Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — There is little downtime between the recent public meeting and the final phase of hearings on Oct. 31, as procedural hearings scheduled for Oct. 17 will address a growing list of contentious developments.
Water is once again a controversial issue. Members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe are challenging an agreement made by a single tribal leader to sell water to the proposed Clear River Energy Center, from tribal land in Charlestown. Two tribal members testified at the Oct. 10 public hearing at the high school that a majority of the Narragansett Indian Tribe opposes the water deal and is determined to challenge it.
“Our water is not for sale, and we will fight this agreement and we will win,” said Silvermoon LaRose. “Do not count on water from the Narragansett Tribe to support this power plant.”
At its Oct. 10 meeting, the Charlestown Town Council also raised concerns about water withdrawal from the local watershed and other environmental risks. As a result, Charlestown petitioned the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) to serve as an intervener in the power-plant application process and therefore be allowed to hold a public hearing. The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the town of Burrillville sent letters to the EFSB supporting Charlestown’s efforts. The EFSB is expected to take up the request Oct. 17.
CLF attorney Jerry Elmer said delays are expected even if the EFSB doesn't grant Charlestown a hearing, as CLF will likely appeal an unfavorable opinion. The latest water imbroglio, Elmer said, makes Invenergy Thermal Development LLC appear to be “foundering around” in its effort to secure a water supply for cooling. Two water districts in Burrillville and the Woonsocket City Council have rejected selling water to Invenergy, while an agreement with the town of Johnston is being challenged by CLF and the town of Burrillville in state Superior Court.
“If — after all those failed attempts — Invenergy runs into additional problems when it announces a deal with the Narragansetts, that makes Invenergy look to the EFSB and to the whole world like it doesn’t have its act together,” Elmer said. “And it would be an incredibly embarrassing matter for Invenergy if the long-awaited final hearing does not actually start next Tuesday, as promised.”
At that the Oct. 17 hearing, Invenergy is expected to request that the resolutions from 33 cities and towns across Rhode Island and one each in Connecticut and Massachusetts opposing the power plant be treated as public comment instead of evidence. Evidence can be debated at the hearings that are scheduled to begin Oct. 31, while Items public comments get less scrutiny.
Burrillville’s attorney, Michael McElroy, wrote in a letter to the EFSB that the municipal resolutions are relevant to one of the three factors that the EFSB will use to judge the power-plant application: unacceptable harm to the environment.
“In these resolutions the municipalities expressly address the environmental effects that are squarely before the board,” McElroy said.
The 35 resolutions refer to harm to property, the environment and drinking water, and address safety measures. The municipalities specifically mention concerns about damage to the Blackstone River watershed and the Scituate Reservoir, as well as concerns about air pollution and the loss of wildlife habitat.
Invenergy also questioned the lack of an expert witness to answer questions about the resolutions. McElroy countered that Burrillville Town Council president Joseph Pacheco, who attended several of the city and town council meetings where resolutions were passed, will take questions during the evidentiary hearings.
Elmer called Invenergy’s decision to oppose the resolutions “foolish” and “ham-fisted.”
“What matters is that Invenergy has today gone out of its way to call public attention to the fact that nearly every municipality in the state is opposed to Invenergy’s fracked gas and diesel fuel power plant. This was unwise,” Elmer wrote in an Oct. 10 e-mail.
The Oct. 17 hearing and all others will be held at the EFSB office, 89 Jefferson Blvd. in Warwick. The hearing starts at 9:30 a.m.