“It comes down to a money issue,” said Scituate Town Council President John Mahoney, “Bottom line. This is an issue for Burrillville to sort out, not Scituate.”
The Scituate Town Council will be hearing a resolution on Thursday evening to rescind a resolution passed in 2016 opposing the construction of Invenergy‘s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of northwest Rhode Island. The new resolution is to be submitted to the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), the governmental body deciding on the licensing of the plant, immediately upon passage.
“I think the resolution speaks for itself,” added Mahoney.
The reasoning presented in resolution does not mention money, it mentions that the resolution was passed by the previous “lame duck” Town Council:
WHEREAS, … in December 2016, when the serving Town Council was a lame-duck political body, it passed Resolution 16-09 opposing a proposed power plant known as Clear River Energy Center (“CREC”) to be built in Burrillville, Rhode Island; and
WHEREAS, Resolution 16-09 was passed by the lame-duck Town Council, despite public requests by the newly elected but not sworn in Town Council members to defer action on this matter, and given the recent election and clear mandate from the electors of the the Town that a change in the Town Council’s membership was desired.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Town Council resolves to rescind and void Resolution 16-09 as it was passed by a lame-duck political body without any consideration or input from the newly elected members of the Town Council
“Prior to this election I had many discussion with the prior Town Council President that if we won a majority, that the agenda items during that time until we were installed in office would be held off,” said Mahoney, reached by phone. “And what brought this up at this point was going through our budget hearings and we are faced with some serious expenses [having to do with] our tax treaty which has expired…
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“I am concerned about engaging in other community’s affairs. I’m not for or against this thing. I don’t want to say it’s not our problem, I don’t like to use that language, but we have priorities here in town that we have to deal with and a limited tax base to work with.”
The Scituate Town Council was taken over during the 2016 election in what the Providence Journal called a “coup.” Providence Journal reporter Tom Mooney writes,
“Four political neophytes campaigned together as the unaffiliated ‘Independent Men.’ Together they would control the seven-member council. They won, unseating four Republicans. They’ve all but taken over the place, supporters and opponents agree, showing an eagerness to, you might say, ‘repeal and replace’ the status quo.”
Since his election and his rise to the presidency of the Scituate Town Council, Mahoney has been working to negotiate a better deal for Scituate with the Providence Water Supply Board (PWSB), and may be preparing for a court case. “So I don’t want to engage in any more legal fees than we have to. That’s pretty much the long and the short of it.”
“I’m not clear,” I said. “How does the resolution about the power plant relate to the water issue?”
“Money,” said Mahoney. “We have been drawn in on this lawsuit, and we are paying our solicitors to respond to these things. So its our position [that] we haven’t really weighed in on it, at all, as the new council. That’s our position. We’re basically being forced to pay taxpayer money to be involved in this issue.”
“I didn’t realize that Scituate is involved at all, with any legal fees,” I said. “I didn’t know that the resolutions came with legal fees attached.”
“Well, of course they did,” replied Mahoney. “The Town of Scituate became a defendant in this issue, among other cities and towns. And because of that we have to pay our solicitors to attend these court hearings. We can’t not. So I want our new council to weigh in on this. My concern is: ‘How much money is the Town of Scituate going to spend on this?'”
“I wasn’t aware that we were spending anything,” said Charles Collins Jr, current Scituate Town Councilmember and former Town Council President under whose leadership the original resolution opposing the power plant was passed. “When we [the Town Council] talked about this once before in the past, I thought we weren’t involved in a lawsuit. Our solicitor had told us that we weren’t involved in it.”
The Town of Burrillville and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) is suing in Rhode Island Superior Court to prevent the Town of Johnston from selling water to Invenergy for use at their proposed power plant. The water is to be delivered by truck to the power plant and is sourced from the Scituate Reservoir, located in the Town of Scituate, but under the control of the PWSB. (See here for more details.)
“We were asked [to pass the original resolution opposing the power plant] by the Town of Burrillville. They sent resolution requests out to everybody, and my council decided unanimously that we would support the council up there,” said Collins. “Because, the way we always worked was that when the majority of the people doesn’t want something or wants something, we try to accommodate it if we can. And from what I see up in Burrillville, they don’t want it. Who are we to judge for Burrillville?”
Collins’ logic isn’t likely to sway Mahoney. Under his leadership, Scituate and Johnston have become very close. Scituate has been using the Johnston Building Inspector as their part time building inspector. There is talk among the majority on the council about using the Johnston Municipal Court as the municipal court for Scituate.
“I’ll tell you right now, that resolution is going to pass,” said Collins. “If Mahoney wants it, it’s going to pass. All the votes since the new majority [took office] have been in lockstep. It’s either 4-3 or 7-0. If we [the minority] feel it’s not the right thing we vote against it and they [the majority] push it through any way.”
The resolution is to be heard at the Scituate Town Council meeting scheduled for Thursday, March 15, 2018 at 7:00 PM at the Scituate High School Auditorium, 94 Trimtown Road, North Scituate, Rhode Island.
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