November 23, 2014
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It’s time to decide
Commission hears concerns over cost of expanding sewer system, pleas of others to offer solutions
Warwick Beacon photos
WITH DETAILS: Michele Komar, the public representive to the commission speaks at last Wednesday’s meeting. Beside her is Rep. Frank Ferri, also a member of the panel.

It’s time for a decision.

After a dozen meetings and hours of testimony, the council sewer review commission is faced with recommending the city move forward with $57 million of sewer upgrades and expansion, or bringing an end to extending the system and leaving homeowners no choice but to replace aging cesspools with costly septic systems if they can.

Either way is going to be expensive.

And seemingly the Warwick Sewer Authority (WSA) has virtually no choice but to commit to $18 million in wastewater treatment plant upgrades and $5 million to raise levees at its facility on the banks of the Pawtuxet River. It faces a May 2016 deadline for the work to be completed. The cost of those improvements mandated by the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to meet requirements in the reduction of nitrogen and phosphorous discharges will be borne by all ratepayers. The exception could be the levee work should the authority win a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grant.

Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur, who chairs the review panel, aims to have a recommendation to the council by their meeting Nov. 13.

Last Wednesday night, as the sixth game of the World Series was under way at Fenway, more than 300 people filled Council Chambers. In a presentation by the authority and the commission, they heard that the existing linear foot method of assessments is unfair and should be changed and that past practices were lacking.

“You shouldn’t be treated any different than your neighbor. Inequity has to be dealt with,” said WSA board member Peter Ginaitt. The commission proposes a change in the authority’s enabling legislation for unit assessments so that the cost of a project extension would be equally shared by all property owners.

Authority director Janine Burke said that prior assessment rates were insufficient to pay for the cost of extensions.

“Balanced budgets seem pretty basic but that wasn’t done,” she said.

Then, after 90 minutes of PowerPoint presentations, came the sticker shock.

Based on the projected cost of four projects, which are on the drawing boards, that per-unit assessment could range from $15,000 to $30,000.

Calculated over a 20-year payout, Burke said those assessment costs could range from $133.64 to $225.62 in monthly payments.

“Our job is to get them down as low as possible,” she said.

Even so, those were amounts Governor Francis Farms resident Laura Pisaturo said many homeowners can’t afford.

“Frankly, $40 a month is too much for many people, especially in Rhode Island,” she said. “I think the critical issue is cost and $15,000 to $30,000 isn’t an equitable assessment.”

Carol Moore backed her words.

“I still want them,” she said of sewers, “but I can’t afford them.”

She questioned if she and her neighbors could replace cesspools with septic systems. Would that work? As described, septic systems can be as costly, and there’s no guarantee for how long they will work. Further, as Ginaitt explained, ground conditions in some areas lend themselves to septic systems where only the next block over they don’t. His point: To be effective, entire neighborhoods must be treated as projects.

“You can’t mix and match,” he said.

For some, like John Knight of Shore Road, sewers couldn’t come fast enough. Knight bought his house three years ago but he hasn’t been able to move in because of its failed septic system. His question was, if he proceeds with a new septic system and the sewers are later installed, would he be faced with paying the assessment? The WSA has proposed forgiving assessment payments for up to 20 years in such instances, which would also require enabling legislation. Interest on the payments would also be exempted.

The proposed $34 million in sewer extensions breaks down into four major projects.

l Northeast Gordon Pond, affecting 295 residential units at a cost of $5.2 million

l Governor Francis Farms Phase II, comprised of 240 dwelling units and costing $5 million

l O’Donnell Hill, with 100 residential units at a cost of $2.1 million

l Bayside Projects 1, 2 and 3, serving Longmeadow, Riverview and Highland Beach, comprised of 900 dwelling units at a cost of $22.6 million

George Burke of O’Donnell Hill in Ward 8 said he polled the neighborhood and “they don’t want sewers. The whole neighborhood is up in arms about it,” he said.

Burke said he’ll take his chances with a septic system.

“The bottom line is, I don’t want to be a Warwick sewer customer,” he said.

Not all comments were either in favor or against extending sewers. Governor Francis Farms resident Susan Shapiro questioned whether WSA could lower the assessment interest rate to make the program more affordable.

“We’re looking at that,” said Ladouceur. “6.3 percent [interest rate] is not acceptable.”

The deadline for property owners to eliminate cesspools within 200 feet of the coast was also raised. Angelo Liberti of the DEM, who serves on the committee, said the deadline would be extended once funding for extension of sewers into that neighborhood is secured. Property owners would have six months in which to connect to the sewers once they are operational.

Ladouceur said he received positive feedback following the meeting. He said people who contacted him found it informative and were impressed by the “transparency” of authority operations. Ladouceur said he is in awe of the review commission that, he estimates, has already put in 60 to 70 hours.

“It has taken on a life of its own. They are dedicated to making this work,” he said.

He said he came out of the hearing with 18 “bullet points,” or suggestions.

So, what will the commission recommend the council do?

Ladouceur couldn’t speak for the group, but from his perspective, “the $33 million only makes sense. We’ve got to get in there and get it done. It’s not going to go away and it’s not going to get any smaller [less expensive].”

Ladouceur summed it up during the hearing.

“The real challenge is to get the cost down.”

WITH DETAILS: Michele Komar, the public representive to the commission speaks at last Wednesday’s meeting. Beside her is Rep. Frank Ferri, also a member of the panel. At right are some of the more than 300 who turned out to hear about sewer projects. (Warwick Beacon photos)


Comments
22 comments on this item

Too bad there aren't ways to be discovered to bring the costs down. But, I think most people that enjoy using the bay don't want to swim and fish in people's crap leached into the water from wicked old cesspools which are nothing more than a hole in the ground.

If you live 200 feet from the water you probably can afford the 10-20k price tag

The commission presentation should have lasted only 10 minutes. The commission wanted to hear themselves talk.....let the taxpayers be damned. After all this time....still don't know who going to pay for the sewers......should have been the first thing decided.

Septic Systems are the answer....the WSA is incompetent.

What this is doing is giving the rest of the people in Warwick who haven't already left due to crazy taxes but are just getting by that extra nudge to leave. Dumbest run city around. They already closed John Greene School .Now they will close Warwick Vets. Not enough students. Why? They've driven so many people out already but they just don't care. I understand we have to think of the future but we all have to live now. Taxes in this city is making it impossible for home owners to stay. As far as the sewer ,they had I believe $12,000,000 to do them many many years ago but they squandered the money and spent it on other things. Now look at the mess it is. And yes Rocky Point is beautiful but who do you think is paying for that cazillion dollar deal? We the home owners. Forgive me if I'm not so excited . This ridiculous price they want to slap on the people of Warwick for sewers will be a guarantee for it to end up a ghost town.Yes the Mayor brags about his surplus because he's raking us dry. I don't think that's something to brag about.

The smartest and cheapest solution is to inspect the installed septic systems to see which ones are working. If working leave alone. If not working upgrade to a proven technology nitrogen reducing Enhanced Treatment Unit (ETU) which is a much cheaper option than connecting to a central sewer plant. All cesspools need to be replaced with an ETU. Additionally, Decentralized Community/Cluster systems are another much more affordable option versus the most expensive option which is hooking into a central sewer plant. Why the debate and options seem to only include failing septics & cesspools replaced by central sewer plants is not showing all options for the taxpayers. The University of Rhode Island has a very active and well respected Onsite Wastewater Treatment Program that promotes the sensible use of ETUs. Many States and small communities with beach front properties are utilizing ETU to replace cesspools and failing septic systems. Warwick residents deserve a better list of options.

Sounds good Bob as long as it serves the purpose of keeping the local waters clean for all to enjoy. The closings of the beaches is nasty. Then it is in the sand where the kids play.

Michael2012 who are you to decide what people can afford what? Did you pay even 10K to have sewers installed in your neighborhood? There are for sure people who can afford it but there are also people who can’t, and who are you to make that judgment? If you don’t have any reason to be in the discussion why are you?

We paid $82 linear foot with the Capron Farm phase back in 2009. I think the interest back then was 6.1%. I think with interest it works out to $17,000-$18,000 for most homes.

Where were Langevin, Reed and Whitehouse? WHERE WERE THEY? Still no word from these guys on ANY federal money being made available to Warwick residents via grants, low interest loans, FEMA loans extended and available in the most flood prone areas, 50/50 bond program with residents paying half over time...NOTHING! Too busy defending OBAMAcare? YOU GUYS ARE USELESS until proven otherwise. I want to see a dated letter, email, cablegram, SOMETHING as evidence that ANY person from the city council, the Mayor, the sewer director...ANYONE...has sent to this Congressional delegation, and I want it printed in this paper...Maybe Cranston was correct 12+ years ago...SELL the damn sewer authority to Pave the Bay.

Norm because I care about the environment WE all live in. I enjoy the bay and local waters.

To avoid expensive repairs on your home and clean up the environment at the same time, use the natural cleaners for septic system clogging, plumbing and water supply maintenance like the all-natural Advanced Formula Septic-Helper 2000, Enza Drain Line Cleaner and the Enza Washer Ball for your laundry. http://millerplante.net.

In 2011 the EPA Total Maximum Load of Nitrates (TMDL) that states and counties must clean up their water supplies by 2017. It mandates new inspections on all septic systems, water wells and with funding, local waterways. A failed inspection would include a slow drain in your leach field, low septic tank bacteria levels or elevated Nitrate levels in your Water Well or local Water Supplies; could require replacement of your entire system for $10K to $80K+ or connect to the city sewer system for $5K to $40K. The new inspections are failing 12% of systems each year and 82% of those older than 1977.

500$ outhouses for all.

Millerplante I hooked into the sewer for $1,600 and it cost most of my neighbors $1,300. Don't try to sell your products with BS.

Michael2012 those of us who live on the water love the water etc... It blows my mind how people like you think it is okay the the city will charge others double what they have charged in the past..

Norm, I think today's projected cost is in line with what we paid for the capron farm phase. So your not alone in being upset with how this has played out. Bob Cushman in an earlier online discussion laid out the history of how the ealry sewer phases were handled. have been funded. No doubt that the people in the early projects are coming out way ahead on this. Chafee Avedisian the city council and the WSB have handled this badly.

Patientman I am hearing 25-30G which is like 50% increase in 4 years from the numbers you posted above.... I know it was long ago but we paid nothing close to what we are going to have to pay now for our house on Narragansett Parkway... Warwick is the 5th city I have lived in on the east coast and by far the worst run. How the tax payers of this city can keep reelecting the same people over and over blows my mind. As for WSA this whole situation blows my mind it is truly the stuff a Dateline show is made of all we are missing is a RI AG and FBI investigation.

Norm the article says $15,000-$30,000. Have you seen any linear ft. amount listed anywhere?

The proposed new assessment cost is not based on linear feet per property owner. From above article It is based on the total cost of all the four projects being considered divided by the total number of properties in the projects.

In the past the linear foot amount has never been enough to cover the cost of construction in each project. For example Governor Francis Phase I property owners paid a far less per foot assessment then the property owners in Phase II. Thus the phase I project along with about 10 out of the previous 11 projects incurred millions of dollars in debt. That debt was passed along to everyone connected to the system in the form of higher sewer usages rates.

Rate payers have requested that the sewer authority breakdown the usages fees on each bill showing a line for how much is being paid for past under assessed sewer projects and debt and the actual cost to treat the water deposited into the sewer. Estimates range as high as 25% of the usage fee paying for the past under assessed projects.

The per property cost sighted in the article $15 - $30,000 would theoritically cover the construction cost of the 4 projects.

The other $23 million to upgrade treament plant and increase levee height would result in usage fees becing jacked up even higher.

Well, if their gonna raise usage fee's they have to charge the connect capable fee that they said they were going to charge years ago. My neighbors can't afford the constant increases.

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 miss-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. How can that not cause decisions to become political? As a member of that committee I have seen first hand of the jockying for an appointed position.

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 origination 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 seemed to be on the radar of this committee.

.

Seems someone is off their meds again, Bob this isnt rock science. Divide up the cost to finish sewering the city. Charge a connect capable fee to those that already have sewers and haven't hooked up. Simply put make it even accross the board because this benefits everyone in the city. I have a perfectly working system but would be happy to have sewers to hook up to. This was the main reasons I voted for Ed lets hope his promise to put sewers in Warwick Neck comes true. If not many of us will not be voting for him a second time. I really dont understand why or how this is an issue. Its common sense.

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