R.I. Supreme Court rejects challenge to India Point Park power line plan

THE R.I. SUPREME COURT on June 17 upheld a prior approval by state energy regulators to relocate the power lines above India Point Park, but not to bury them underground as community groups and the city of Providence have wanted. / COURTESTY FRIENDS OF INDIA POINT PARK

PROVIDENCE – A decadeslong battle over where the power lines above India Point Park should go appears to have ended, with the R.I. Supreme Court rejecting a last-ditch effort to bury the cables underground.

The court’s June 17 decision upholds the prior ruling by the R.I. Energy Facility Siting Board, which in 2018 signed off on National Grid’s proposal to move the 100-year-old power lines slightly north of their current configuration, crossing the Seekonk River just south of the Washington Bridge near Interstate 195.

The city and community groups such as the Friends of India Point Park had wanted the utility operator to put the power lines underground to preserve waterfront views and economic development of the city waterfront. National Grid initially agreed with the burial plan in a 2004 settlement but later deemed it infeasible and too expensive. An alternative relocation plan was subsequently approved by state regulators.

The Supreme Court appeal filed by Friends of India Point Park and the city of Providence contested not the relocation plan but rather the Energy Facility Siting Board’s decision, saying state regulators failed to consider the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the alternative power line plan in their approval, and asking the court to send the decision back for subsequent hearings and review.

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But R.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Suttell said that sending the decision back would be “fruitless” and “not necessary.”

“Remanding the case for findings of fact would clearly produce the same results and would only extend the proceedings regarding a project that was first proposed nearly 20 years ago,” Suttell said.

The court also rejected Friends of India Point Park as a legitimate party to the case, since it was not part of the 2004 settlement and failed to show “sufficient particularized and concrete injury to establish its organizational standing on behalf of its members.”

David Riley, co-chairman of Friends of India Point Park, said in an interview on June 21 that he disagreed with the court’s decision, which he said got caught up in “legalese” and an “overly narrow ruling” that failed to consider the long-term impact to the city waterfront.

Rhode Island Energy, which recently took over operation of the state’s electrical and gas operations from National Grid, said it was pleased with the court’s decision, which will allow the company to move ahead with the approved power line relocation plan, according to Ted Kresse, a spokesman for Rhode Island Energy. A timeline for the power line relocation has not been established, Kresse said in an email.

Nancy Lavin is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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