The Johnston Water Deal Stinks! -It’s not just what they did, but how they did it.

Why is everyone so concerned about the Johnston sale of water to Invenergy? (AKA: The Johnston water sale to Invenergy stinks.)

Hint: It’s not only what they did, but also how they did it.

Last week, Invenergy was up against the ropes with no water source for their proposed Burrillville Power Plant in time for their deadline to respond to the Energy Facility Siting Board. In an open, transparent process, Woonsocket voted not to supply Invenergy with water. On the same night, Johnston, through a much less transparent and open “process”, voted to supply Invenergy water.  Water they don’t own. Water they will be getting through their agreement with Providence Water Supply Board for an unlimited supply of water.

Note: Tonight the Mayor of Johnston will be on the Dan York @ 7:30 PM to explain his deal.  We thought it would be nice for everyone to have the full story ahead of that broadcast.

Why are people so concerned about Johnston selling water?

People are concerned about using large amounts of Rhode Island’s drinking water for a fossil fuel power plant. A plant which has been now opposed by thousands of citizens, 20 cities and towns, every major Environmental Advocacy group in Rhode Island (including Audubon Society of Rhode Island, Save The Bay, and The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club of RI), as well as the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, the John H. Chaffee Blackstone Heritage Corridor, and the Blackstone Valley Watershed.

  • Over 60% of Rhode Islander’s get their water from the Scituate Reservoir. As a wholesale customer of Providence Water, Johnston is in fact selling water they get from Providence Water Supply and the Scituate Reservoir.  The following 13 towns all get their water from Providence Water Supply Board and will be affected; Barrington, Bristol, Coventry, Cranston, E. Greenwich, E. Providence, Johnston, Lincoln, No. Providence, Smithfield, Warren, Warwick, West Greenwich, West Warwick.
  • Much of New England has been in an extreme drought this year with water restrictions, wells going dry, and many reservoirs at their lowest levels. There is an unprecedented level of focus and concern on conserving our important water resources.  The latest design of the plant uses less water but now is not the time to be selling our drinking water for power plants.
  • The two water entities in the town of Burrillville (Pascoag Utility District and Harrisville Fire District) were the first sources approached and had extended time to review Invenergy’s proposal. They both declined to sell Invenergy Water. In addition to PUD’s concerns about the MTBE well, they both had similar concerns about water availability and the large amounts of water projected to be used.
  • Then there is Woonsocket, who also voted NOT sell them water. Woonsocket didn’t just “miss the boat” or suffer from a lack of communication as some suggested. They did not make the deal for good reasons. The reasons are outlined here by one of their council members directly and should not be taken lightly.
  • Providence Mayor Elorza also proactively said he was against using Providence Water Supply Resources and would direct the Board, if asked, not to provide their drinking water supply to Invenergy. Then, Johnston essentially turned on the spigot to Providence Water.
  • Contrary to what some have indicated, the plant is not a “done deal” and was not going to happen “with or without Johnston water.” Securing water resources was a major issue for Invenergy.  This is evidenced by the fact that their first three options fell through, Providence proactively signaled they would not sell water, and Johnston who was approached late in the game as a backup source had to be moved to a primary source.
  • In the end, in addition to using millions of gallons of water a year, this latest plan does not involve a pipeline but rather hundreds of 18-Wheeler tanker trucks a year thundering down our streets. The route is up Rt. 295, up Rt. 44 through congested Greenville and charming Chepachet, and then along the small country roads of Rt. 100 to the plant. Note: No less than 3 elementary schools are located directly on the route.

Why are people so concerned about how Johnston did it?

The deal smacks of old school Rhode Island back room deals.

  • No Public Hearing was held about the decision to sell water or on the details of the PILOT/Tax agreement.
  • Even though the discussions between Johnston and Invenergy were being held since late December the meeting was posted with bare minimum notice and ONLY on the RI Secretary of State Website. It was NOT posted on the Johnston website or in any local papers.
  • Once alerted to the scheduled meeting Johnston residents attempted to contact the officials the day of the meeting to obtain information and were unable to. Based on the calls and inquiries that began that day, Johnston officials should have been well aware that there was a large amount of interest and had ample time to move the meeting to a more suitable location.
  • Residents of Johnston and other Rhode Island citizens arrived early to find the meeting room was already packed, primarily with union members. Johnston residents were not able to get into the meeting.
  • As more and more people gathered and were unable to get in, requests to move the meeting to a larger venue were ignored. In the end, about 100 people were not able to get in. Many were stuck outside in the rain waiting to find out if they would move the meeting.
  • In the end, the cheers and chants from the those inside told everyone stuck outside all they needed to hear, Johnston had just sold Rhode Island’s water to Invenergy.
  • According to multiple reports (and video footage), those stuck outside of the meeting pleading with officials to be able to get in, for the meeting to be moved, and for them not sell the water, were subjected to chants, insults, and sexual references.
  • There have now been no less than 10 Open Meeting Violations filed with the State Attorney General’s office and the ACLU is bringing forth a lawsuit against the City of Johnston.  The issue also generated numerous letters to the media including the Providence Journal, Johnston Sunrise, RI Future, and ECORI all linked below.
  • Juxtapose the Johnston situation against the Woonsocket situation. There was a public hearing.  Meetings were advertised everywhere including websites, radio, and newspaper. The mayor and town council members went on talk radio multiple times to explain the deal and worked hard to get the best deal for their city while gathering resident input.  Details of the offer were then provided to the city ahead of time.

In the end it could not be clearer.  Woonsocket worked hard to get citizen input and the deal did not hold up in the light of day whereas Johnston did not. Johnston rushed through a backroom deal with strong labor support.  Time will tell if it was a good deal for Johnston, but it certainly doesn’t seem like good deal for Rhode Island.  It’s time to put people above profits and protect our resources from those who seek to exploit them for their own gain.

The only good news is that between the State Attorney General Open Meeting Investigations, pending lawsuits, and attempts to oppose Providence Water being supplied to Johnston for this purpose, Johnston may not end up having the final say after all.  The more eyes on this deal and way it happened the better it is for all of Rhode Island.

-Keep Rhode Island Beautiful-


Want to learn more? Visit these references.

Woonsocket Call Opinion peiece ‘The Call’s water editorial is all wet.” explaining the Woonsocket no vote.

RI Future Article, A tale of two cities: Democracy triumphed in Woonsocket, trumped in Johnston.

ECORI Piece, “The Art of the Deal: Power-Plant Water Agreement Nothing But a Rhode Island Con”

Johnston Sunrise Article “Power plant would need 16k gallons of water a day.”,121229

Providence Journal Article, “Johnston mayor insists surprise water deal with power plant completely legal”

Four Providence Journal letters summarizing the onsite experience:

“Public Excluded from Monumental Power Plant Vote”

“Johnston Council meeting on power plant was shameful”

“Opposition to Burrillville Plant will continue”

“It’s not just what happened but how”

Three Johnston Sunrise letters summarizing a Johnston resident’s onsite experience

“Shocked at the agreement”,121276
“Citizens were stonewalled”,121263

“Trust the process”,121277

Keep Rhode Island Beautiful