October 22, 2014
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City gets time for cesspool phase out, but will council bond for sewers?

Now that city officials have what many homeowners had hoped for – an extension of the deadline to close their cesspools – the questions are whether the Sewer Authority can reach an agreement with the Narragansett Indians and if the City Council will approve borrowing $12 million to bring sewers to Riverview, Longmeadow, Bayside and Highland Beach.

And yet another question is how residents will react when confronted with the price tag.

The average cost of bringing sewers to neighborhoods and more than 1,100 homes is in the range of $10,000. That amount doesn’t include the cost of connecting to sewers, estimated at more than $1,200, or annual operating costs once the connection is made.

For some homeowners living within 200 feet of the shoreline, there is virtually no alternative but sewers. Lot sizes prohibit conventional septic systems and systems designed for limited lots can cost upwards of $30,000.

“We waited too long to put sewers in the city,” says Janine Burke, executive director of the Warwick Sewer Authority. Plans for Riverview, Bayside and Longmeadow sewers date back to the 1970s, a time when the authority would have faced fewer regulatory hurtles, would have likely gained some federal and state funding and could have accomplished the job for less.

Precipitating the need to address the neighborhoods at this time is legislation requiring the abandonment of cesspools within 200 feet of the shoreline or surface drinking water supply by Jan. 1, 2013.

That didn’t leave the city or residents enough time.

With more than 600 affected Warwick property owners, Warwick legislators looked to buy additional time, especially for areas where sewers would eventually be built.

Legislation approved in the waning days of the session extended the deadline by a year, as well as exempted properties where the Department of Environmental Management has approved a sewer plan by Jan. 1, 2013. The sewers must be completed by Jan. 1, 2020 under the legislation that was introduced by Rep. Frank Ferri.

“It certainly buys us more time,” Burke says of the legislation.

She hasn’t waited to start the wheels turning.

In recent weeks, Burke has toured the neighborhoods with the Narragansett Indian coordinator and Environmental Protection Agency representatives. She said nation-to-nation talks between the EPA and the Narragansett have commenced and that she expects the tribe will also be talking to the DEM and the Department of Transportation.

Burke is optimistic of an agreement with the Narragansetts.

“We’re all going to sit down together and work something out,” she says.

At issue are archeological surveys that indicate Indian activity and burials in the areas. Those findings prompted the authority to abandon plans to sewer Riverview and sections of Longmeadow some years ago.

Designs of the systems are more than 90 percent completed, meaning with Indian approval and an assured source of funding, the authority should be able to meet the deadline set by the legislation.

But will the council that went so far as to pass a resolution to dissolve the sewer authority, approve bonding for the project?

Mayor Scott Avedisian favors bonding and extension of sewers on the basis that it is the preferred alternative for the environment and equally treats residents with those who have access to sewers in other parts of the city.

He said there needs to be a “policy decision” as to whether the city continues expanding the sewer system or, basically, becomes an operator. “Are you going to continue to bond to build sewers?” he asks.

If the decision is not to build, then Avedisian says something still must be done.

“Just saying we’re not going to do that [build sewers] isn’t going to end the problem,” he said.

Sewer construction costs are borne by those who can access them with an assessment based on the linear footage of their property. Cutting the charge is $82 a foot.

Burke said the authority is reviewing a change to the system that would base the charge on the units served regardless of frontage on the sewer line. Roughly, as there are about 1,100 homes in the three neighborhoods, and the project is estimated to cost $12 million, the unit cost would be more than $10,000.

Burke put the number of residents depending on cesspools in the three neighborhoods at more than 250.


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