Lincoln Chafee was a private citizen when the great flood of 2010 sent the Pawtuxet over its banks. He has served as city councilman, mayor and U.S. Senator, so he knew what was at stake at the time.
On Thursday, he told a gathering of officials and company representatives that, when he heard flooding closed Route 95, his first thought was Warwick’s wastewater treatment plant. He wondered if the earthen dikes had been breached and if the pumps and tanks that process more than 5 million gallons of wastewater daily were flooded and what would happen.
What happened was the water knocked them out and our sewers and large sections of the city were inundated. Preliminary treatment was restored relatively quickly – people were able to flush their toilets. Within months, full tertiary treatment was up and running. More than $10 million was needed to rebuild the treatment plant.
On Thursday, Chafee joined the state’s Congressional delegation and Mayor Scott Avedisian in a ceremonial groundbreaking for a new pumping station on Bellows Street. The station was flooded twice during the spring of 2010. Work has already started on the station that serves the neighborhood and the Pawtuxet Industrial Park.
There’s not much to see now, nor will there be when the new pumping station is completed.
Most of the station is under ground, Janine Burke told the gathering. The new station, replacing one built in 1973, will have three levels, with half of it above ground. It is designed to rise three feet above the 100-year flood level, an overall height of 13 feet above grade. But even if water rises to greater levels, the station, with watertight hatches, should be secure.
“If the  flood had a silver lining, it is that most of it [the treatment plant upgrades] was paid for by FEMA and insurance,” said Burke.
The Bellows Street station wasn’t included in that round of funding. The $721,360 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration was secured through the efforts of the city’s department of economic development, Central Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, area companies and the congressional delegation. As Senator Sheldon Whitehouse observed, the delegation was able to obtain approval for the city to match its share of the cost with Disaster Relief funds from the Warwick Office of Community Development. Thereby, federal funds are being used to match federal funds.
“It will allow us to celebrate one good piece of infrastructure to come out of disaster,” Whitehouse said.
It was a theme Congressman James Langevin picked up on.
“Our crumbling infrastructure is in dire need to repair,” he said. Langevin said he is not going to let up on his efforts to obtain funding for infrastructure repairs.
Senator Jack Reed talked of how the project not only means more jobs, but will also protect jobs by ensuring service to companies in the industrial park. He said more than $200 million in FEMA funds flowed into the state in the wake of the flood.
“It is not just good infrastructure but good jobs,” he said.
“We will ensure that future flooding events won’t have the disastrous effects of the last one,” said Mayor Avedisian.
J.H. Lynch & Sons, Inc. is the contractor for the project that has been designed by Crossman Engineering of Warwick. The project is to be completed by June 2013.
While Thursday’s conditions were perfect (The sun shone, temperatures were mild and there were no audio malfunctions), a light wind sent easels tumbling just as Reed come to the microphone and there was a scurry on stage to put them up again.
Later, after officials had an opportunity to look down into the shaft of the existing station and were heading for their cars, Lynn Owens of the sewer authority reflected on the unscripted incident.
“Mother Nature, with a little breeze, reminded us she’s in charge.”