Plans call to elevate sewer levees, funding questionable
Assuming no delays, construction for elevating the levee at the Warwick Sewer Authority treatment plant and related facilities and the Animal Shelter could start as soon as August, Janine Burke said Tuesday.
Burke, who is director of the authority, and authority member Peter Ginaitt talked about measures to prevent the future flooding of the plant following the Tuesday meeting. At the same meeting, Ward 5 Councilman Edgar Ladouceur made an impassioned appeal to extend sewers to the Riverview and Highland Beach sections of the city. Ladouceur described a situation where homeowners cannot afford or don't have sufficient land to install the high cost septic systems required of them. He said property values will drop without sewers and some people will be forced out of their homes.
"Let's get the right people to the table and figure out how to help these people," he said.
Bringing sewers to the area hinges on a line down Tidewater Drive and that is problematic.
Plans were drawn up for Riverview sewers and the project was scheduled for construction more than five years ago. Funding was budgeted. Then, after borings revealed a high level of Native American artifacts and burial sites in the area, everything came to a halt.
Burke said it would cost $400,000 for archeological studies, which would require a virtual excavation of Tidewater Drive.
"The cost of not doing something is going to far exceed expenses," argued Ladouceur.
Burke doesn't have a ready answer.
When first proposed, she said, the Riverview sewer project, to service about 400 homes, was about $4 million. Funding earmarked for Riverview has now gone into other projects. But the bigger hurdle is designing and building a system that accounts for an untold number of archeological features.
"It's a tough one," she said.
What may also prove tough is obtaining the funds to raise the levees at the treatment plant to protect it from a repeat of the devastating March 2010 flood that left much of the facility 10 feet under water.
Ginaitt finds that incomprehensible after a combination of insurance, city and federal funds paid more than $14 million to bring the facility back online.
"We're paying to put it back to where it was, but they're not going to help us mitigate if it floods again. It's a sad day," he said.
Actually, the authority has yet to learn whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will approve its request for a mitigation grant. The project, as outlined by AECOM of Rocky Hill, Conn., would elevate the levees with a combination of earth and flood walls by 7.7 feet to protect against the 500-year flood. The existing levee is at an elevation of 26.3 feet, which, even with a three-foot freeboard, was topped by an additional three feet when the Pawtuxet River crested.
AECOM is also designing upgrades to the treatment plant to meet Department of Environmental Management (DEM) standards for the improved removal of phosphorus. That work, projected to cost $14 million, would be done in concert with elevating the levee. Earth removed for the construction of treatment tanks would be used on the levee. Also, explained Burke, there would be additional savings on insurance and bonding. Burke hopes to go before the council for revenue bond authorization this spring.
On other issues, authority chairman Fred Sullivan raised the question of what would become of the reserve sewer capacity set aside for Rocky Point when that land is acquired by the state. He asked whether that might become available to further extend Warwick Neck sewers. John Revens, counsel to the authority, doubted the state would entertain giving or selling the reserve until a master plan is developed for the park. The authority also plans to look at the reserve capacity it holds with West Warwick. A number of properties along Quaker Lane and Bald Hill Road are linked into the West Warwick system and West Warwick has reserved capacity for additional flow from Warwick. But, as West Warwick also upgrades its plant to meet DEM standards, the Warwick authority is expected to pay its share, based on the reserve.
If reserves could be reduced, so could Warwick costs. Revens cautioned that property usages could change, and the authority would want to have the capacity to accommodate such redevelopment and growth.
Member Gary Jarvis, who chairs the subcommittee on sewer assessments, reported requests for proposals to review the current system and recommend changes in the enabling legislation should be available by next month. Any change, he said, would need to go to the City Council.
He said changes are needed so that a property owner "on one side of the street isn't paying an exorbitant amount compared to someone across the street."