Push on to get sewer projects started
Joe Gallucci is tired of having his constituents wait for sewers.
Edgar Ladouceur wants to have as many questions answered before giving the green light, but he thinks projects that improve the bay’s water quality should be a priority.
Michelle Komar wants to know how people are going to pay for it.
Aaron Guckian is ready to get started as soon as possible.
All four are members of the council sewer review commission that Ward 5 Councilman Ladouceur created earlier this summer. Their points of view are among the many differences of opinion as the commission set an agenda for the Sewer Authority.
But the clock is ticking, and Ward 8 Councilman Gallucci made it clear Thursday he’s tired of waiting. Gallucci is the sponsor of a council resolution that would grant the sewer authority the power to issue $23 million in revenue bonds. Gallucci has twice postponed action on the resolution but now he wants the council to act when it comes up on Sept. 9.
“I’m not prepared to extend it beyond Sept. 9. We’re at a critical point,” he said.
Gallucci wants work to start on the O’Donnell Hill project, which is estimated to cost $2.1 million and bring sewers to 120 residents. He argues that Ward 8 didn’t see any additional sewers following voter approval of a $130 million bond in the 1990s or a subsequent $50 million sewer bond, even though a third of city tax revenue is generated in Ward 8, home to a large portion of the city’s retail businesses.
“We can’t just back off and say to them they’re going to have to wait. I’m not going to continue to hold off and hold off,” Gallucci said.
Ladouceur is in agreement, but he also wants accurate cost projections and answers on what it is going to cost property owners. He would like to know whether $23 million is enough, as about $60 million in projects has been identified. The amount was chosen to get the projects started with the thought that revenue bonds would follow. As for cost, the commission is wrestling with revising the existing linear foot assessment and replacing it with a unit cost per landowner, which would require a change in enabling legislation by the General Assembly.
“If we’re going to get sewers, we have to put up the money. It’s been delayed long enough,” he told the commission.
That’s music to Sewer Authority Chairman Guckian’s ears.
He suggests that the authority move ahead with projects for O’Donnell Hill, Governor Francis Farms and Greenwood as they have already been designed.
“I’d like to move the football forward, yard by yard,” he said.
Many of Ladouceur’s constituents – in Riverview and Highland Beach – have cesspools, which they will be required to replace with costly septic systems or tie into sewers. Sewers were designed for Riverview [the project area has been named Bayside to cover several neighborhoods] but work came to a halt when archeological features, including American Indian burial grounds were found. Now the authority is considering alternate means to a gravity system to serve the area.
“I think the right thing to do is to protect the coastal areas. That’s where the priority should be,” said Ladouceur.
Guckian answered, “We have to sewer as much of Warwick as we can.”
He advocated starting with the projects already on the drawing boards while pushing forward with designs for Bayside.
Essential to Ladouceur is an accurate plan and projections.
“We have to be able to tell the taxpayers what it’s going to cost. We have to get the trust and support of the public. We need to do that,” he insisted.
During the public comment, resident Roy Dempsey was critical of the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and its mandate to upgrade the treatment plant at a cost of $16 million to further reduce the release of phosphorous into the Pawtuxet River. At the same time, the sewer authority is looking at a $5 million project to add height to river levees.
“They are mandating projects without determining the ability of the public to pay,” said Dempsey.
Further, he contends, DEM hasn’t proven the plant is the source of river pollution.
Citing conditions where he must have his own system pumped before having at party at his home, Governor Francis resident Richard Kuehl urged for the continued expansion of the system.
Komar talked of the need to find alternate funding to decrease the burden on neighborhoods. Yet she also feels that the projects should be “self-funding” so users throughout the system aren’t paying for someone else’s sewers with their user rates. Accurately estimating the cost of projects is fundamental and Komar said she didn’t think the commission had enough information to make a recommendation on the amount of a bond. Not discussed was whether the commission’s recommendation would also include the treatment plant and levee work, an added $21 million.
The commission will meet again Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.