For decades Riverview, Longmeadow and Highland Beach homeowners have been told they will have sewers.
Now, understandably since little seems to be happening, some residents question if that will ever happen. The short answer is the Bayside sewer project encompassing the three neighborhoods is beyond the planning phase and construction could start this year.
But why has it taken so long?
The story begins in the late ’80s and early ’90s with plans to bring sewers to Riverview and later extend them to Longmeadow and Highland Beach. There was the funding. Preliminary work on the design of a gravity system was completed, and then the Sewer Authority had to address what locals had known for centuries.
Riverview, with access to Narragansett Bay, Buckeye Brook and Mill Cove, had been summer campgrounds for Native Americans long before Roger Williams came to Rhode Island. Piles of quahog and oyster shells, once garbage pits, are only feet below ground. Stone tools, arrowheads, bits of pottery and more modern iron implements have been found along with Indian burial sites.
The Narragansett Indian Tribe was concerned about disturbing the grounds. Plans for the project were delayed; the Warwick Sewer Authority concentrated on other sewer extensions. The money was spent elsewhere.
But that’s hardly the end to the story.
Then came a legislative edict that all cesspools within 200 feet of the bay and other bodies of water would have to be closed, and homeowners would need to either tie into sewers or have an approved septic system by Jan. 1, 2014. About the same time, Ed Ladouceur was elected the Ward 5 councilman. He campaigned on bringing sewers to the neighborhoods.
That was seven years ago, and Ladoceur is as passionate today about Bayside sewers as he was then. He’s done a lot to see that they become a reality. His efforts won more than council approval of bonding for the sewers. With the funding and a plan in place for sewers, the Department of Environmental Management granted an extension to the closure of cesspools to June 2020.
Now, not only is Ladouceur growing impatient, but so also are some of his constituents. In recent weeks, an email chain for the Riverview Improvement Association has been filled with inquiries about the Bayside project.
“I was told they pushed us to the fall,” Erin Cabral wrote. “Now they didn’t say what year. I know it isn’t funny, but damn how long do we have to wait? My cesspool is failing, and I can’t wait so I will have to pay double; it just isn’t fair!! Wish they would just be honest and tell us the truth.”
On Monday, Ladouceur said he is working with the Sewer Authority for answers and that when he has them he’ll hold a public hearing, most likely in early April. Indeed, the project has not been sidetracked, as evidenced in correspondence shared by Ladouceur that shows applications for permits and a schedule for the work. Ladouceur said he intends to become personally engaged, contacting the appropriate agencies so as to expedite permitting.
Assuming permitting is completed this month, Ladouceur is hopeful construction could start in mid-summer.
“When I’m on a mission, I’m on a mission,” Ladouceur vowed of his commitment to bring sewers to Bayside.
He is also on a mission to lower the $25,000 projected sewer assessment to homeowners. He notes that assessments were initially estimated in the range of $35,000. Then, because of so many Native American archeological features, the authority sought an alternative means of providing sewers. They came up with a low pressure rather than a gravity system to be installed with directional drilling to avoid sensitive sites. In place of digging a trench to lay pipe, a drill is lowered into an opening. The drill, working horizontally to the surface, then excavates an opening for the pipe.
A spokeswoman for the Warwick Sewer Authority said that the authority has issued a “request for qualifications” from contractors capable of directional drilling with the intent of going out for bids by June 1. Assuming the award of a bid, work would start this summer and take about 18 months to complete.
As the authority and the city have worked closely with the Department of Environmental Management and Coastal Resources Management Council, the feeling is that as long as sewers are under construction, the phase-out of cesspools would be continued.
Ladouceur is looking for more savings. He thinks the cost of grinder pumps that will be required of homeowners linking to the sewers should be covered by the authority. His big-ticket item that could cut assessments by as much as 20 percent is for the city to pick up the cost of repaving the roads when the project is completed. He argues the city has put off repaving neighborhood roads for more than 20 years in expectation of the sewers.
“They shouldn’t have to pay for the cost of the roads,” he says of homeowners.
So far, the administration hasn’t bought into his plan.
“To think that the folks that have waited for over 20 years for sewers [and roads] should pay the costs of new roads today is not only ridiculous, it is unconscionable,” Ladouceur writes on the Riverview website.
In his post, Ladouceur also writes that he continues to pursue federal funding for the sewers that would likewise reduce assessments although to date he hasn’t received favorable responses.
“I will also continue to explore any financial assistance elsewhere that we may gain for this project,” he writes.