October 21, 2014
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An opportunity to reduce sewage pollution of the Bay
Jonathan Stone

On Nov. 13, 2013, the Warwick City Council will vote on two ordinances that will, over time, dramatically reduce Warwick’s pollution of Narragansett Bay. Save The Bay strongly supports approval of both ordinances.

The first is for $23 million in revenue bonds for upgrades to the Warwick wastewater treatment plant and for construction of a levee to protect the plant from flooding from the Pawtuxet River. The upgrades will reduce nutrient loadings to the Pawtuxet River and to Narragansett Bay by removing phosphorus and nitrogen. These nutrients cause low oxygen conditions that result in events like the Greenwich Bay fish kill of 2003.

The second ordinance is for $33 million in sewer system revenue bonds to expand the collection system and to extend sewer lines into six new areas of the city. These critical steps in Bay cleanup are long overdue.  

The summer of 2013 will be remembered for a rash of beach closures in Greenwich Bay. It was a wakeup call to finally tackle the difficult, but essential, challenge of eliminating cesspools and outdated septic systems in the city of Warwick.

The Warwick wastewater treatment plant is an award-winning facility. It treats sewage to a higher standard than even the most advanced septic systems and far more than cesspools, which are simply tanks that funnel sewage into the ground and groundwater. The environmental benefits of centralized wastewater treatment are augmented by the economic benefits to homeowners and businesses in the form of higher property values and reliable service.   

Extending sewer lines and connecting homes and businesses to those lines costs money, and it is true that the long delays in tackling this challenge have added to the cost. City residents are rightfully concerned about the financial impact on homeowners. It is, therefore, imperative that the city plans and implements these projects in a fair and transparent manner. It is also important that city planners, engineers and departments work closely together to prevent and avoid unnecessary costs. 

Save The Bay has been a member of the Warwick Sewer Authority Review Commission and is grateful for this opportunity to work with city leaders on the issue of wastewater management. Going forward, the City Council, in coordination with the Warwick Sewer Authority, is going to have to take a hard look at how to sustain the city’s investment in its wastewater infrastructure on an equitable basis. The city is now well positioned to take up those questions because of the work of the Commission. Save The Bay will continue to support the work of the Commission.

With 39 miles of coastline, Warwick has long celebrated its connection to Narragansett Bay and has made significant efforts to protect and restore its water quality. Communities that value their sense of place on Narragansett Bay are stepping up and making major investments in wastewater treatment infrastructure. Ratepayers in Providence and the eight other Narragansett Bay Commission communities have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to reduce combined sewage overflows, reduce nitrogen and phosphorus discharges, and complete facility upgrades. 

The Warwick City Council has the opportunity to jump-start the long-overdue work of reducing sewage pollution flowing into Greenwich Bay and Narragansett Bay. We support a “yes” vote on both ordinances and encourage Warwick residents to do the same.

 

Jonathan Stone is Executive Director of Save the Bay.


Comments
2 comments on this item

Warwick has 39 miles of coastline and 37 miles of it is virtually inaccessible to the public. SEWERS cost TOO MUCH MONEY.

The WSA in its current management structure that is, governed by an appointed 5 member board has resulted in sewer related decisions that should have been based on ecological decisions, rather, based on political decisions.

Why didn’t the board increase assessment rates over many years to reflect the increase in sewer construction cost? Why did the board pick one section of the city to initiate projects over other areas closer to the bay that needed sewers? Why was Governor Francis Phase III project abruptly halted several years ago after the Phase II resident voiced their opposition to WSA mis-management in Phase I causing millions of dollars in debt? Could it be to save the current Ward 1 Councilman’s from losing his seat?

Many of the reasons why the assessment rates never kept up with the cost of construction on past projects is because past and current board members. These members were appointed not because of any expertise related to running a sewer system but rather whom they knew politically in the city. It was easier to incur tens of millions of dollars in debt and kick the can down the road. Where was the Mayor’s over site when all this was happening. Why was there a revolving down of WSA directions appointed by the Mayor for years?

Why is it that the rules regarding who is to serve on the sewer authority is based on recommendations from the minority party in the city? In this case the Warwick Democrat city committee chairperson sends recommendations to the mayor for three of the 5 members on the committee. The Mayor appoints the other two. How can that not cause decisions to become political?

Take a look at past and current appointed board members and the directors and the relationship to the mayor and past and present city council members and those who ran for political office and lost.

My point is this current management structure has been a complete failure yet this council sewer committee is contemplated granted these same people the authority to borrow $50 to $60 million more. Are they kidding? I wouldn’t let them run the corner lemonade stand on a 90 degree day in July.

The state enabling legislation governing the current WSA management needs to be revoked and we need to instill a new organization with the expertise to manage the authority in a transparent, effective manner before any new money is provided and new projects authorized.

Sadly that thought process doesn't seem to be on the radar of this committee.

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