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Scituate releases report on Providence Water, the town’s largest landowner



A while back the Scituate Town Council hired attorney Michael Marcello to write “a pretty expensive report on the Providence Water Supply Board (PWSB),” said Scituate Town Council President John Mahoney at a November 19 meeting. “It is quite the report. It’s something I personally believe every single tax payer in this town, or anyone who has concerns or aspirations or has wishful thinking of obtaining some additional funds out of the Providence Water Supply Board should read in detail.

“I think this report should be made public.”

The motion passed unanimously.

In 2017, according to Mahoney, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill that would allow the City of Providence to build green energy infrastructure such as wind and solar farms on their property in Scituate, “without the Town’s approval” or the approval of the Town’s zoning and planning boards.

James Safford, the Democratic candidate for State Senate District 21, added that the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management clarified the language of the 2017 law on October 17. “The danger,” said Safford about the bill, “is that there would be no differentiation between produce and solar or wind.”

Safford says the new law opens the argument for Providence to develop wind and solar farms on the basis of their land in Scituate being categorized as farm, forest or open space. “They have 13,500 acres of farm, forest and open space out of the 14, 900 and change they have in Town,” said Safford.

Safford and Council President Mahoney both want to make public the October 2017 Appraisal and Assessment Report by the law firm Wimborne and Summertree LLC concerning properties owned by Providence Water Supply Board in the Town of Scituate. That motion was tabled for a month at the request of Town Councilor Charles Collins Jr, who wanted more time to vet the legal and financial risks of releasing those documents.

“Providence Water owns more farm, forests and open space than anyone in the state,” claimed Safford. “This bill looks like it was done just for [the PWSB].”

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The report the Town Council released is entitled, TAXING ISSUES: A Review of the Local Taxation of Scituate’s Largest Landowner: The City of Providence & the Providence Water Supply Board. It is an exhaustive 52 page report that draws upon well over a dozen original documents, hearings and other exhibits.

The report begins with a short history of the Scituate Reservoir, and explains the enormity of PWSB’s ownership stake in the Town of Scituate.

“By 1960, the City of Providence had purchased or acquired 13,182 acres of land in the Town of Scituate,” writes Marcello. “Since Scituate contains 35,379 acres, there were 22,197 acres that remained in other private or public hands.” This is about 42 percent of all the land in Scituate.

The report then meticulously details the ongoing battle between the PWSB and the Town of Scituate, which began immediately after the Reservoir was constructed and continue to this day.

The report concludes by asking, “What is a fair share of taxation for PWSB given the amount of its landholding with the municipality and the on-going suppression of residential and non-residential development by Scituate to protect what is really its largest and most precious product? Potable water that supplies more than 60 percent of the state’s residents. That decision, just as it did in 1928, rests with the Town’s elected leaders to now determine.”

If the PWSB has solar and wind development rights of the farm area it owns in Scituate, those rights would be transferable to whatever entity wins the right to manage the water supply in the public-private partnership being offered right now in the City of Providence’s RFQ. This might make a deal with Providence more lucrative than it first appears.


Providence seeking bidders in January for leasing the city’s water

Providence Water Supply Board to begin looking at potential financial impacts of Providence’s efforts to lease water operations

You can access all of Marcello’s exhibits for his report here.

In the video below, the discussion about the Reservoir begins at the 58 minute mark.

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.