The Warwick Sewer Authority will be presented four possible options for the installation of Bayside sewers when it meets on July 25, all involving directional drilling to avoid disturbing archeological features dating back to pre-colonial times when the area was inhabited by American Indian tribes.
But while the authority may select an option, both Mayor Joseph Solomon and Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur – who has made the project a priority since being first elected seven years ago – agree an authority director should be in place for the project to move forward.
“I would slow the wheels down a little bit until a new director or directors are appointed,” Solomon said Wednesday in an interview. “Because whatever project occurs, whether it be in Bayside or anywhere else, it’s not going to be an overnight project. It’s going to be a project that a potential director or directors will be in charge of.”
In a telephone interview Ladouceur said it is no fault of the residents that former director Janine Burke-Wells chose to make a career change and the project, which he had hoped would start this summer, is now in limbo.
Despite his commitment to extending sewers to Bayside, Ladouceur favors getting a director in place first.
“We need a director in place to get this thing done and the sooner the better,” he said.
Extending sewer service to the neighborhoods of Riverview, Longmeadow and Highland Beach, long referred to as the Bayside project, has been talked about for decades but put off because of its complexity, lack of funding or both. It appeared that might happen again when the sewer authority met last month and Solomon, in a separate interview, raised concerns over the impact of additional borrowing on city finances and the overall cost of the project.
However, the board wanted additional information, which Earl Bond, project manager for the WSA, is working to provide.
“We don’t want to be reckless moving forward without understanding all the impacts,” Bond said in an interview Tuesday.
A 21-year employee of the authority, Bond said, “I have never seen a more complicated project than Bayside.” The project would bring sewers to 938 property owners, many of whom are now dependent on cesspools or failing septic systems and would face upgrading to approved septic systems under state regulations if sewers were not built.
Not building the sewers is not an option in Ladouceur’s book.
“Some of these people have been waiting for 25 to 30 years,” he said.
Being a private contractor, Ladouceur said he has seen prices rise in the past several years and he expects that to continue, so further delaying the work will only result in higher costs.
Ladouceur also observed, as this could be an 18-month to two-year project, it is difficult to nail down costs to the penny. Sewer systems aren’t cheap. While costs won’t be known until the project is bid and built, projections are between $23.5 million and $27 million that put individual assessments in the range of $24,000 to $28,000.
As directional drilling – a process where drills are used to excavate below the surface to connect pipes between a series of pits – has never been used in Rhode Island as far as Bond knows. He said two contractors have been deemed certified bidders by the authority’s engineering firm and more may step forward should the authority advertise for bids.
Ladouceur favors directional drilling as it addresses concerns of Native American artifacts and reduces construction disruptions. He believes it may also provide benefits to the homeowner when it comes to making a system connection.
What Bond plans to show the board are four options to building the system. All options would use directional drilling to extend the service to the 550 properties in the archeologically sensitive area. The remaining 398 properties could be serviced by either “open cut” or directional drilling. Variations would come in the form of whether directional drilling is used to bring the service from the line in the middle of the street directly to the home, part way to the home or to the curb. It’s up to the homeowner to make the connection.
Directional drilling to the home would minimize construction impact to the homeowner, Bond notes. As the line to the home has a valve, homeowners would have the option of tying into the sewers when and if they wanted. (That option may not exist for homeowners on cesspools or unapproved septic systems living within 200 feet of the bay.)
Because of its low elevation, the entire Bayside system is designed as a low pressure system requiring homeowners to have a pump. Pumps would be installed as part of the assessment cost but become the responsibility of the homeowner once operational. The entire Bayside project would feed into the Tidewater Drive pumping station, which in turn feeds into the Cedar Swamp pumping station and eventually to the treatment plant on the Pawtuxet River alongside Route 95.
If the authority approves a plan and everything fell into place, Bond believes the project would be ready to go out for bids this year and that a contract could be awarded in time for construction to start next spring.
Since Burke-Wells retired as director, the position has been posted on May 3 with a deadline of 10 working days for applications. Solomon said, since Burke-Wells’ departure, the authority has been managed by Anthony Poole, Scott Goodinson and Bond.
“I think that at this point, Scott, Earl and Poole are doing a great job of keeping the bus on the road, so to speak,” he said.
Asked about his reservations over the financing of a Bayside project, Solomon said, “You don’t embark on a project unless you know what the exact cost is going to be and what your other potential expenditures may be in the operation of the facility or infrastructure. These are things a director will take all those pieces to the puzzle, gather them and look at that information.”
He also talked about the level of bonding authority as granted by the City Council, noting that the cost of the Bayside project could leave the authority strapped.
“It also may deplete funds that you need in other areas that has come to light since I’ve taken office, which is infrastructure – collapsing pipelines and sewer lines. Because you can have sewers to your house, but if I can’t get that sewage to the treatment plant, that $30 million I invested into the sewers to your house, where did that go? Into the bay,” he said.