At Charlestown hearing on power plant, many voices, one sentiment: water plan’s a dud

At Charlestown hearing on power plant, many voices, one sentiment: water plan’s a dud

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CHARLESTOWN — Opposition to Invenergy Thermal LLC’s plan to use water from Narragansett Tribal land for a proposed power plant in Burrillville came from multiple angles Tuesday at a public hearing at Charlestown Elementary School.

Because the water would be withdrawn from the town’s sole source of water, the Lower Wood Aquifer, the town was granted limited intervenor status by the Energy Facility Siting Board, which hosted the hearing and whose board members are Janet Coit, director of the R.I. Department of Environmental Management; Margaret Curran, chairwoman of the Public Utilities Commission; and Parag Agrawal, associate director for planning for the State of Rhode Island.

It was the townspeople’s only chance to express their thoughts and concerns about the plan to use local water for Invenergy’s proposed 900-watt gas- and oil-burning power plant, which is proposed to be built on Wallum Lake Road in Burrillville. 

The Narragansett Tribe’s agreement comprised supplementing the plant’s water needs in amounts varying from 15,000 and 724,000 gallons per day, requiring less if the plant was burning gas and more if burning oil. The water would be trucked to Burrillville along local roads but the exact routes were not specified. 

A dot on a map

Rep. Blake Filippi ( R ), who represents Charlestown, Block Island, and portions of Westerly and South Kingstown, said he was concerned about the lack of information given to the public on the project and urged the board to fully disclose the details of the proposal before continuing the hearing. 

“The people in this town got a dot on a map and heavily redacted documents and are asked to comment publicly on [them],” he said. “We can’t intelligently discern what is going on with this project.”

He asked for specific details on the location of the well, the quantity of water required, the truck routes, and how the well would be powered. 

“I urge you to bang the gavel and adjourn this meeting and release the documents to the public; let all of us read them [and] know what’s going on, then come back here and listen to the people of this town intelligently respond and give you public comment. I feel ike this may be a waste of time.” 

Ruth Platner, chair of the Planning Commission in Charlestown, said Invenergy’s application is incomplete and should not be allowed to continue. 

“This application is before the siting board but if it were before the Planning Commission, our planner would stamp it incomplete and send it back to the applicant; the EFSB should do the same,” she said. 

Platner said the only data supplied on the proposal was a dot on a map, in a location she called “very problematic.” 

“It is at the center of the Indian Cedar Swamp, an approximately 900-acre pristine wetland, which is a Rhode Island Natural Heritage Area,” she said. 

Also, Invenergy has not supplied data on the impact of pumping water from the wetland, she said. 

“Shouldn’t the EFSB have that information before making a decision?” she asked. 

Lack of transparency

The lack of data was also of concern to Steve Williams, a town councilor in Charlestown, who said he had worked professionally on heavy-duty construction projects such as refineries and power plants. 

“My big concern is this is the first time I’ve ever heard of not requiring full disclosure from the operator during the review cycle,” he said. “I’ve never seen or heard of this before so I’m very disappointed with the state for allowing Invenergy to work in secrecy; to me this defeats the whole concept of a public utility when you work and operate this way.” 

Frances Topping, an alternate on the town Planning Commission, asked if cost-benefit analyses had been done on road use, loss of natural resources, effect on tourism, health and safety and long-term impact.

“It may have been done for the siting of the power plant but has it been done for the withdrawal of water from various localities?” she asked.  

Juliana Berry, town planner for the Town of Richmond, asked if an aquifer groundwater capacity study had been done since the region’s residents, businesses and agriculture have no other water source.  

“There exists no other reasonable water source to supply the designated service area,” she said. 

Question of tribal agreement

Silvermoon Mars Larose, a resident of Charlestown and member of the Narragansett Tribe, as well as Randy Noka, First Councilman of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, said the contract with Invenergy was invalid because it should have been voted on by the Tribe and was, instead, executed by Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas and Medicine Man John Brown. 

“The agreement is not a legal agreement between the Tribe and Invenergy; that type of action requires a tribal-wide vote,” Noka said. “That agreement is not legal under Tribal processes and procedures; if the tribe were to vote on it, it would be a tribal decision.” 

Climate questions

Ron Meneo, a Charlestown resident who said he was a spokesperson for Dunn’s Corner Fire District, commented that the area already had a water shortage, which could affect safety of homes from fire. He also said removing water from South County was “nonsensical” because the municipalities in the region had been encouraged to apply for state grant money with the R.I. Water Resources Board to search for other sources of water “because we don’t have adequate supplies at our disposal.” 

“Yet what we’re hearing tonight is that Invenergy, and perhaps with the blessing of this board, wants to come here and take our precious water that we certainly need more of and are trying to plan to have adequate supplies in the future.” 

Peter Mahony, Charlestown resident, said water shortages were already happening in the summer months when the population swells because of tourism.

“South Kingstown declares water shortages in the summertime and requires alternate day water usages for things like lawn-watering,” he said.

Bonnita Van Slyke, town councilor, said the predicted sea level rise and warming temperatures will affect the town’s drinking water supplies, which will impact the local economy. 

“Charlestown will wake up long before [the year] 2050 with salt water intrusion in our wells and septic systems, which will be less effective or will have failed, causing additional issues with drinking water quality,” she said. “As a result, Charlestown and other communities will need water from the Wood Pawcatuck watershed during the life of this power plant.” 

The future

Karen Jarrett, president of the Charlestown Land Trust, said state will not meet its goal in lowering its carbon emission reduction if the Invenergy plant is built. 

“We all need electricity but we need alternatives to burning fossil fuels; we should be in the forefront of change, following the goals of our own statewide plan,” she said. “As citizens we should be kept apprised of the projects of this magnitude because they will affect us long into our future.”

The siting board will hold the project’s final hearing beginning in April. The final hearing was delayed for three months because the plant’s second operational unit was disqualified from an upcoming electricity auction.


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