett Tribe member Silvermoon LaRose, speaking against the
water deal between the tribal government and Invenergy (Photo by
Steve Ahlquist)
The Town of Charlestown has just filed to be an intervenor in the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) docket taking up Invenergy’s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at Burrillville

In his motion to intervene, Charlestown Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero notes that the water deal between the Narragansett Indian Tribe (NIT) and Invenergy concerns a “water supply for the area comprising Charlestown, including the NIT, is through a variety of private, public and quasi-municipal wells using a common aquifer, known as the Lower Wood River Aquifer, located within the Pawcatuck River Basin.”

Since the “various public documents available show a range of 15,000 gallons of water per day up to what the Supply Plan states at times ‘approximately 724,320 [gallons per day],’” Charlestown’s interest “is the potential of a material, adverse impact on Charlestown’s water supply as a consequence of the operation of the proposed Power Plant.”

Ruggerio notes that “The agreement between Invenergy and the NIT has been redacted from the public filing of the Supplement, so it is not possible to gauge the effect of the routine and winter demand on the water supply for the entire Town of Charlestown. All attempts to obtain an un-redacted version of the Supplement have been denied by the relevant parties.”

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer writes that “the Energy Facility Siting Act requires the EFSB to hold ‘at least one public hearing’ in every Town ‘affected’ by the proposed power plant in advance of its own EFSB hearing.”

Elmer further notes that under the law, “Invenergy… must notify the public of the public meeting at least 30 days in advance.”

Narragansett Tribal Council member Randy Noka who also spoke against
the deal that would give Invenergy access to local water.
 “As of now, the EFSB’s Final Hearing is scheduled to start six days from today, on Tuesday of next week, October 17,” said Elmer. 

“Both CLF and the Town of Burrillville have filed motions asking the EFSB to postpone the Final Hearing until Invenergy’s water issues are resolved, and the EFSB has denied those motions. 
But now the EFSB may be between a rock and a hard place. Charlestown is clearly ‘affected,’ and if the EFSB fails to hold a public hearing with 30 days advance notice in Charlestown and before the Final Hearing, that may be reversible error when Burrillville and/or CLF bring the inevitable appeal.”

As the Energy Facilities Siting Board held its final public hearing in Burrillville, the Charlestown Town Council was meeting and discussing the water deal between Narragansett Indian Tribe leadership and Invenergy.

It was at this meeting that it was decided that Ruggerio should file as an intervenor in the case.
At the EFSB hearing in Burrillville, Ruth Platner, chair of the Charlestown Rhode Island Planning Commission delivered comments against using Charlestown water to cool Invenergy’s turbines. 

“Charlestown has objected in the past to any transfer of water out of town or from one basin to another,” said Platner, “We have added language to our Comprehensive Plan that water withdrawn from our aquifers must be returned to the same watershed and not transferred out of Charlestown.”

Later at the same EFSB hearing Randy Noka, a tribal councilman and member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe said the the the tribe “did not endorse or sign off on an agreement to provide water to this power plant.”

Finally, Silvermoon LaRose, a member of the Narragansett Tribe who came to the meeting with other members to let the EFSB know that she and her fellow tribe members “do not support the agreement” and “it was made in violation of tribal constitution and bylaws.”

LaRose is working to undo the agreement within the tribe.

What does all this mean for opponents to Invenergy’s proposed power plant?

“To the extent that Invenergy can be shown publicly (and, specifically, to the EFSB members) to be floundering around that is a good thing,” says Jerry Elmer. 

“Invenergy originally told the EFSB that it would take water from the Pascoag Utility District, but that got shot down (thanks to the hard work of Burrillville folks). Invenergy tried to get water from Harrisville, but that failed. Invenergy tried to get water from Woonsocket, but that failed. Invenergy signed an actual contract with the Town of Johnston, but CLF and Burrillville sued both Invenergy and Johnston, saying that the contract is illegal; that lawsuit is still pending.

“If – after all those failed attempts – Invenergy runs into additional problems when it announces a deal with the Narragansetts, that makes Invenergy look to the EFSB and to the whole world like it doesn’t have its act together.

“And it would be an incredibly embarrassing matter for Invenergy if the long-awaited Final Hearing does not actually start next Tuesday, as promised. On the other hand, if the Final Hearing does start on Tuesday as promised, the EFSB may be committing reversible error that will delay the proceedings additional months (or more).”

Steve Ahlquist is an award-winning journalist, writer, artist and founding member of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism, courage and action. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member. and Twitter: @SteveAhlquist