By JOHN HOWELL
After more than 25 years of being told they would get sewers, the first of 900 Bayside property owners will be able to flush a toilet, take a shower, do a load of laundry and push …
After more than 25 years of being told they would get sewers, the first of 900 Bayside property owners will be able to flush a toilet, take a shower, do a load of laundry and push the on button on a full dishwasher without wondering if their septic system will convert the backyard into a bubbling mess of smelly wastewater.
Betty Anne Rogers, executive director of the Warwick Sewer Authority , said Monday the open trench section of the project which basically stretches south from Grove Avenue and includes Highland Beach is undergoing or has completed pressure testing and should be ready for the first connection any day now. Property owners are responsible for contracting with drain layers to do the work and, once they have obtained a permit from the city, the sewer authority will provide the pump for the low pressure system. The cylindrical pumps stand more than four feel tall and are buried outside the house. The electrically-operated pumps, that the WSA has contracted to buy for $4,300, have a 5-year warrantee. The homeowner pays to run the pump, but its cost is included in the $16,900 assessment each property owner faces whether they choose to connect to the system or not.
Rogers said approximately 300 property owners are within the open trench portion of the $17.8 million project. As it is a low pressure system, as opposed to a gravity system, Rogers said there’s no minimum to the number of connections for it to operate.
“We could have one, ten, fifteen connect but the ideal is for all to tie in,” she said.
The directional drilling portion of the project involving more than 500 properties from Grove Avenue North to Mill Cove, that includes Bayside, Longmeadow and Riverview, will take longer to bring online. Rogers projected the project, being undertaken by D’Ambra Construction, should be completed by next spring, including the repaving of roads. Connections from the directional drilling areas should be possible by the end of the summer. Pipes are in the ground, and roads have been patched. The repaving is the final step in the process, however, Rogers said the authority is coordinating with Rhode Island Energy to determine the extent of their work in replacing natural gas lines in the area so as to avoid digging up the roads after being repaved.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur nods when told of developments Monday evening as he prepared for the beginning of the Council Finance Committee. He paused to reflect on how long Bayside residents waited before getting sewers. Ladouceur first ran for the City Council in 2012. He walked the ward and time and again heard how homeowners wanted sewers. He made it his cause, promising he would work to make it happen.
He soon found it would take building consensus not just among fellow council members, but also state legislators, state regulators and the community. On the list, too, was the Narragansett Indian Tribe. The Mill Cove area, including much of Riverview, was a Native American encampment dating back to before Roger Williams and colonists moved into what became Rhode Island. Test pits during the design of the system found at least one Native American burial beneath Tidewater Drive where the main line would run to a pumping station not far from the Tidewater Drive, West Shore Road intersection. In addition to human bones other archeological features were found indicating the area was heavily populated by Native Americans at one time.
Once in office, Ladouceur named the Warwick Council Sewer Review Commission, a group consisting of elected officials, department directors, community representatives and tribal members. The commission that met weekly for months examined all aspects of the operation of the sewer authority from the interest rate charged on long term assessment payments to how it calculated assessments. It recommended abandonment of the linear foot means of assessments that penalized property owners with long lots bordering sewers and proposed evenly sharing the cost of a sewer project between those who would benefit.
The commission explored septic systems as an alternative to Bayside sewers. They looked means to avoid disturbing features sacred to the Narragansetts. Although not commonly used in Rhode Island, directional drilling offered a means of achieving that. It was going to be expensive. Estimates put individual assessments between $25,000 and $30,000. A group in opposition to Bayside sewers suggested alternatives and lobbied to defeat funding for the project. Meanwhile, since sewer construction had been on the drawing boards for so long, the repaving of Bayside roads had been postponed. People were angry. Their septic systems were failing. They feared the cost of sewers and the plan for a low pressure system required individual home pumps. If they lived within 200 feet of the shoreline, they faced state fines if they didn’t close cesspools and convert to sewers or costly septic systems. Meanwhile Tidewater Drive, the main access to the neighborhood, was a rutted thoroughfare.
Plans for a low pressure Bayside system that required directional drilling were drawn in 2019. Bids were solicited. D’Ambra Construction was the low and preferred bidder at $17.8 million but it wasn’t until mid summer 2020 that the late Mayor Joseph Solomon gave the WSA approval to enter into a contract. The total cost of the project is projected at $25 million given design and engineering changes and archeological surveys.
Assessments remained the unknown and the bone of contention. After assuming office in 2021 during the pandemic and earmarking $7 million in federal recovery to the WSA, Mayor Frank Picozzi announced Bayside assessments would be capped at $16,900. The cap also applied to the final phase of Governor Francis sewers that were completed at that time.
While it would require repaving when the project was fully completed, the administration went ahead with a partial repaving of Tidewater Drive.
Bayside sewers have faded from the headlines. They are now in the ground, being tested and soon will be put to use. Homeowners face the costs and inconvenience of making connections and rough roads, but best of all taking a long shower and knowing the water won’t come bubbling up in the yard.