TIVERTON – The issue of eminent domain was brought to the forefront after a vote by the Tiverton Town Council last month.
The council approved a resolution in support of state legislation that would give eminent domain powers to the East Bay Energy Consortium.
Consisting of Tiverton, Bristol, Warren, Barrington, East Providence, Portsmouth, Little Compton, Middletown and Newport, R.I., the consortium’s goal is to develop a regional wind energy system that will produce electricity for the member towns. Studies have indicated that the Tiverton Industrial Park, due to its strong winds coming off the Sakonnet River, is an ideal location for the wind farm.
Councilor Joan Chabot cast one of the dissenting votes, expressing concern that this would allow the consortium the ability to take over privately owned land for its use. In a letter written to The Herald News, Chabot outlined her reservations about giving the consortium this power.
“With the enactment of this legislation, East Bay Energy Consortium would be formed as a quasi-governmental entity and have power to take private property under eminent domain,” Chabot said. “All municipal land is protected against eminent domain. Your private property is not.”
Garry Plunkett, an East Bay Energy Consortium Tiverton representative, said the sole purpose for obtaining eminent domain power is so the group can apply for and receive bonds to fund the project without any of the towns assuming the liability. Plunkett said eight of the nine consortium towns have passed resolutions in support of the legislation. Newport has taken no action on the issue so far.
“There has to be government authority for the agency to issue tax-exempt bonds,” Plunkett said. “Police, taxing and eminent domain. Those are the three criteria the IRS looks at. They set the rules for this.”
Any EBEC project that requires the use of eminent domain would have to be approved by a majority vote of the board, approval of the host town’s appointed representative and some sort of payment to the host town with compensation agreed upon by the parties.
Plunkett said consortium has no plans to take over any privately owned property. Due to safety concerns, they would not locate the turbines near residential properties. In addition, a project of this nature is limited to those areas where there is sufficient wind power.
“It’s hard to imagine the EBEC would run amok and start some sort of property grab,” Plunkett said.
Plunkett said the consortium is working hard to respond to anyone’s concerns about the eminent domain issue. He said those who are affected are compensated for their lost property. The Constitution states that the owner of any appropriated land is entitled to reasonable compensation, usually defined as the fair market value of the property.
“It’s not easy to execute eminent domain,” Plunkett said. “There are lots of protections in place.”
Plunkett reiterated that the consortium has no plans to take over anyone’s property, but cited the Sakonnet River Bridge and Route 24 projects as instances where eminent domain was necessary.
“Eminent domain has been painted as this dark, dirty thing,” Plunkett said. “It’s about any form of government collectively acting for the common good. The Sakonnet River Bridge and Route 24 never would have been built without the power of eminent domain. There has to be some sacrifice for the good of everyone.”
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