Last night, Lynnda Ignacio and Paul Belley of the Pawtucketville Citizens' Council presented at the UML discussion series hosted by Prof. Bill Berkowitz.
Speaking with great technical detail, stark photo evidence and some compelling personal anecdotes (including stories of residents who exhibit PTSD-like symptoms when it rains, and a family who moved to the top of a hill in New Hampshire to avoid future inundations), they explained how a natural problem is being exacerbated by mismanagement of the flashboards in the river.
According to the Wang Agreement, penned in 1980 (of which I've now got a hard copy, thanks to PCC), during the months of March, April, May, and June, 4-foot flashboards "which will fail to hold back water if the river rises one (1) foot above the level of the Structure" are authorized for placement at the Pawtucket Dam. (From July to February, 5-foot flashboards are called for).
The major grievance that PCC has with Enel North America is that they feel the Wang Agreement is being more honored in the breach than in the observance. This grievance is supported by their evidence from 2006 and 2007, in which the flashboards didn't fail and their neighborhoods were subsequently flooded. In their view, the desires of the hydropower company to maintain a higher water table for economic reasons are putting their neighborhoods at risk.
The palpable fear among the PCC residents who spoke was that one more terrible flood would ruin the character of their neighborhoods...all spoke about the high levels of social capital and community trust that could vaporize if families -- including some who had been living in the same homes for decades -- were to leave in frustration. As to the charge that they "should have known better" than to move to a flood plain, their responses are that: a) that information wasn't necessarily available to homebuyers at the time of purchase; and that b) the trend of major flooding had been truly rare, not something to be expected year after year.
At the next City Council meeting -- Tuesday, 14 April, a motion will be presented before the Council that would require Enel to abide by the Wang Agreement.
But here's the problem: Even if the Council supports the motion, how will it be enforced? Since, by agreement with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Enel builds and maintains the flashboards, what independent monitoring mechanism will be used to ensure the spirit and letter of Wang are being upheld?
This will be an interesting one to watch.