The Block Island Times

Committees grapple with sewer system upgrades

Avoiding another spill into Great Salt Pond the primary issue
By Lars Trodson | Mar 24, 2013

The Town Council and the Sewer Commission grappled with the issue of how best to prioritize an estimated $3 million in repairs and upgrades needed for the town’s 35-year old sewer system. The Town Council is also considering a request from the Sewer Commission to have taxpayers help fund the needed costs for repairs.

The council and sewer committees met at Town Hall on March 18. As the members of the two groups pored over a document prepared by Town Engineer Jim Geremia detailing a list of recommended repairs and their costs, Town Councilor Sean McGarry asked the one question that seemed to be on everyone’s mind: “How many dollars will it take so you can guarantee there won’t be another spill,” said McGarry. “I can’t tolerate another spill.”

McGarry was referring to three spills that occurred within the last year, one of which spilled about 5,000 gallons of sewage into Great Salt Pond from Ocean Avenue Pump No. 1. “There are no guarantees,” said Geremia.

The members of both groups also cautioned that the repairs won’t be enacted before this year’s summer season kicks off.

The list of repairs and upgrades to the sewer systems submitted by Geremia was extensive. Some of the items are: sludge dewatering process improvements ($583,700); sludge dewatering building upgrades ($225,900); upgrades to the operations building ($246,500); upgrades to the island’s four pump stations ($632,000); upgrades to the Old Harbor Pump station ($245,000); and replacements to the Force Main ($250,000).

While Geremia said the list was as comprehensive as he could make it at this time, Sewer Commission Chair Pete McNerney cautioned that it was a living document. “There will be things that come about that aren’t on this list. We did our best to come up with a finite list,” McNerney said.

Geremia was asked by Second Warden Ken Lacoste about the condition of the sewer and water equipment, which was considered state of the art when the system was built in 1978.

“Everything works,” said Geremia. “Your vehicle is running, but you’ve really got to plan ahead. That’s what you’ve got to look at.”

It was at that point that McGarry said he wanted to ensure that the town “allocate enough funds so we don’t have another spill into the pond.” Councilors Chris Warfel and Lacoste asked Geremia to take the list of repairs he had compiled and prioritize it so that it would best address that specific issue of reducing the probability of another spill.

There is also the question of how the $3 million will be paid and what the level of taxpayer participation will be. In a letter to the town council requesting funds, McNerney noted that it was “unclear at this point whether grants may cover a portion of these improvements and repairs.” Geremia did point out that the town had been very “aggressive” in the past in seeking grant money for sewer and water upgrades.

Traditionally, taxpayers living within the sewer district have paid a higher assessment than those residents not living in the system, according to McNerney’s letter to the council.

McNerney also added that the town’s sewer system is “a great achievement in our conservation tradition as well as economic independence” but concluded by saying that “this laudable achievement will only continue if the sewer system is properly upkept and modernized. To continue these Island-wide benefits, the sewer district needs the Island’s continued financial support.”

Go here for Town Engineer Jim Geremia’s complete list of sewer upgrades and estimated costs.

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