Steady progress continues for Belfield Drive flooding solution

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Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena and Town Planner Tom Deller offered updates on plans to end flooding issues on Belfield Drive during an interview at Town Hall on Tuesday morning.

Polisena said the town initially received a quote of about $86,000 to cover its costs for the project, which is being led by the Northern Rhode Island Conservation District, U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Resources Conservation District.

That figure dropped almost $20,000, but Deller brought a concern to Polisena’s attention. The cost associated with raising the telephone wires and poles on Belfield Drive is quoted at $10,000, which Deller saw as far too low. Polisena concurred with that assessment.

The mayor said he has put in calls to NRICD District Manager Gina DeMarco to receive permission to speak with the project engineers, hoping to use Tuesday or Wednesday of this week to set up a meeting.

“I’m not signing anything, the only thing I did approve to be signed was the permit, but I’m not signing anything till we know exactly what it’s going to cost the taxpayers,” Polisena said. “If that slows it down a bit, fine, I’m not going to sign anything blind. I don’t like to be blindfolded and sign something.”

Polisena also said he’s worried about the potential 30 percent cost overrun – which Deller explained is a contingency added “just in case the word changes” during estimating phases and figures climb.

“That’s a lot of money,” Polisena said. “I want to make sure that we don't overspend. These construction companies, the problem is, no matter what construction company it is – and I’m not naming any – but anybody that does work for any city or town, they think the cities and towns are cash cows. I just want to watch every dime because it’s the taxpayers’ money that we’re investing.”

Another issue Deller hopes to raise is that the project has been conformed to Rhode Island Department of Transportation standards, which adds an extra inch of asphalt when paving roadways.

The town roads, Deller said, are comprised of 1½ inches of a base and the same amount as a finish, totaling 3 inches. The state guidelines add an extra inch of base to bring it up to 4 inches, a number on which Polisena said he would not sign off.

“They have all those heavy trucks on it. This isn’t someone driving to the landfill, this is a neighborhood,” Deller said of Belfield Drive. “We’re going to have residential traffic, an occasional moving truck, and that kind of base can handle that.”

USDA State Engineer Alan Gillespie said during a press conference announcing the joint plan in June that Phase 1 was slated for completion in the fall. The first steps would include the removal of a home and relocation of residents at 68 Belfield Drive. Deller said the home will be razed and the land likely converted into an area resembling a retention pond.

Gillespie said that design plans for the future of the roadway would also be in the pipeline for Phase 1, which carries an overall cost of $650,000. Deller said that a company may be selected this fall, but any work on Belfield Drive would probably not commence until spring. He noted there are several steps, such as submitting plans and receiving a motion to proceed, before ground can be broken.

“When they get a notice to proceed, they have 30 to 45 days to put together what they call their shop drawings, the details of how they’re going to do the work,” Deller said. “So, I’ve awarded the contract, but you can’t start for six months. So everyone sits around saying the contract’s awarded, we’re all set, but that means six months. So they’re going to start this fall, they’ll award a contract, work starts in April.”

Polisena said the town would address further flooding on Belfield Drive as it comes between now and the future remedy being in place. He said Deputy Police Chief Joseph Razza, the town’s emergency management director, has “got his finger on the pulse up there.”

“We can’t predict that,” Polisena said. “We might have a dry season. We might have the rainiest season on history, we might have another 100-year storm – even though we had one back in 2010. So I can’t predict that, but we’ll address that as we go along. We always have a contingency plan up there.”

Despite the timeline, Deller said the progress is quick for federal government work.

“Most people don’t recognize the fact that this is happening extremely fast,” Deller said. “It doesn’t seem like it, but in terms of federal government, this is happening extremely fast.”

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