By JOHN HOWELL Mayor Frank Picozzi refused to tell about 60 Bayside residents what they wanted to hear last Thursday: that he would put a halt to plans to bring sewers to 935 residential properties after 20 years of delays. In what was surely the most
Mayor Frank Picozzi refused to tell about 60 Bayside residents what they wanted to hear last Thursday: that he would put a halt to plans to bring sewers to 935 residential properties after 20 years of delays.
In what was surely the most contentious of meetings since becoming mayor, with people talking over his responses and accusing him of turning his back on them and breaking campaign promises, Picozzi repeatedly said the single-home assessment would be $16,900; that it would not change and that is “carved in granite.”
That didn’t mollify some residents who said that even though the $16,900 is a dramatic reduction over earlier projections that assessments could run as high as $25,000 to $30,000, they couldn’t afford it. That appeared to be especially true for those owning multiple Bayside parcels.
After an emotional description of her affection for the neighborhood, Lois Graydon, the owner of three parcels, two of which are vacant, said she would be forced to sell.
Others talked of similar hardships and the uncertainty of additional expenses that could skyrocket costs, including tying into the system, failure of a home grinder pump needed to link to the low-pressure system and operational expenses.
Unanswered was why assessments will be higher for multiple-family properties when there is a single connection and the usage fee is based on the water consumed, as questioned by Paula Brousseau.
Picozzi didn’t have an answer for Pauline Genest, who questioned how the sewer authority planned to pay for the project if the assessments plus $3 million in American Rescue Plan funding fail to cover the cost. Would the city turn to the taxpayers or would the assessment increase?
Picozzi stuck to his guns – the assessment would not be greater than $16,900.
Terri Medeiros, who was instrumental in mounting a petition signed by more than 300 Bayside residents in opposition to the sewers, was not only unhappy with Picozzi but took aim at the city’s state legislators. She said they had failed their constituents by not amending legislation targeted at Coventry sewers to likewise apply to Warwick. The bills, which she said were approved, limit the interest cost of assessments (that in the case of Warwick is a 30-year note) to not more than a half a percent more than the borrowing cost of the municipality. Warwick is limited to a 1.25 percent surcharge. Legislation also removes the cost of Coventry road repaving upon completion of a sewer project from the amount used to calculate the assessment. Road repaving is a cost incorporated in Warwick assessments.
Marc Genest questioned how residents could trust the mayor when he promised to bring new leadership to the sewer authority after decades of bungling and named BettyAnne Rogers, who has worked for more than 27 years for the authority. Picozzi defended his appointment, saying Rogers was not in a key leadership position and expressed his confidence in her abilities.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, who has made Bayside sewers a priority since winning election nine year ago, likewise came under fire. He took offense to charges he had “lied” about the cost of the system and that he doesn’t care about his constituents.
“What I said is that I would do everything I could to keep the cost low,” he said.
As said on numerous occasions, Ladouceur said when he campaigned for office, the question of when would the neighborhood get sewers outweighed all other concerns. He noted that “well over 40 percent” of Bayside homes have cesspools.
There were those who reasoned that the septic systems of today would be the preferable way to go and a sewer system is bound to fail at some point, leaving everybody with a mess.
“A decentralized system is where we should be,” said Pauline Genest. “Stop the project and come up with a better system.”
Frustration ran high.
“I’ll make sure you’re an only one-term mayor,” vowed Aleksei Weaver. It was after 8 p.m. before all those who had signed up to speak had had their say. Mayor Picozzi, Rogers and other officials lingered to answer additional questions.
Rogers could not say Monday how much more the project could cost than the $17 million bid awarded to D’Ambra Construction. Regardless of unpredictable expenses such as encountering ledge or additional Native American artifacts, she said the $16,900 assessment wouldn’t change. American Rescue Plan and authority funds would take care of cost overruns.
“We’re going to proceed. We can’t keep kicking this can down the road,” she said. She said a “kickoff meeting” with the contractor and other stakeholders would be held Sept. 27. She said the Narragansett Indians would be invited.
The project is slated to start with the open cut trenching in Highland Beach and the main line down Tidewater Drive.
As for the matter of increased assessments for multiple dwellings on a single lot, she said the EDU (equivalent dwelling unit) system is being used. She pointed out that the overall system is designed to accommodate those units and while a single pipe may serve all units at one location, the system overall has to be built to handle the usage.