A slam dunk: Customers show overwhelming support for merger of Pascoag Utility & Harrisville Water districts

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BURRILLVILLE – The effort to merge two Burrillville utility companies to create a single entity bringing electric and water service to several town villages took a leap forward on Wednesday, April 3, when 83 percent of voters cast a ballot in favor of the move.

For the past year, officials with the Harrisville Fire District Water Department and the Pascoag Utility District have been ironing out details of a plan to create the Clear River Electric and Water District, or CREW., a new entity that would own and operate the current electric distribution system in Pascoag and Harrisville, as well as the water production and distribution system in the villages of Harrisville, Pascoag and Oakland.

Both groups held special meetings to allow their customers to weigh in Wednesday evening.

In Pascoag, 76 residents cast ballots, with 58 voting in favor of the merger and 18 voting in opposition.

Harrisville’s tally showed an even greater majority in support, despite lower turnout, with 36 customers voting to approve the move, and only 1 casting dissent.

“This was a really satisfactory result,” said PUD General Manager Michael Kirkwood.

The boards of both entities first announced the plans last April, and in the months that followed the plan got unanimous approval from the respective governing boards. More recently, the groups held informational session, providing customers a chance to ask questions about the proposal.

Now, the merger plan must be authorized through the state legislative process at the General Assembly, where Rep. David Place is expected to sponsor a bill creating a new charter, and officially separating the water department from the fire district in Harrisville, and combining the water and electric departments of both Harrisville and Pascoag. The state legislature is expected to vote on the issue in their 2024 session before it ends in June.

A new 7-member board of utility commissioners will to govern CREW according to details laid out this year, to include three member from each of Pascoag and Harrisville’s existing boards, and a 7th member to be voted on by the new and expanded customer/member base before the end of the year. 

Thereafter, all expiring terms of the commissioners would be voted on by the expanded customer base. 

Once all approvals and the new governing board are in place, the consolidated water and electric company would begin operations, with service to a significant portion of Burrillville. In addition to its roughly 5,000 electric customers, PUD currently provides water to around 1,100 homes and businesses. Harrisville supplies water to more than 150 fire hydrants and 1,000 total customers in that village and Oakland-Mapleville, including four of the five Burrillville schools, the library and Town Hall.

Passage of the General Assembly bill will mark the end to the complex merger process, which proponents say will increase the efficiency of operations and help to provide water rate stability.

“Assuming we get the votes in the House and Senate – (there’s) no reason to believe we won’t since our customers overwhelmingly supported this – once the governor signs the legislation, it will become law, with the Clear River Electric and Water District beginning operation as one larger water and electric company on January 1, 2025,” Kirkwood said.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Researching a different local topic the other day, I came upon this historical tid-bit in the September 15, 1891 issue of the Providence Journal: until the previous year Pascoag and Harrisville were united in a single fire district.

    The pejorative headline suggests the reason, “Progressive Pascoag, electric lights to be introduced and water works talked of,” the lead being “The taxpayers of Pascoag are decidedly progressive and up to the times. On Saturday they voted to establish and electric light plant, and now, from the talk of leading citizens, it is gleaned that a system of water works is the next step in the march of local improvement. …All the mills, stores and nearly all the residences will be lighted with incandescents. …The fire district in which Pascoag was formerly situated covered Pascoag and Harrisville. The former contingent proposed electric lights and water works but these progressive moves were voted down. A committee was appointed about a year ago to rebound the district, and last May the Legislature granted a charter to the Pascoag Fire District. Since that time every move in the line of progress has been homed in Pascoag.”

    Terrific that 133 years later Harrisville has at last caught up!

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