Speaker Mattiello opposes Elorza administration’s regional water board bill

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Talk about cold water.

On the same day a House committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on legislation that would create an 11-member regional board with the power to manage water systems and borrow funds to purchase or lease property, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he opposes the bill.

“This legislation is not in the best interests of ratepayers,” Mattiello said Tuesday in a short statement. “It does not have my support.”

Elorza spokeswoman Emily Crowell noted the mayor met with Mattiello about the issue and acknowledged the speaker “flagged that he personally had concerns,” but said “he encouraged us to gain the support of membership.”

“Anticipating a monetary impact on ratepayers is premature at this point,” she said. “What we do know is that this legislation would ensure the 60% of Rhode Islanders who rely on Providence Water for their water source, reliable and safe drinking water for years to come.”

The bill is being pushed by the Elorza administration, which has expressed interest in generating revenue from the Providence Water Supply Board. The mayor has said he doesn’t want to sell the system to a private entity, but he was supportive of a regional board taking over.

The House Corporations Committee was still scheduled to hold a hearing on the legislation Tuesday.

The proposed bill would create an entity called the Rhode Island Cooperative Water Authority, comprised of four gubernatorial appointees, three appointees chosen by the mayor of Providence and two appointees chosen by the mayor of Cranston. The mayors of North Providence and Johnston would also get one appointee each. The board would choose a chairman from among its members.

Then, once the authority is established as an official “public utility,” the bill calls for the board to be reconstituted with appointees picked by the governor and to reflect the communities serviced by the authority.

But the bill came under fire this week when the Rhode Island Republican Party issued a statement calling it a “bailout” for Providence. House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan also opposed the bill, arguing Tuesday that a regional board “will have virtually no say in the workings of a board that will tremendously impact a large portion of the available water supply in the state of Rhode Island.”

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan