Taking the Water Withdrawal Contract at its “Face Value”

The following post by Ruth Platner represents her opinion and has not yet been reviewed or endorsed by the CCA Steering Committee

At the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) hearing on November 27, board Chair Margaret Curran and board member Janet Coit voted against a motion for intervention filed by the Tribal Council of the Narragansett Indian Tribe.

The contract to sell water to Invenergy to cool the turbines of their proposed Northern Rhode Island power plant was signed by Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas and the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer John Brown. The members of a Narragansett Tribal Council had filed a motion with the EFSB to intervene.

In their resolution the Tribal Council wrote about the contract, that “such a resolution requires a special tribal meeting and a vote by the body. No tribal meeting or vote has occurred regarding a proposed agreement to sell tribal water to Invenergy.” The Tribal Council also could not get a copy of the contract without intervenor status as the EFSB has allowed Invenergy to keep most of the water withdrawal information, along with the contract, secret. Without seeing the contract they can’t know if the Tribe’s interest is served by the contract and how future generations may be impacted.

In denying the Tribal Council’s motion to intervene, the EFSB claimed approval of the motion would put the EFSB in the position of taking a side in internal tribal politics, instead they would just take the contract between Invenergy and “two members of the Tribe”, Matthew Thomas and John Brown, at its “face value”.

Since this November 27 EFSB hearing I have wondered what the EFSB meant by the “face value” of the contract. And what is that face value?

I can’t know what EFSB Chair Margaret Curran meant by face value as she didn’t explain her statement, but “face value” usually means the apparent value or significance.

To me, the value of the contract seems diminished by the internal power struggle of the tribe. None of us, including the EFSB, can know how this current struggle will be resolved. If it is resolved, and the new Tribal government is not happy with the contract, they will likely be looking for flaws in the contract.

A flaw in the contract was certainly introduced in the October 24 letter from Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas. Invenergy clearly believes the contract is for water from inside Charlestown as they have produced a map showing the wells would be developed on Tribal Land in the center of the approximately 900 acre Indian Cedar Swamp in Charlestown. Matt Thomas on the other hand appears to believe that Invenergy will make those water withdrawals from the Tribe’s Crandall Farm in Westerly.

Why the signers of the contract disagree on the meaning of the contract is impossible to know since the EFSB has allowed the contract to remain secret. But whatever the contract says, the October 24 letter from Matt Thomas seems to have put a very large hole in its “face value”.

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.
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