Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena provided extended comments on the recent Rhode Island Superior Court decision to uphold the town’s deal with Invenergy during an interview with the Sun Rise on Tuesday.
The 20-year, $18-million agreement with Chicago-based Invenergy was found to constitute an “ordinary municipal water supply purpose” by Judge Michael A. Silverstein last week. Under the terms of the deal, Johnston would truck two to three 8,000-gallon tankers to the proposed 1,000-megawatt, fossil fuel-burning Clean River Energy Center in Burrillville every day.
Polisena said the state needs the plant – which would represent an investment of more than $1 billion – despite the protests of several town boards and the Conversation Law Foundation, one of the parties involved in the case against the deal.
“This was something, I think, that deep down inside I knew we would prevail, but we waited, and I think the judge made a great decision,” the mayor said. “There’s not too many people knocking on our door saying, ‘Hey, we want to invest $1 billion in your state.’ Quite frankly, I wish they wanted to come to Johnston, because the plant would have already been up.”
Polisena referenced resolutions filed by several town councils, including Providence, opposing the potential power plant and Johnston’s sale of the water. He said that “so-called environmentalists ginned up” councils to take a stand.
“Some councils don't have the fortitude to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do it. We’re not going to get involved in other people’s business. We’re going to do our own business,’” he said. “But some people don’t have the courage to say that. If it came to me, and it was another community, I would’ve said, ‘No, we’re not doing a resolution against it.’”
As Town Solicitor William Conley told the Sun Rise last week, the deal carries $500,000 per year in revenue for the town with a 3-percent escalator. The agreement also provides the town with $200,000 per year for the first years.
Conley hinted those funds could go toward youth programs and activities, and Polisena supported that assertion on Tuesday.
“I’d like to put it towards the youth programs,” the mayor said. “Youth sports, whatever, using it for the children because they’re our future, so it would be extra income, if you will, that we could use for the children as well as some projects in the town. Maybe build a couple of more baseball fields and maybe a couple of more sports complexes.”
As for detractors within the town, Polisena said it’s been quiet. He said after the deal initially passed, he heard several environmental concerns from people living outside town and even beyond Rhode Island and into other New England states.
Polisena said he is not “anti-environmentalist” and that his main motivation is bringing in additional revenue for the town.
He specifically referred to the so-called “evergreen” contracts bill that recently passed the state House of Representatives as one that could raise taxes and cause money “to get tight.”
“Things are going to get tight, we’re going to need something,” he said. “We’re going to need help somewhere … It’s not good.”
As for another popular environmental trend around the state – banning single-use plastic bags – Polisena said the town has no appetite for such legislation. Neighboring Cranston recently became the latest in a growing list of Rhode Island municipalities to ban single-use bags, with the City Council voting 9-0 vote to override Mayor Allan Fung’s veto during a meeting on Earth Day.
Polisena said he supported Fung’s veto and described such bans as “feel-good legislation.”
“I think Mayor Fung was very correct when he vetoed it, it’s just too bad,” Polisena said. “I guess they’re all vying for the mayor’s seat in Cranston, so I guess they're all trying to please everybody … As I said before, Cranston wants to do that, that’s fine. I don’t stick my nose in other communities’ business. The voters voted for those people, if that’s what they want to do, that’s fine.”
Polisena said that there are more important issues to him, such as the “evergreen” bill and pensions, and he echoed Fung’s concerns about the bag ban’s potential ripple effects on businesses.
“It’s ridiculous, I mean, really,” Polisena said. “There’s more important issues. All it is is the environmentalists waving their flags. Maybe education on how to recycle bags would do, but first of all you put businesses in a bad predicament, because now they’ve got to do paper … You go to pick up the bag, [items] falls through. The paper’s weak.”
Meanwhile, Polisena advocated for further education on recycling, such as encouraging shoppers to return plastic bags to supermarkets. He said he views recycling as an obligation, both as a citizen and mayor, especially with the landfill close by.
“We don’t take cars off people because they get into an accident,” he said. “You educate them on how to drive, driving safety. You don't take sugar off the market because it makes us fat. You teach good, healthy nutrition … Take some time, sit back and educate people. As I said, there’s no appetite in the next four years with me as mayor to even look at something [like that].”