WARWICK — The location of the Narragansett Indian Tribe’s well for supplying water to Invenergy’s $1 billion proposed power plant in Burrillville came into question Monday at the Energy Facility Siting Board meeting, and the answer was a bit of a surprise.
At the meeting, contents of an Oct. 24 letter from Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas to the tribe were discussed. The letter indicated that the water would be taken from the tribe’s Crandall Minacommuck Farm, located at 130 Pound Road, Westerly, rather than the center of the Indian Cedar Swamp located on tribal land in Charlestown, as documents from Invenergy had indicated.
Producing the document was Shannah Kurland, who is the attorney representing the Tribal Council for the Narragansett Indian Tribe, a group within the tribe that has elected a separate council from Thomas’ and challenged his leadership. The tribal council filed a motion with the siting board for intervenor status in the Invenergy project because it said it did not agree to the removal of water from tribal lands. At the meeting, the siting board denied the council’s request for intervenor status, citing a lack of authority to intervene because of the split in leadership within the tribe.
In September, members of the tribe in Thomas’ group contracted with Invenergy to supply water, which would be transported by tanker trucks to Burrillville. The water would be used to cool the turbines of the company’s proposed Clear River Energy Center, a 900-megawatt, natural gas- and oil-fired power plant to be located on Wallum Lake Road in Burrillville. The project would require between 15,000 and 724,320 gallons of water per day, depending on whether it was running on gas or oil. The tribe’s site in Charlestown would tap into the southern portion of the Lower Wood Aquifer, located in the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed.
The siting board granted Charlestown intervenor status on Oct. 17 because Invenergy’s documents indicated the water would be drawn from the town’s sole-source aquifer. The town has very little public water infrastructure and relies almost entirely on private wells for drinking water.
In his letter, Thomas says the assumption that the water would be removed from the tribe’s Charlestown property is incorrect.
“I understand that when the water agreement received media attention, most people if not all immediately assumed that this initiative would take place on the Tribe’s reservation in Charlestown, R.I.,” he wrote. “This is incorrect although the Tribe should consider putting some wells on the trust property for future purposes like fire suppression and other infrastructure updates.”
Thomas said the purpose of putting the wells at Crandall Farm was to bring its infrastructure up to modern standards so that the tribe could use the property as a hemp farming operation. About two years ago, the tribe approved “the Hemp initiative,” and “the first task was to identify land for this endeavor,” he wrote.
Crandall Farm was identified as a logical choice for the project because of its favorable soil content and the location’s seclusion, which fit the legal requirements for a hemp farm, he said, however, the site lacked electric and water infrastructure and the tribe needed financial backing to get the work done.
Thomas wrote that he asked Narragansett Tribe Medicine Man John Brown about a year ago to “keep an eye out for a viable opportunity to get water at Crandall Farm.”
A few months ago, Brown indicated he was going to be involved with a project that involved water with a power company in Burrillville, Thomas said. The power company was willing to work with the tribe and would put in the water infrastructure at the farm with the understanding that the tribe would become a secondary water source for the power plant, Thomas wrote.
In addition, the company would pay the tribe a flat rate of $222,000 a year; if the company used the well, the tribe would charge the municipal rate for any water used, Thomas said.
Also on Monday, the siting board voted to approve a 90-day delay for the final hearing, which was scheduled to begin on Dec. 8, to allow for the collection of additional testimony.
The 90-day extension will help Charlestown, which filed an extension request Nov. 20 asking for more time to submit pretrial testimony. Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero said Invenergy was slow in supplying the company’s Water Supply Plan Supplement, dated Sept. 28, which was needed for expert analysis on the potential impact of the project on the town.
If the water is to be drawn from Westerly rather than Charlestown, it is possible Charlestown’s intervenor status could come into question.
The siting board has scheduled a hearing in Charlestown on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Charlestown Elementary School, which will still be held as planned.