Siting Board Member Resigns Before Final Hearings

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

 Parag Agrawal can remain on the board that is deciding the fate of the fossil-fuel power plant proposed for the woods of Burrillville, R.I. (ecoRI News)

Parag Agrawal can remain on the board that is deciding the fate of the fossil-fuel power plant proposed for the woods of Burrillville, R.I. (ecoRI News)

The departure of Parag Agrawal creates three options for the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) and the proposed Burrillvile, R.I., fossil-fuel power plant.

Agrawal replaced Kevin Flynn as the associate director of the Rhode Island Division of Statewide Planning on May 1, 2016. Agrawal previously served as planning director for the city of Bridgeport, Conn. He has not announced his next career move.

Agrawal served on the three-member EFSB with Margaret Curran, chairwoman of the Public Utilities Commission, and Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. He joined the deliberations about seven months after the application for the Clear River Energy Center was filed in October 2015.

According to state law, Agrawal can leave his job at the Division of Statewide Planning and remain on the EFSB until a decision is rendered, which isn't expected until this fall. He wouldn't serve for any appeals.

Also, his replacement at Statewide Planning could join deliberations for the proposed power plant as long as the person promised to have read all of the documents, which amounts to several thousand pages of legal filings, rulings, expert and public testimony, and meeting transcripts.

Once offered the position, Agrawal's replacement can start without delay as the position doesn't require approval from the state Senate.

Appointing a new member during a big case isn't uncommon in Rhode Island. In January 2011, a new commissioner was appointed to the Coastal Resources Management Council in the midst of deliberations for the controversial expansion of Champlin’s Marina on Block Island.

The third option is continuing the Clear River Energy Center application process with two members. Both Curran and Coit would have to vote in favor of the project for an approval. A tie defeats the application.

A decision is likely needed soon, as Agrawal’s last day at Statewide Planning is April 13. The final phase of hearings for the $1 billion Clear River Energy Center begins April 11.

In a statement, Agrawal said Rhode Island has “a unique and a comprehensive planning program.”

Prior to his joining Statewide Planning, the office was ridiculed by conservative groups for its RhodeMap RI land-use planning document. The plan was approved in 2014, but major elements haven't been adopted because of fears that they would be politically unpopular.

In his statement, Agrawal also suggested that the Division of Planning lacks influence.

“As we all know good land use and comprehensive planning practices are essential for state’s long term growth, development and environmental preservation,” Agrawal said. “I hope the State of Rhode Island will further strengthen the planning program at the state level.”