Town ‘blindsided’ by tribal deal; Water agreement for power plant on Charlestown agenda

Town ‘blindsided’ by tribal deal; Water agreement for power plant on Charlestown agenda

Record-Journal
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CHARLESTOWN — News of the Narragansett Indian Tribe’s agreement to supply backup water for the proposed Invenergy power plant in Burrillville blindsided Town Council members, and they’re hoping to get some answers after putting the matter on their agenda tonight.

“We haven’t been notified, we’ve had no calls from the state agencies, and no calls from the tribe,” council President Virginia Lee said Friday. “We have no information so we’re going to discuss with our lawyers how to go about getting the documents we haven’t been provided and how to get the data.”

The tribe’s water supply agreement with Invenergy for its proposed 900-megawatt Clear River Energy Center was announced Sept. 28. The $1 billion natural gas-fired power plant would require about 15,000 gallons of water per day, which will be supplied primarily by the Town of Johnston through an agreement that will net $18 million for the town over a 20-year period.

If the plant requires additional water resources, the agreement allows the Narragansett Tribe to serve as a supplemental supplier. State regulators required the project to have contracts in place with backup water suppliers. Whether the power plant uses water from tribal wells or not, the tribe will receive annual payments from Invenergy. The amounts have not been disclosed.

The Clear River Energy Center secured a commitment from the tribe to supply water from wells located on tribal land, according to a supplemental water-supply assessment prepared for Invenergy by the ESS Group, of East Providence, an environmental engineering firm. The wells obtain water from the southern portion of the Lower Wood Aquifer, located in the Pawcatuck River watershed. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the aquifer has the potential to yield more than 6 million gallons per day, according to Invenergy.

“They’re planning to take a lot of water and it’s the sole source aquifer for this whole region including public water supplies in Westerly and South Kingstown and Narragansett,” said Lee. “It affects a lot of towns potentially, but we don’t know, we don’t have any information, we haven’t seen the contract, we know absolutely nothing other than what’s been in the papers.”

Lee compared the lack of transparency to the Federal Railroad Administration’s proposed bypass, which took the town by surprise in December.

“We know nothing, we have no documents, we’ve had no notification — it’s just like the FRA all over again,” she said. “Once again we’ve just been blindsided by this gigantic thing; it’s been a scramble since we read about it last Friday to find out what’s going on and how does it affect us.”

The town’s legal counsel received a redacted report from the state Energy Facility Siting Board, which did not include the contract between Invenergy and the tribe, Lee said.

Lee also said she believed the siting board was required to hold a public hearing in any affected town connected with the Burrillville project.

Other towns that rely on the aquifer will also be affected because once the water is taken out, it won’t be replenished, she said.

“If they’re now tapping the Wood Pawcatuck aquifer, that affects Westerly, Hopkinton, Richmond, South Kingstown, us — that’s big, that affects many towns’ potential water supplies,” she said. “This takes the water out of the basin forever and it doesn’t recharge and that’s the difference.”

If backup water is required from the tribe, it would be trucked by Benn Water & Heavy Transport Corp. of Ashaway. The energy company has characterized the proposed plant’s water requirements as relatively small: two to three truck deliveries per day — “far less deliveries than your average grocery store.”

Lee encouraged residents to attend the Energy Facility Siting Board public hearing on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Burrillville High School, 425 East Ave, Harrisville, scheduled on the same night as the Town Council meeting.

Dinalyn Spears, natural resource planner for the Narragansett Indian Tribe, could not be reached for comment on Friday.

chewitt@thewesterlysun.com


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