Charlestown council opposes Narragansett Tribe’s plan to sell water to energy plant in Burrillville

Charlestown council opposes Narragansett Tribe’s plan to sell water to energy plant in Burrillville

The Westerly Sun

CHARLESTOWN — The Town Council had many questions Tuesday about the Narragansett Indian Tribe’s contract to supply water for the Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville, but so did the town solicitors because all of the documentation supplied so far has been heavily redacted.

Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero said securing a water supply for cooling Invenergy’s proposed 900-watt power plant has been a stumbling block for the project for two years. The $1 billion natural gas-fired facility would require about 15,000 gallons of water per day, which was to be supplied primarily by the town of Johnston. But the town of Burrillville is suing Johnston over whether it has the legal right to sell its water, which it buys from the Providence Water Supply Board.

“In the meanwhile, knowing it was going to slow them down, the power plant secured alternative water supply, which was filed on Sept. 28,” said Ruggiero. “The document is heavily redacted — it’s been redacted so heavily, there’s no document.”

Every table with every fact is omitted from the document, Ruggiero said.

A protective court order is in place that excludes the document’s exposure, resulting in many unknowns remaining to be answered, he said.

It does appear that water will be extracted from the Narragansett Tribe’s land and trucked to the Burrillville plant, except the amount and frequency are unknown.

The process is still pending before the Energy Facility Siting Board, he said.

“You may now become an affected community under the Energy Facility Siting Board’s regulations and if that’s the case they may need to amend the proceeding that they’re in now and have a hearing in Charlestown, but only if we’re allowed to intervene,” Ruggiero said.

Joe Larissa, the town’s solicitor for Indian Affairs, said that if the town were deemed an affected community, it would be granted access to the documents even if they remained closed to the public.

An unredacted portion of the documents stated that the Narragansett Tribe’s land was sovereign, but Larissa said that was not true — the tribe’s land is under the jurisdiction of the state.

It could be legal for the Narragansetts to sell the water to Burrillville, because they have the same rights as private landowners, Larissa said.

“The question is, is there anything governing what the Narragansetts are proposing to do, and the problem is, we don’t know, we can’t know, because the document looked like this legal pad,” he said, holding up a pad of blank paper.

Also, if the plant requires only 15,000 gallons of water per day, or approximately four truck loads, that would have relatively minimal impact,” he said.

But, if the plant is using too much gas and is forced to switch to oil, it would require more than 700,000 gallons per day with an unknown duration, he said. “That’s 44 times the original amount of water.”

Based on the dearth of information, the council passed a resolution in opposition to the tribe’s agreement to supply water to Burrillville.

Town Council President Virginia Lee said the tribe could be jeopardizing the 12 communities that depend on the Wood-Pawcatuck aquifer by removing water from the watershed that won’t be regenerated locally.

The resolution will be sent to the tribe, the Energy Facility Siting Board, Invenergy and the town of Burrillville.


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