Janine Burke-Wells, who was in command at the Warwick Sewer Authority during what surely have been tumultuous times – including the submersion of the wastewater treatment plant during the floods of 2010, several major infrastructure failures and adoption of a $40-million plan to extend sewers to some of the more vulnerable sections of the city – has submitted her resignation and will step down at the end of this month.
The position of executive director has been posted on the authority website.
“Huge things have happened since Janine has been there,” said Peter Ginaitt, who was appointed to the board only months before the floods of March 2010. The floods closed the operation for more than a week and were followed by an extensive rebuilding program that included the raising of the levy that failed to hold back the waters of the Pawtuxet River.
Ginaitt, who served as authority chair, was not reappointed to the board when his term expired earlier this year. He noted that during Burke-Wells’ tenure, the authority received numerous accolades from environmental groups while dealing with a series of challenges without once turning to the city for additional funding.
In response to Department of Environmental Management mandates, the authority built a $17-million plant to further reduce the release of phosphorous into the river. Also, he noted Burke-Wells was faced with the failure and rebuilding of the Cedar Swamp pump station. That was followed last summer by a pipe collapse near the pumping station and then, in November, a broken pipe on Sandy Lane that resulted in a prolonged detour to the major thoroughfare and an unexpected cost of $750,000. The Sandy Lane line and connecting interceptor from Oakland Beach were determined to be severely deteriorated by hydrogen sulfide gas, and not waiting for another collapse, the authority contracted to have the pipe lined with fiberglass, which is not affected by the gas and strengthened the pipe.
Ginaitt credited Burke-Wells with being “proactive” in addressing the aging system infrastructure, which has been difficult because of funding.
Ginaitt gave Burke-Wells a rating of 9 out of 10 for her work with the authority. He thought she was too willing to help in situations where she should have spelled out authority limitations.
“It’s frustrating to see her go. I would like to think it’s not political,” he said.
Ginaitt views the system, which he estimated as a $1-billion capital investment, as a city-owned asset. On that basis, he feels all taxpayers should share in the cost of system upgrades, not simply those linked to the system who are paying bond principal and interest costs through service fees.
The executive director’s job was posted on the city website on May 3 with a May 16 deadline for applications.
The salary range for the job is $86,000 to $108,515. The job is described as being under the “general supervision of the Sewer Authority Board/Mayor” and responsible for daily management and operation of the Sewer Authority, plus planning, construction review, administrating the budget and a multitude of other responsibilities.
Candidates must have 10 to 15 years of related work experience in the operation and construction of sewer infrastructure, supplemented with experience in general business management of a utility or related industry.
Neither Burke-Wells, who is out on medical leave, nor Gary Jarvis, chair of the Warwick Sewer Authority, could be reached for comment.
In an email from a spokeswoman, Mayor Joseph Solomon wished Burke-Well well in all her future endeavors.