Elorza administration presents water monetization plan to Providence Water Board, activists push back

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The Providence Water Supply Board (PWSB) held their March meeting in the Providence City Hall so that members of Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s administration could explain the push to “monetize” Providence Water to help alleviate the City’s looming pension crisis.

The presentation from Providence City Solicitor Jeffrey Dana and Director of Sustainability Leah Bamberger was similar to that delivered in the first of three planned “Community Conversations” held on Monday evening at Alvarez High School. One key difference was that many activists from the Water Is Life – Land and Water Sovereignty Campaign, were on hand, holding banners and given a chance to speak near the end of the meeting.


The next Community Conversations are scheduled for:

  • Thursday, March 21 6pm-7:30pm at Nathaniel Greene Middle School, 721 Chalkstone Avenue, Providence
  • Monday, March 25 6pm-7:30pm, Nathan Bishop Middle School, 101 Session Street, Providence

Board Chair Xaykham Khamsyvoravong began the hearing by stressing that the Board would not be making any decisions or making any votes regarding the proposed water deal during the meeting. The meeting with the administration was for informational purposes only. The Land and Sovereignty Campaign will be presenting to the Providence Water Board at a later date.

Here is the presentation from Bamberger and Dana:

Xaykham Khamsyvoravong

Chair Khamsyvoravong asked what the role of the PWSB would be after such a water deal is made. Dana answered that the role of the Board would be “governed by the terms of any kind of agreement or transaction the City were to enter into. Presumably, [the PWSB) would remain in place and in the same role it currently serves.”

Khamsyvoravong noted that the PWSB is able to purchase supplies and labor for improvements and repairs on a tax exempt basis. He asked, “Would that tax exempt benefit continue under the proposals that are being considered?”

“Presumably,” said Dana, “Since the City would retain ownership, it would still be a public entity,” so the tax exempt status would remain.

Khamsyvoravong then asked for examples of municipalities facing bankruptcy being forced to sell off their water supply. Dana did not have an immediate example at hand, but did note that during Detroit’s bankruptcy hearings, the city was almost forced to sell off its $800 million art collection.

“Bankruptcies are extremely complicated,” said Dana, “so technically a bankruptcy judge cannot force a sale…”

Providence Water is not supported financially by the City of Providence, but supported by the ratepayers, noted Khamsyvoravong.

Khamsyvoravong if there are there protections in place in this potential deal for the reservoir and the watershed. “That would be our intention,” said Dana, “and we will not proceed with any agreement or any partnership without those protections.”

Providence City Councilor Luis Aponte (Ward 10), who supports the idea of monetizing the water, asked a series of questions that were intended to make the case for the administration’s plans.

Providence City Councilor Jo-Ann Ryan  (Ward 5), who also supports the administration’s plan to monetize the water, asked Larry Mancini, Providence’s Finance Director, a question. Mancini is an ex officio member of the PWSB.

Climate activist Jennifer Brown addressed the PWSB about the importance of protecting the environment and the water. Providence, she said, “shouldn’t be selling ourselves so short to say that we need to sell off our national resources that we depend on for life. We depend on the quality of that natural resource for our survival… It’s such a dangerous thing to even consider selling it to a for profit corporation…”

A Providence resident noted this letter by J Michael Denney, published in the Providence Journal, that provides a list of reasons as to why privatizing or monetizing Providence Water is a bad idea. She also pointed out that the enabling legislation presently before the Rhode Island General Assembly does not allow the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission any authority to adjudicate any agreements that are made between the City and a potential bidder.

“I think that monetization and privatization are the same thing,” said Reverend Brendan Curran of the Barrington Congregational Church UCC. “I think we should reject that talking point as a lie.”

Curran is not wrong. Read my coverage of Privatization vs Public Private Partnerships (monetization) here.

“The debt that is created from the pensions is unrelated to the value of this resource…”

A Providence resident wants to know how we can ensure that the kind of problems communities have run into elsewhere won’t occur in any deal Providence makes.

Providence resident Gillian Kiley took issue with the example of Bayonne, New Jersey being a good example of a public-private partnership as cited by City Solicitor Dana. In Bayonne “there was supposed to be a four-year rate freeze,” said Kiley, “that was immediately overturned and rates rose 28 percent. so I think the assurances that the administration officials are making about long-term rate stabilization have been proven to be unworkable and unenforceable in many, many cities.”

Kiley wrote the very first piece on UpriseRI about the “monetization” of Providence Water.


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About Steve Ahlquist 1027 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com