There’s a lot to be said for bringing all the parties together in an effort to find solutions to problems.
Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur did that when seeking ways to cope with vacant houses that have blighted some neighborhoods. Now he aims to do the same thing with the larger issue of sewer costs, whether to expand the system to bring relief to those with cesspools and failing septic systems or the funding of wastewater treatment plant upgrades to meet Department of Environmental Management (DEM) requirements.
So far, the efforts of Ladouceur’s review commission have raised more questions than found answers.
Those questions include what sections of the city that don’t have sewers should get them first; how property owners should be assessed to pay for those projects – whether on a linear foot basis, as now done, or by housing unit; whether users should pay solely for upgrades to the treatment plant or whether this is an asset to the entire city that all taxpayers should share in; whether mandated improvements to the plant can be postponed; whether the cost of new sewers could be reduced if the city did some of the work; and how bonding costs would affect sewer usage fees or city taxes.
Ladouceur’s commission is comprised of legislative representatives, representatives from DEM and Coastal Resources Management Council, the Warwick Sewer Authority, the city administration, the city finance director, Save the Bay, the public and even the Narragansett Indians. Representation from the tribe is important as test borings for the Riverview project encountered evidence of Native American burial sites and activity.
Discussions at commission meetings have been lively and uninhibited. Ideas are openly expressed and there is a fair amount of “what ifs” being suggested. It is a refreshing change from the Sewer Authority bashing that has characterized some recent council and authority meetings. We can understand where some of that criticism comes from. Rightfully, homeowners are upset to have been told that their neighborhood won’t get sewers, only to learn, after spending thousands to install a septic system, that an extension is coming their way. And, no doubt, people are angered when they learn their sewer assessment is twice that of their neighbor.
Ladouceur is not on a witch-hunt. He’s not looking for villains. He says he’s seeking long-term solutions.
That doesn’t look to be easy. Funding is a critical piece, if not the lynchpin to the solutions. Someone will have to pay for the treatment plant upgrades and the extended system.
If anything, bringing the parties together has illustrated the magnitude and complexity of the issues. But it also is forging a team to address them.
We’re hopeful of the outcome.