Preparing for the December 5 Hearing on Water Withdrawal from Charlestown

When: Tuesday, December 5 at 6 p.m. (doors open at 5 p.m.)
Where: Charlestown Elementary School, 363 Carolina Back Road (Rt. 112), Charlestown
What: The purpose of the hearing is to hear your public comment.
Who: This is entirely the Energy Facility Siting Board’s (EFSB) hearing. This is not a Town meeting and the Charlestown government has not been allowed to make a formal presentation. The applicant however gets an opportunity to present to the public and the hearing will begin with a presentation by the applicant Invenergy Thermal Development LLC.
Ideas for questions to ask the EFSB on Tuesday night are at the end of this post.

The siting board consists of three members: Margaret Curran, the chair of the public utilities commission, who also serves as chair of the EFSB; Janet Coit, the director of the department of environmental management (RIDEM); and Parag Agrawal, the director of RI Statewide Planning.

The Energy Facility Siting Act is the law that controls this process. That law gives the EFSB power to make all the decisions involved in the approval of the power plant. The siting board is the licensing and permitting authority for all licenses, permits, assents, or variances which, under any statute of the state or ordinance of any political subdivision of the state, would be required for siting, construction or alteration of a major energy facility in the state.” This law overrules local control. The Charlestown Town Council, Planning Commission, and Zoning Board don’t have jurisdiction over this process in the way they would over other development proposals.

The Energy Facility Siting Act requires that the EFSB base their decision on a finding that the applicant has shown that there will not be “unacceptable harm to the environment and [that the proposal] will enhance the socio-economic fabric of the state”.

In Charlestown we are limited to discussing the impacts of the water withdrawal, water transport from Charlestown to Burrillville, wetland impacts, water storage facilities, water transport facility, filling platforms, access roads, and any other associated development, as well as the proposed route in and out of town for tanker trucks. Of course none of that has yet been made available in the public documents.

The EFSB has delayed the start of the formal hearings for 90 days. These formal hearings are for lawyers to argue and experts to testify. The Charlestown Town Council took legal action to have Charlestown declared an affected community and that allows our Town Attorney and hired environmental experts a seat at the table in the formal hearings.

The hearing on Tuesday night is the only public hearing that the EFSB will schedule in Charlestown. It is unfair to expect us to refute secret information, but everyone should still do their best to raise their concerns and questions to the EFSB.

The EFSB will likely limit each speaker to three minutes. This has been their practice in Burrillville.

Here’s a starting list of questions to pose to the EFSB. Please feel free to use these or prepare other questions. Also feel free to add other questions you think need to be asked and that you would like to share in the comment section below.

  • What is the yearly (gallons per year) limit on water withdrawal for this proposal?
  • If there is no yearly cap on water withdrawal, how can we assess the impact of water withdrawal?
  • Where will the wells be located?
  • How many wells will be developed?
  • How many acres of wetland will be altered to construct and operate the water withdrawal?
  • Has Invenergy applied to RIDEM for a wetlands alteration permit?
  • What is the size in gallons of capacity and square feet of the water storage facilities that would be built in Charlestown?
  • What is the location of the water storage facilities?
  • What is the size of the water transport facility and tanker filling stations?
  • What is the location of the water transport facility and tanker filling stations?
  • Will an access road to the proposed well site(s) need to be constructed through the wetland?
  • What are the proposed route or routes that the tanker trucks will take to get in and out of Charlestown?
  • Do water tanker trucks leak water and will this pose any icing issue on roads in winter months?
  • How does the transport of pristine ground water from Charlestown, in the extreme southern end of Rhode Island where we are groundwater dependent, lack storage capacity, and water is not always available when and where needed, to Burrillville at the northern border of our state where water  supplies are generally adequate, conform with the State Guide Plan Rhode Island Water 2030?
  • How does a caravan of water tanker trucks linking Charlestown to Burrillville conform with the State Guide Plan Transportation 2035? Is this a necessary increase of annual vehicle miles of travel on Rhode Island roads? At a time when we are trying to reduce the amount of freight on roadways is this increase justified? Is the increase in vehicle emissions, fuel consumption, and traffic congestion from one extreme end of the state to the other justified? How does this increase in large truck traffic impact our local goals for transportation including bicycles and pedestrians?
  • Once we have real data on the number of truck trips, the load, and the route between Charlestown and Burrillville will the EFSB provide an estimate of the cost to the state and local taxpayers to subsidize this water transfer? This impact is cumulative and even at the lower water withdrawal volumes it is likely to be significant because of the long distance between Charlestown and Burrillville, the daily trips, and the many years of the project.
  • How does that same tanker truck caravan conform with the State Guide Plan for Economic Development called Rhode Island Rising, specifically the sections on tourism?
  • How does the transport of water from Charlestown to Burrillville conform with the State Guide Plan Land Use 2025? Both Charlestown and the forests of Burrillville are outside the Urban Services Boundary (USB). Creating a water supply in one town outside the USB and extending it across the state to another area outside the USB is in direct contradiction to the underlying principle of Land Use 2025.
  • In the pre-filed testimony of Scott Cummings of the Rhode Island Nature Conservancy, he references maps of low light pollution on page 20 and open space connectivity on page 24. In both figures, Charlestown makes up the southern portion of this important wildlife and conservation corridor. The forest fragmentation and wetland impacts that would take place in Charlestown to support the power plant with water will add to the cumulative damage to this irreplaceable corridor.
  • That same conservation corridor provides the path of the North South Trail, Rhode Island’s premier hiking trail. How does energy development at both ends of the North South Trail conform to the state recreation plans Ocean State Outdoors and A Greener Path: Greenspace and Greenways for Rhode Island’s Future?
  • The forested wetland where Invenergy proposes to develop a water supply was formerly a State Wildlife Management Area. How does development here to support a power plant conform to the forest and aquatic habitat protection goals of the Rhode Island Forest Resources Management Plan and Water Quality 2035?
  • The 2016 plan, The Rhode Island Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan, written by OER, DEM, RI Division of Planning, and DOT in compliance with the Resilient Rhode Island Act., describes the importance of preserving forest in the reduction of greenhouse gasses. It advocates “no net loss of forests.”  How is the concentration of environmental impacts from the power plant at both ends of this forested conservation corridor from Charlestown to Burrillville in compliance with the  Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Plan?
  • The signers of the contract to withdraw water from Narragansett land appear to disagree on where the water will be taken from. Invenergy has submitted a plan to withdraw from inside Charlestown and Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas claims the water is coming from Westerly. The contract has been kept secret from the public, but will the EFSB, who have access to the contract, analyze that contract to determine if it contains ambiguities about water withdrawal location?

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.
Visit Our Water Withdrawal Page For More On This Issue