Hundreds attend hearing on Invenergy's plan to withdraw water from Charlestown for proposed Burrillville power plant

Hundreds attend hearing on Invenergy's plan to withdraw water from Charlestown for proposed Burrillville power plant

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CHARLESTOWN — “No” was the message from the large crowd at the Energy Facility Siting Board’s hearing concerning Invenergy LLC’s proposed Clear River Power Plant Tuesday night.

About 300 people, many holding “no new power plant” signs, filled the auditorium at Charlestown Elementary School for the hearing, which focused on Invenergy’s agreement with members of the Narragansett Tribe to withdraw between 15,000 and 724,000 gallons of water per day from Indian Cedar Swamp to supplement the needs of the proposed 900-watt gas- and oil-burning power plant, to be sited on Wallum Lake Road in Burrillville. The proposed well would tap into the Lower Wood Aquifer and the water would be transported by tanker trucks to Burrillville. 

Charlestown was granted intervenor status on Oct. 17 because the water would be drawn from the town’s sole source aquifer. The town relies almost entirely on private wells for drinking water.

Citizens were given the opportunity to speak to the siting board, comprised of 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. Also present were Susan Forcier, attorney for the Department of Environmental Management; Patricia Lucarelli and Margaret Hogan, attorneys for the siting board; Kathy Mignanelli, board coordinator; and Gregg Perry, principal of The Perry Group, a public relations firm in Providence, who was hired by the board to act as facilitator. 

Before public comment began, John Niland, director of development for Invenergy, gave a 15-minute presentation about the proposed plant. He said that the planned commercial operation was split into two units: June 1, 2021 was the proposed start date for the first unit and June 1, 2022 was the target date for the second one. The plant would be among “the cleanest, most efficient natural gas projects in the country,” he said. 

Water supply would primarily be supplied from the town of Johnston, he said. Water from the Narragansett Tribal well would be a back-up, contingent supply, he said. On-site storage capacity would be 2.8 million gallons. Under normal circumstances, the plant would need approximately 15,840 gallons per day, or about two truck loads. In the summer, about 18,720 gallons per day would be needed, or about three truck loads, he said. “Water tank replenishment after infrequent oil-fired operations requires approximately 11 additional truck trips per day,” he said. 

The first speaker was Silvermoon Mars Larose, resident of Charlestown and member of Narragansett Tribe, who said the Tribe’s agreement with Invenergy was invalid because it had not been voted on by the tribe. 

Virginia Lee, president of the Charlestown Town Council, said the town heard about the project through a Providence Journal article two months ago and has not received full documentation of the project. 

“The plans are vague, ambiguous and keep changing,” she said. “It’s costly for the town to hire experts to analyze an incomplete proposal.” 

Mark Stankiewicz, town administrator, said it was impossible to adequately respond to the public about the project without complete documentation.

“We don’t know what roads will be used and we’ve had to scramble to get engineers and hydrologists, which the town hadn’t budgeted for,” he said. “It’s important to have transparency, there needs to be public confidence.” 

Thomas Gentz, former president of the Town Council, was also concerned about Invenergy’s lack of transparency and said the average citizen would be required to provide far more information for a septic system or well than Invenergy had provided. 

“Why is the applicant denying key data from the public, what do they have to hide? I could not install a septic system with this level of detail,” he said.

Gentz also said the “silliest” part of the project is that Burrillville is at the northern end of the state and Charlestown is at the southernmost end, 60 miles apart. 

“That’s a four-hour trip, a 120-mile roundtrip,” he said. With water leaking on the roads in the winter and turning to ice, the proposal was also dangerous, he said. 

As of 8:45 p.m., about 50 citizens had spoken against the project. The meeting was set to run until 10 p.m.

The siting board will hold another public hearing on the project in Burrillville tonight.


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