By JOHN HOWELL Mayor Frank Picozzi notified 935 property owners in what has been collectively called Bayside on Monday that construction of sewers, which was promised decades ago, would start this year. What's more, Picozzi locked in the assessment for a
Mayor Frank Picozzi notified 935 property owners in what has been collectively called Bayside on Monday that construction of sewers, which was promised decades ago, would start this year. What’s more, Picozzi locked in the assessment for a single-family home at $16,900, although some projections made more than a year ago were $25,000 to $30,000.
BettyAnne Rogers, Warwick Sewer Authority director, said Monday that D’Ambra Construction, which submitted the low bid of $17.9 million, has been notified to commence work and that Picozzi signed a memorandum of understanding, or MOA, with the Department of Environmental Management. D’Ambra extended its bid that the authority approved Aug. 27, 2020, several times, but the agreement was never signed by former Mayor Joseph Solomon. The contract does not require approval by the City Council.
Rogers said Tuesday D’Ambra has been issued a notice to proceed and the first pre-construction meeting is planned for this Friday.
The Bayside project has been a goal of Ward 5 Councilman Ed Ladouceur since he was elected nine years ago.
“A ton of people worked real hard to make this happen,” Ladouceur said Tuesday. Within weeks of assuming office in 2013, Ladouceur introduced a resolution to create the Warwick City Council Sewer Review Commission. The commission, which he chaired, brought together a cross-section of people with diverse expertise and with a shared interest in the Bayside project. The commission delved deep into the operation of the authority and explored options to sewers, costs and its regulations.
Ladouceur was relentless in his pursuit to help constituents who complained they had been promised sewers and were faced with overflowing cesspools and failing septic systems. Outcomes of the commission’s work included a per-household assessment derived by dividing the cost of a project by the number of properties served in place of linear foot assessments that unfairly penalized property owners with extended frontage on a sewer line. Also, as a result of the commission’s work, the maximum interest on an assessment loan could not exceed 1.25 percent more than the loan obtained by the authority. It had previously been as high as 6 percent. So as to minimize payments, the commission also gained approval to extend homeowner assessment loan payments from 20 to 30 years. Other features resulting from the commission’s work included provisions for hardship cases and, with council approval, bonding to proceed with sewer projects in O’Donnell Hill, Governor Francis Phase 3 and Bayside.
From the outset, Ladouceur brought the Narragansett Indians to the table, building a relationship of trust that he feels enabled the advancement of the Bayside project and the introduction of directional drilling to avoid Native American artifacts.
“A lot of blood, sweat and tears went to this project over nine years,” he said. Ladouceur made a point of singling out Janet Coit, former director of the Department of Environmental Management. “She stood behind me,” he said, noting that Coit offered multiple deferments banning cesspools on the basis work was progressing on the sewers. Coit also stepped in to draw the line when it appeared the former administration would push off the project.
Despite the state law banning the use of cesspools within 200 feet of the bay, the fact that some lots are too small for an approved septic system, and a fixed assessment far lower than first projected, some residents remain opposed to the plan.
“It’s a mess. We can’t afford it. We are getting nailed on this,” Riverview resident Bernice DiMauro said in a call to the paper Monday evening. She argued residents should have the choice of keeping their septic systems and not paying the assessment. Also, she thought the mayor’s letter was less than truthful since it does not include the projected cost of connecting to sewers or to replace grinder pumps for the low-pressure system.
Pauline Genest, an outspoken critic of sewers and a member of the No Sewers group, gave the mayor kudos “for coming in at a lower price. It’s much lower, that’s a good thing.”
She questioned how that is possible and who would pick up the tab when assessments fail to cover the cost of the sewers. Wouldn’t it fall back to the people?
Her husband, Dr. Marc Genest, questioned how the $16,900 assessment could be considered affordable, whether the owners of vacant lots would be assessed and who would pay for the balance of the project if American Rescue Plan funds were not available as Picozzi says in his letter. Terri Medeiros, who also actively leads the “Stop Sewers” group, asked similar questions in an email.
Medeiros also questioned what property owners would be required to have grinder low-pressure pumps to tie into the system.
“When did the engineers go street by street to determine who would need grinders and when were the homeowners notified?” she asked.
Pauline Genest said when elected, Picozzi promised to review the project and she believed there would be public meeting.
“This is an announcement, not a discussion,” she said.
Genest also had questions about related costs, including the pumps, operational expensive and connections to the system.
In the letter Picozzi said the project would employ “different sewer construction methods in order to mitigate disturbance of existing historical features.” In an interview Monday, Picozzi said directional drilling would be used to install the major interceptor line on Tidewater Drive where a number of test site identified Native American artifacts and a burial. Open trench construction would be used In Highland Beach and areas where there is no evidence of historical features.
There were also voices in support of Picozzi’s action.
“I’m pleased that Mayor Picozzi has brought the Bayside sewer project into the construction phase. No one should be surprised that this 30-year saga continues to move ahead. But residents should be pleased that the efforts of Councilman Ladouceur, Mayor Picozzi, and others have brought the costs of the project down by a substantial margin. Those savings will help us all bear the cost of this important project for our homes, our neighborhoods, and our bay,” Riverview resident George Shuster Jr. said in an email.
“I got excited. It could finally be here,” Jeff Lockhart said of his reaction on reading the mayor’s letter. A longtime Highland Beach resident, Lockhart lives on a corner lot and has a cesspool.
“We live on a postage stamp lot, not even space to put in proper septic system,” he said. He recalled being told 20 years ago “not to worry” about the cesspool “because sewers are coming.”
Referring to Narragansett Bay he said, “We need to do anything we can to protect that jewel we have including hooking up to sewers when they come.”
As for the $16,900 assessment, Lockhart said he thought it might be as high as $30,000. “In my mind I just made $13,000,” he said.
While the Narragansett Tribe was included in discussions, Picozzi said they have not signed the MOA and his office has not been in contact with the tribe.
Although Picozzi has signed the MOA and D’Ambra has been notified of the bid award, meaning this project is on the tracks, Picozzi has planned for a public hearing Thursday, Sept. 16, from 5 to 7 p.m. at City Council Chambers. The purpose of the hearing is to address concerns and questions and solicit comments.
According to the construction schedule provided by the WSA, work on Bayside should start this month and the project should be completed by August 2023.