The Block Island Times

Deteriorating sewer pipes prompt immediate action

By Lars Trodson | Dec 20, 2013
Photo by: Lars Trodson

The construction currently being undertaken on Ocean Avenue and Old Town Road to replace the force main sewer pipe known as OA1 has revealed that the pipe “is in pretty bad shape,” according to Sewer Commission Chair Peter McNerney. In fact, McNerney said that workers were “shocked” at the condition of the pipe and so, at the Monday, Dec. 16 joint meeting of the Water and Sewer Commissions, McNerney recommended that the board immediately approve $40,000 to replace 200 feet of another force main pipe at New Harbor.

That second pipe, known as OA2, is the same age as the one being replaced on Ocean Avenue, and so the members of the commissions surmised it probably was in the same condition as OA1.

The members of the committee voted unanimously to approve $40,000 that had been allocated for future, unidentified capital projects. “We can’t do OA2 (the second part of the force main construction) unless we have the money,” said McNerney. “If we put the brakes on all projects, we’ll have the money for OA2.” Town Finance Director Amy Land agreed that the money would be available if other projects were put on hold. McNerney said that town engineer Jim Geremia recommended the action, as did Sewer Superintendent Chris Blane.

“Not to pursue this with the equipment and crew here” would be to miss a “golden opportunity,” said Blane. There are crews currently on Ocean Avenue, at Bridgegate Square, replacing the OA1 sewer main.

Parking lot operator

In other news, the committees approved a motion to engage the services of real estate agents, both on the island and on the mainland, to help market a request for proposal (RFP) for any company or individual that may be interested in operating the small parking lot that is owned by the sewer department located next to the Harbor Baptist Church. The motion stipulated that the bidding start at $25,000 for each year of a three-year contract.

The $25,000 was arrived at because that is roughly the annual debt service associated with the lot. The sewer department currently sells yearly passes for $375, which brings in a total annual revenue of $13,745, according to members of the commission.

“I’d like to get more than $13,000 or $14,000 out of it,” said McNerney. At issue is not just dissatisfaction with the revenue, but with the operating and the maintenance of the lot. Sewer Superintendent Chris Blane has said at previous meetings that his staff does not have the time to monitor the lot, and the police can’t oversee the activity there because it is private property.

“It hasn’t paid for itself yet,” said Blane.

Water Commission Chair Sandra Finizia said that she would want patrons to be able to buy day passes.

“That’s the only way it’s going to make any money,” said McNerney.

Cliff McGinnes, Sr. gave a little history on the lot, saying it was originally purchased in case the Sewer Department needed to expand its physical plant, and to also prevent the construction of a hotel, “which was considered at the time,” said McGinnes.

Accounting services

An agenda item to discuss whether to put the accounting and billing services for the water and sewer departments out to bid was a little contentious. These services are currently done by the town, including work done for the departments by Finance Director Land. The town bills the commissions $40,000 for the services.

At issue for some members of the commission was the lateness of recent monthly financial reports.

Allan MacKay, who is an alternate commissioner for both the Water and Sewer boards, said he was happy with the services being provided by the town.

“I don’t happen to agree with that,” said McNerney. “I’m not happy with the services we’ve seen.”

Sewer Commissioner Brad Marthens said he felt the two boards were getting a good deal for their money. “You’ve got two multi-million dollar companies here,” said Marthens, referring to the Sewer and Water Departments. “I don’t think you’re going to get someone to do it for $40,000 a year.”

Finance Director Land, who was sitting in the audience, as was Town Manager Nancy Dodge and First Warden Kim Gaffett, said “There’s a lot of [services provided] that you don’t see.”

When Water Commission Chair Sandra Finizia suggested that members of the commission sit with Land to better understand her duties, Dodge shot back by saying, “If you don’t know what’s getting done, how can you put it out to bid?”

Land suggested that the commission get “to know more about the process.”

It was agreed that members of the commission would meet with Land to more fully understand her duties to the two departments.

New clerk

The town also hired a new secretary for the commissions, who will also work as a part-time administrative assistant to the Water and Sewer Departments. Mona Helterline was hired at 32 hours a week for $18 an hour, plus benefits for a single person. Water Department Superintendent John Breunig said that he and Blane had interviewed many qualified candidates, but that Helterline was best suited for the job.

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