The Bayside sewer construction project, which will bring sewers to 900 homes in the Riverview, Bayside and Highland Beach neighborhoods, will be like no other in the city.
Janine Burke-Wells, executive director of the Warwick Sewer Authority, anticipates when the authority advertises for construction bids next year interest from across the country in the job. The project is estimated to cost $18.5 million. What makes this so different, although not more costly than conventional construction, is what’s within a few feet of the surface.
The area has a long history of human inhabitation reaching back long before Roger Williams arrived in Rhode Island. Surveys of the area that included digging up strips down Tidewater Drive have revealed evidence of Native Americans.
So as not to disturb these archeological features and working with the Narragansett Indians, the authority is designing a sewer system that will be installed with the use of directional drilling. This will minimize excavation and leave archeological features untouched by installing pipe from “jacking pits,” said Burke-Wells. It is from these pits that the drilling below the archeological features will take place. Overall, the project could have as many as 400 pits.
But how the sewers will be installed was of little interest to a meeting of more than 50 property owners Monday evening at the Warwick Public Library. Rather, their concern was cost, with some of the group saying they didn’t need, want nor could they afford sewers. Others were just as adamant that they have waited far too long for sewers.
“I’m not here to start a fight,” said Michelle McMahon, who made it clear she couldn’t afford a projected assessment cost of $22,000. She said that expense would force her out of her home. Terri Medeiros, also a resident, was likewise troubled by the projected cost. She suggested the cost be “written off” her taxes as an expense and recommended the project that now has been talked about for more than 20 years be put on hold until “concrete numbers” on cost are made available.
Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur, who learned of the meeting from Facebook, said when he ran for office sewers were the top priority of residents and he vowed to have them built. Ladouceur was the driving force behind the Council Sewer Review Commission that after more than a year of meetings successfully gained City Council approval of a $33 million sewer revenue bond to finance four major sewer extension projects including Bayside. As Ladouceur pointed out, the commission also was able to significantly reduce the interest rate on assessments to 1.25 percent more than the interest rate paid on the bonds and to extend the terms of assessment payment from 20 to 30 years. Also coming out of the commission is a hardship provision for those deemed unable to pay their assessment.
Ladouceur said he had a “responsibility” to his constituents to provide sewers. Of particular concern are 100 property owners living within 200 feet of the shoreline who have cesspools. Under legislation, these people must either tie into sewers or build septic systems that in some cases could cost in excess of $30,000. Those Department of Environmental Management deadlines have been extended since the sewer project is moving forward.
But School Committee member and Governor Francis Farms resident Eugene Nadeau didn’t want to hear it. He said he has been “fighting” sewers for the last seven years. “It all sounds good,” he said, “but you’re going to be paying thousands and thousands of dollars.”
He said cesspools and septic systems are not the problem.
“Do not believe for one second you are polluting Narragansett Bay,” he said. His declaration was met with some skepticism. One woman said the neighborhood smelled like a sewer as soon as the snow melted and another asked for his sources.
“It’s not people without sewers who are doing this one iota,” he said. Nadeau said storm water runoff is responsible for bay pollution, information he said he gleamed from the Save the Bay website. Also, he said that the three wastewater treatment plants on the Pawtuxet are daily dumping 13 million gallons into the river. He asked if people would drink water from the river, eat fish caught in it or swim in it.
Burke-Wells, who was unable to attend the meeting, provided written answers to questions provided her.
In an interview Tuesday she said the total cost of the Bayside projects when engineering and design are calculated is $21 million. She said it is a low-pressure system that requires homeowners to have grinder pumps that are part of the total estimated cost. When the cost of the system is divided by the 900 homes that could connect plus 300 vacant house lots, the assessment cost works out to about $17,000. Until the project is built, however, the precise cost won’t be known. Also, Burke-Wells said, the authority hasn’t decided how to treat multi-family homes (would they be counted as more than one assessment and at what rate?) or whether the upcoming round of sewer projects would be lumped into one so as to arrive at a uniform per unit cost.
Those projects include Governor Francis that will go out to bid in two months that will provide access to 270 property owners and is estimated to cost $5.1 million; O’Donnell Hill that is ready to bid and would provide access to 93 properties and cost $1.5 million; and Northwest Gorton that is in design, provide access to 388 and cost $5.1 million.
“We’re all aware that that [cost of assessments] is the issue,” she said.
At Monday’s meeting Ladouceur said he has talked to the state’s congressional delegation in an effort to secure federal funding for the project. He didn’t offer much hope. He believes the cost of repaving roads as they relate to sewer projects should be shared by the city since the roads benefit the entire community.
Nonetheless, he said, “We can’t put sewers on hold. The cost of doing this is only going to go up.”
That was not what some wanted to hear.
“In 2018 you guys decide whether I stay or go,” he countered.
An advocate of Bayside sewers, Richard Nathan said, “I’m tired of this political crap.”
“I think $22,000 [projected assessment] is a bargain and I’m ready to tie in,” added resident Kevin Eisemann.
Because of the direction drilling of the project that requires knowing where connections will be made, Burke-Wells said it is important that homeowners respond to authority inquiries as to where they want the service to enter their home. She said the authority could assist, walking the property with the owner to take into consideration trees and walls that might be affected.