City leaders blame rushed, ‘flawed process’ for rejection of water deal; Johnston jumps in

City leaders blame rushed, ‘flawed process’ for rejection of water deal; Johnston jumps in

Burrillville power plant would get water from Johnston

WOONSOCKET – In the end, say members of the Woonsocket City Council, they were excluded from negotiations with Invenergy, a snub that prompted them, at least in part, to turn down the water deal this week.

Councilors say they couldn’t even get their questions answered.

“We found out that Invenergy got back to the administration immediately and was negotiating with the administration behind closed doors,” said Councilor Richard Fagnant, noting that councilors waited for weeks to find out if the company had agreed to a list of proposed terms in mid-December.

“We had two weeks we could have spent ironing it out, but we were denied that,” Fagnant said of the agreement for the sale of water to cool plant generators.

The council rejected the proposal – which officials say would have provided some $18 million in new revenue for the city over 20 years – by a vote of 5-2, only to learn moments later that councilors in Johnston had actually approved a similar deal, and would be reaping the benefits of the power plant’s need of a water supplier.

Invenergy hopes to build a new 1,000 megawatt gas burning plant on Wallum Lake Road in Burrillville and was under deadline with the Energy Facility Siting Board – the governing state body – to identify a water source. Two other potential sources closer to the proposed location of Invenergy’s “Clean River Energy Center” – the Pascoag Utility District and the Harrisville Water and Fire District – rejected proposals by the company to secure the water.

Woonsocket officials had spent the last month working to negotiate an agreement, and had held a public hearing on the issue on Friday, Jan. 6. It was that same day that the Johnston Town Council quietly posted an agenda for a special meeting with plans to vote on their proposal, a deal that appears to have gone largely under the radar as opponents of the plant crowded Woonsocket.

Feedback at the Woonsocket public hearing had been mostly negative, with environmentalists and concerned residents from both the city and neighboring Burrillville urging councilors to deny the company.

“Those of us who have worked hard to preserve life quality for residents of the city hope you will say ‘no,’” said David Hainley of the Blackstone River Watershed Council.

“It just doesn’t feel right,” Philip Labrecque said of the agreement. “Is it really enough time? Did you really get all of the information or do you feel rushed?” Labrecque had mounted a failed attempt to secure a seat on the City Council in the November 2016 election, running with a slate that included several people who were ultimately elected to the board: Jon Brien, James Cournoyer, Denise Sierra and incumbent Councilor Daniel Gendron.

In rejecting the contract Tuesday, at least three of those councilors said they did, indeed, feel rushed.

“For me it’s not about the environment,” said Brien, now the council vice president. “I’m not opposed to fossil fuel. I believe that the process itself has been flawed.”

Brien said that in his work as an attorney, it can take months, or even years, to iron out the details of large-scale negotiations.

“This is not a race to the bottom,” Brien said. “Woonsocket shouldn’t jump every time shiny objects are shown in front of it. I would rather be known as a city of principle rather than desperation.”

Cournoyer said “I’m not interested in having my back against the wall and having to come to an agreement in the next day or so.”

“I feel like we’ve been being played with,” he added. “I’ve been left with an uneasy and uncomfortable feeling.”

As councilors laid out the reasons for their decisions inside a packed Harris Hall Tuesday, details of the board’s dealings with the company were revealed. Council members were originally looking at plans by Invenergy to build a 14-mile pipeline to carry water to the Burrillville plant, and said they were surprised when weeks later, an agreement to instead truck a lesser amount to the CREC were unveiled.

Although previous reports estimated that the plant would need an average of 102,000 gallons of water a day, with the amount spiking during winter months to some 925,000 gallons, new estimates put that amount at somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 gallons daily. The change, Invenergy officials said, was the result of a decision to build an onsite wastewater recycling system.

“If this technology has been around for several decades why was it not introduced earlier in the process,” said Fagnant of the changes. “I think this smells of desperation, which makes me even more certain that something is wrong here.”

Invenergy had proposed paying Woonsocket the prevailing rate for any water consumed along with purchasing a property in the city to build the filling station. Additionally, the company had offered to pay $200,000 per year in lieu of taxes for the next 20 years; pay an additional $500,000 per year, escalating at a rate of 3 percent per year, directly to Woonsocket’s General Fund “for taxpayer relief;” and contribute $200,000 per year for five years to either scholarships for the city’s vocational students or athletic fields for school-aged children. Water would be trucked out, they said, at a rate of two to three loads a day.

Just after Woonsocket’s vote Tuesday night, the company issued a statement to the press noting that Johnston had accepted the same terms. Company officials said they had been in talks with Johnston officials for the past month as well because the EFSB wanted them to identify a secondary source of water, in addition to their primary source.

“Invenergy is now prepared to become a new water customer of the town of Johnston and to extend to the town the same level of financial support – more than $18 million over the next 20 years – as we had offered Woonsocket,” it stated.

In Johnston, the deal reportedly passed unanimously with no public hearing.

Woonocket Councilors Christopher Beauchamp and Melissa Murray, the only two to vote in favor of the agreement, had expressed fears that the company would go elsewhere.

“I believe this plant is going through whether it gets water from Woonsocket or not,” Beauchamp said. “I believe this revenue is very important to the taxpayers of Woonsocket.”

Murray said, “We are not voting on whether or not we agree with the power plant, we are voting on whether or not to sell water. If this plant comes to fruition, and I believe that it will, they will get the benefit. I don’t want us to walk away and see Woonsocket get nothing.”

Meaghan Wims, an account supervisor with the company’s public relations group, said she could not tell The Breeze Wednesday morning who the company had found as a new “secondary source” of water, but said the information would be noted in Invenergy’s update to the EFSB - scheduled to be submitted that afternoon. Wims did tell The Breeze the source was not a municipality.

“While we are disappointed Woonsocket decided not to move ahead with us, we are pleased to have identified our water supplier,” Invenergy said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing the review process in this very important project.”

Comments

Opponents were against the process and the environment/health concerns.

I'm not here to argue, rather to get a clear black and white answer...

Is the power plant going to proceed and be built the same way it's planned on, except Woonsocket isn't the water supplier, thus losing out on $18million? Or is it slightly more complex than that?

Isn't this truly only a 'Win' for Woonsocket if the power plant isn't built altogether?

I will be completely sick to my stomach if this power plant is built in our neighboring community but we get nothing to show for it. I can assure you, if that's the case, then this will be a major, major talking point in two years during re-election time.

I was in favor of the city selling water and will be heartbroken if the plant proceeds and Woonsocket is literally left with nothing. At this point I'm not praying the power plant doesn't move forward....

Listening to the City Council Meeting on the radio it's clear that the council voted AGAINST what it perceived as a feather in the cap of the Baldelli-Hunt Administration instead of FOR the people of Woonsocket. So now the plant will be built and once again Woonsocket is left with nothing.

Woonsocket City Council members reject and +800K a year city contract (Nah, we don’t need it right, but we can certainly ridicule the mayor for spending money like drunken sailors?), only to have a proposed consumer of water services of the city to go elsewhere like Johnston with yes vote, and a willingness to give the customer what they want?

Classic Woonsocket City Council politics! Like the Trumpster says, “Bad Deal”. Hey Burrillville residents, Geee, go figure, all this resistance in Woonsocket and Johnston passes it with no problems.

Thanks for screwing us out of +800K a year! Like a good neighbor, Burrillville is there.....

I was one of the 70% that knows a good mayor when they see one! Too bad you're in the minority time after time huh? Oh well, how does it feel to be constantly wrong? Must be tough huh? Later there D51, as always, it's been enlightening reading your posts.....

How about we talk about these rumors that the new “Water Treatment Plant in the Clouds” will now cost in excess of 70 “Million”dollars, twice what the initial proposal was. And we reject a new water contract that would bring 800K per year into the city? Yup, good stuff. Sickening right?