Editorial: Area towns’ leaders need to make themselves part of tribe’s mystery water deal

Editorial: Area towns’ leaders need to make themselves part of tribe’s mystery water deal

News of the Narragansett Indian Tribe’s plans to enter into an agreement with developers of the proposed Invenergy power plant in Burrillville blindsided leaders in Charlestown when they learned of it as a “done deal” at the end of September.

The town learned about the tribal deal Sept. 28 and scheduled a discussion of the topic for its meeting last Tuesday. But there wasn’t much to discuss. Everything about this deal has been kept confidential.

While the tribe’s reservation is located on land in Charlestown, this isn’t a Charlestown issue or a tribal issue alone. This is a regional issue and towns from Westerly to Narragansett need to be aware of it and let the state’s Energy Facility Siting Board know they want to be involved. And if it involves Westerly it involves Pawcatuck, since the aquifer supplies Pawcatuck’s water through Westerly.

The tribe has agreed to sell water to the plant in the event a backup supply is needed. The proposed gas-fired plant already has a deal with the town of Johnston to supply up to 15,000 gallons of water per day to cool the plant. But that deal is being challenged in court by Burrillville, and state regulators required contracts with backup suppliers. The tribe apparently will gain revenue whether it supplies a drop or not.

Water from the tribe’s wells comes from the southern portion of the Lower Wood Aquifer, located in the Pawcatuck River watershed.

Charlestown Town Council President Virgina Lee is rightly concerned about the agreement and the lack of transparency about it. And concerned is a drastic understatement.

“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.”

The Sept. 28 agreement with the tribe is essentially confidential.

“The document is heavily redacted — it’s been redacted so heavily, there’s no document,” said Peter Ruggerio, the Charlestown town attorney. Every table with every fact is omitted from the document, he said.

A protective court order is keeping the document private.

With this agreement in place withe tribe, however, Charlestown may become an “affected community under the Energy Facility Siting Board’s regulations” Ruggerio said, and in that case the town would have standing and could potentially be included in a hearing on the deal.

That’s a start. But leaders from all area towns drawing water from the aquifer should push for the same status before the siting board. They certainly need to stay on top of this situation as it develops.


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