City ‘flush’ with sewer grants

But aging infrastructure is going to need a lot more work

Posted 8/24/23

It was a poor pun but US Senator Jack made it anyway last Thursday in announcing three grants totaling $4.37 million to enhance the city’s sewer infrastructure, build in environmental …

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City ‘flush’ with sewer grants

But aging infrastructure is going to need a lot more work


It was a poor pun but US Senator Jack made it anyway last Thursday in announcing three grants totaling $4.37 million to enhance the city’s sewer infrastructure, build in environmental safeguards and reduce the pressure on ratepayers who would otherwise have to foot the cost.

Opening a press conference at the Oakland Beach gazebo with a backdrop of Narragansett Bay, Reed said he was “flushed with pride” to support the earmark grants and the focus they put on the importance of clean water.

Reed highlighted recent storms, heavy rains and tidal surges, saying that existing sewer systems “were not built for this.” Not only has the Oakland Beach sewage pump station been flooded and forced to shut down by storms, but the run off from storms is impacting the whole bay, he said.

The largest of the grants, $2.4 million, will be used to replace the 40 plus year old pumping station with a flood-resistant, technologically advanced station that has been designed to incorporate a venting tower designed to resemble a lighthouse.

In an interview Monday WSA executive director Betty Anne Rogers and Project Manager Mat Solitro said the pumping station is in the final stages of design, and its final cost is estimated at $7 million. The job estimated to take about a year to complete would require a bypass to the existing pump station, which would eventually be demolished and filled in. As there are no projections showing build outs within the service area requiring added capacity, the pump station would be basically the same size but built to better withstand conditions and outfitted with the latest equipment. Unlike the existing largely below ground pump station, the new station will stand 20 to 23 feet above ground.

A second earmark grant of $1.44 million will be used to rehabilitate the Oakland Beach force main that has seriously deteriorated threatening to collapse, as happened several years ago, on Sandy Lane. There have already been two breaks in the 8,000-foot forced main, which makes it a priority for Rogers.

The break on Sandy Lane is perhaps most illustrative of the impact of a sewer infrastructure that is aging and compromised by the corrosive effects of hydrogen sulfide gases that build up when there is not a constant flow of wastewater. The break there caused sewer backups to some area residents and a detour lasting weeks. Following that break, the Warwick Sewer Authority stepped up its examination of the sewer infrastructure and prioritizing repairs made by a process of relining pipes underground. To accomplish this, wastewater is diverted to an above ground pipe and the existing pipe is cleaned before being relined with a fiberglass coating. The new “skin” cures in place once the pipe is pressurized with hot water. Relining saves unearthing the existing pipes as well as significant time and costs.

Rogers projected the overall cost of the project at $3 million. She is hesitant to nail down a date for the project, fearing the authority’s ability to stay on top of too many simultaneous projects. On top of her list is work on yet another failing forced main running from the Cedar Swamp pumping station across a portion of airport property to a collection point on Airport Road near Hallene Avenue. A bypass to the main was installed shortly after the pipe ruptured spilling wastewater into Warwick Pond in anticipation of awarding a contract to fully upgrade the line. When bids for the work were three times projected costs, the project was put on hold for nearly a year as the authority sought council approval to increase bonding to award the $ 13,935,935 million contract.

“We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin,” Rogers said explaining the WSA would probably be prepared to solicit bids on the Oakland Beach project in August 2024.

From prior experience, Rogers doesn’t anticipate delays in grant payments or their expiration. She explained that contractor invoices are submitted directly for federal payment with the authority paying its 20 percent share. The grants are to be used within five years.

The third earmark of $536,000 will be used to upgrade the Apponaug Pump Station and retrofit it with larger wet well capacity, as well as upgrade the existing pumps to handle additional flow.

Rogers put the overall cost of increasing the capacity of the Apponaug station at $1.2 million. She said that project at a year and a half away.

Joining Reed at the podium at Thursday’s announcement were US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse who worked on securing the grants, Mayor Frank Picozzi, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi and WSA executive director Rogers.

Picozzi talked of the city’s aging infrastructure and praised the senators for having worked hard “to secure funds so that we can replace and modernize our sewer system. This will not only help the quality of life here in our city, it will help keep our waters and environment cleaner.”

Funding was likewise on the mind of Shekarchi who said the senators “punched above their weight” to secure federal funds for the smallest of states.

“I woke up this morning pinching myself,” said Rogers of the grants that extend the authority’s ability to upgrade facilities. She noted Reed and Whitehouse previously secured a $1.5 million federal earmark in FY2022 to modernize the authority’s ability for round-the-clock monitoring of its wastewater treatment facility operation and 49 remote pumping stations.

She said the funding will assist in “creating the most resilient project for Oakland Beach.”

Rogers also spoke of the impact on ratepayers and how the federal funds will reduce the reliance on system users who foot the cost as part of rate payments.

Whitehouse attributed the grant awards in large part to the management of the Warwick authority. He, too, spoke of the environmental impacts of the projects.

 “This new funding will modernize Warwick’s aging wastewater system and help keep Oakland Beach and Narragansett Bay clean for residents to enjoy,” he said in a statement.

BEARING GRANTS: Mayor Frank Picozzi welcomes Senator Jack Reed prior to a press conference held last Thursday at the Oakland Beach gazebo to announce three earmark grants totaling $4.37 million to restore and improve Warwick sewers. Looking on are Councilwoman Donna Travis, Larry Berman from the Speakers office, House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, Council President Steve McAllister and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. (Warwick Beacon photo)

A BOOSTER TO RATEPAYERS: Mayor Picozzi with a super-sized check representing the federal grants funds the city will receive. The money will reduce the dependence on ratepayer funding to upgrade the sewer system. (Warwick Beacon photo)

grants, sewers, infrastructure