Planning Commission Chair Ruth Platner’s Testimony at Burrillville Power Plant Hearing

Testimony submitted to the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board at their public hearing on Tuesday, October 10, 2017 at the Burrillville High School Auditorium, 425 East Avenue, Harrisville, Rhode Island by Ruth Platner, Chair, Charlestown Rhode Island Planning Commission.

The Energy Facilities Siting Board should not allow the developers of the Invenergy power plant to use an agreement to withdraw groundwater from within the Town of Charlestown to satisfy any requirement for a backup water supply because of insufficient notice to the Town of Charlestown, insufficient information provided to the Town, and a need for the Siting Board to seek additional legal advice.

Insufficient Notice

Narragansett Settlement Land and other parcels owned by the Narragansett are entirely within the municipal boundaries of the Town of Charlestown.

On the date Invenergy signed a contract with the Narragansett government to supply water to Invenergy’s power plant, the Town of Charlestown became an affected town.

Despite being affected, Charlestown has not yet received any notice from Invenergy or from the Siting Board that they have an interest in these proceedings.

The first opportunity for all the members of the Charlestown Town Council to learn the details of this proposal, receive legal advice, and discuss this issue with each other is tonight at their Town Council meeting where the issue of Invenergy’s plan to use water from Charlestown is on their agenda for discussion and possible action.

The short time frame between news of this issue and tonight’s meeting, have worked to exclude the Town of Charlestown from participating in any official way.

As an affected community, the Siting Board is required to hold a public hearing in Charlestown before you close your hearings and make a decision. Pursuant to R.I. Gen. Laws § 42-98-9.1(b), the Board is required to “have at least one public hearing in each town or city affected prior to holding its own hearings and prior to taking final action on the application.

When the Board holds that hearing in Charlestown you will learn in detail the importance of our aquifers, ground, and surface waters. Narragansett land in Charlestown is in both the Coastal Ponds watershed and in the watershed of the Pawcatuck River.

The Pawcatuck River is nominated by Congress as a Wild and Scenic River. The EPA has designated the river’s watershed a sole source aquifer, as it is the only source of drinking water for all private and public wells in Charlestown and all other towns in the watershed.

The Coastal Ponds are a Critical Resource Area, considered to have global significance, and are home to a National Wildlife Refuge.

Wherever water is withdrawn in Charlestown it has the potential to impact natural resources of national significance. These are resources important to wildlife, recreation, and Rhode Island’s tourism economy.

Charlestown has objected in the past to any transfer of water out of town or from one basin to another. We have added language to our Comprehensive Plan that water withdrawn from our aquifers must be returned to the same watershed and not transferred out of Charlestown. CRMC rules also do not allow the transfer of water out of a coastal pond’s watershed.

Charlestown, RIDEM, US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and others have spent millions of dollars to permanently protect thousands of acres of land in Charlestown. Much of the basis for that protection has been to protect ground and surface waters.

Water is very important in Charlestown. Before withdrawing water from Charlestown you need to hear from our Town Council, Planning and Conservation Commissions, CRMC, other federal, state and local organizations, the pubic, and certainly from the members of the Narragansett. But without notice and proper engagement all of those stakeholders have been excluded from this process.

Insufficient Information

The document that was prepared for Invenergy and is titled “Water Supply Plan: Supplement” is so heavily redacted that it is not possible to estimate the impacts of the water withdrawal or possible tanker truck traffic.

There are no maps and no data. It does not identify where the water will be withdrawn in Charlestown except that it is from Narragansett land. The route that the tanker trucks will take is redacted. We can’t know what roads might be impacted.

The agreement with the Narragansett government is missing in its entirety. It is impossible to know if there is any upper limit on the quantity of water to be withdrawn. Without knowing the maximum withdrawal, we can’t estimate the impact.

Legal Complexities

When Invenergy signed a contract with the Narragansett government, it brought a new legal dimension to this process. In reviewing that contract, and in dealing with all the issues that may be raised by Charlestown and by objecting members of the Narragansett, the Siting Board will need expert advice in American Indian Law, the Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act, and perhaps more.

Narragansett land will introduce jurisdictional questions, but the Siting Board remains fully under State law. Rhode Island has 39 cities and towns of which Charlestown is one. The Energy Facilities Siting Board has the same obligation to the residents and government of Charlestown that it does to any other town.

Video from

Ruth Platner

Ruth is the current Chair of the Charlestown Planning Commission and has been involved in land use issues in Charlestown for over 20 years.