2005-11-03 / Front Page

Second water tower questioned

By Dotti Farrington

About two dozen residents attended the Oct. 25 public hearing on the town’s $5.3 million Water Department projects, with some residents expressing confusion about or disagreement with the explanations given to them by town officials and consultants.

The hearing, which lasted some two hours, was conducted by Department of Public Works officials and representatives of Fay, Spofford and Thorndike of Burlington, Mass., consultants for the municipal water system projects.

The major stumbling block for residents involved the new onemillion gallon water tower to be built next to the existing one on Howland Avenue. Town officials and consulting engineers repeated explanations of how a water tower or stand pipe, alone or in a pair, works. “It’s a matter of simple physics,” they said. However, some residents could not understand or accept the math as it was explained.

One tower holding a million gallons provides less than 400,000 gallons of storage water for emergencies, especially fire protection, the engineers said. According to them, that 400,000 gallons is less than the maximum needed for ordinary purposes for one day. Doubling the storage in “twin towers,” totaling two million gallons of water, would provide less than 800,000 gallons of storage water for emergencies, the engineers said.

William Munger, the owner of Conanicut Marine Services and a marina operator, was among those not convinced by this explanation. He questioned why the two million gallons held in the twin towers produced less than half the amount for backup storage. And he also questioned why the new storage tower was needed since the town has gained so much water through a combination of pipe repairs that has cut water loss and conservation measures. In addition, he noted, a yet-to bebuilt new water treatment plant will use much less water for backwashing its filters.

More than once Munger said that he was “not convinced” of the official explanations. After much additional discussion, he said, “I do not see the significant benefits. I do not see the bargain.”

Town officials and consulting engineers referred to the decrease in water delivery loss and filter backwash as the source of “new water” for the $5 million-plus investment. They had previously reported that conservation efforts, while a source of pride, has not significantly reduced water use in terms of the amounts being billed, that is the amount shown on the water meter as used rather than lost through leaky pipes.

Cost issue

Another major issue voiced at the hearing was a Town Council decision to charge the cost of the water system upgrade only to residents who use municipal water. This decision was made some years ago in preparation for the design and the financing of the water system projects

Some residents, including island restaurateur Chuck Masso, said they believe that the $1.1 million costs of the second tower should be paid by all taxpayers because the second tower is primarily for fire protection, in much the same way that education benefits all, regardless of some people not having children in school.

Officials at the hearing responded by repeating the fact that a previous Town Council decided the matter.

In addition to the need for fire protection, town officials and consultants noted, the added water storage would be used for emergencies, such as the town has experienced during droughts.

Twice in the past decade the town has had to use its emergency pipeline crossing the old Jamestown Bridge to bring water from North Kingstown onto the island. With the bridge due for demolition in the coming year, the town has purchased a “roll-up” pipe for about $500,000 to be used for such emergencies.

According to the consultants, the second water tower also will provide flexibility for maintenance, including having the towers painted once every decade or so. With a second tower, the town will not lose water distribution during power failures or because of other mechanical problems at the treatment plant.

Bids on the tower construction are due to be opened today, Nov. 3, with a contract to be signed in January, construction to be done next summer, and completion scheduled for next fall.

The engineers noted that different types of water storage, including an elevated ball or bulb, were considered for the Howland Avenue site and for the water treatment plant property on North Main Road, but all the options were more expensive, and none was as efficient and practical.

Pipe work

Last Tuesday’s hearing also covered the replacement of 7,500 feet of the town’s 20 miles of water mains that are nearly 100 years old. The new pipe will be one foot in diameter, replacing mains that are mostly only four inches across. All mains are due to be replaced over the next three or four decades, town officials and consultants noted, but the work will not be done all at once. It will be spread out so that the costs will have less impact on the municipal water customers.

The project also will include replacement of 20 fire hydrants and 114 service connections from the mains to property lines. The work is estimated to cost about $860,000. The schedule calls for bids to be opened on Nov. 30, the contract awarded in January, and work to begin in the spring.

The mains will be installed on Narragansett Avenue between East Ferry and North Main Road, with the contract calling for all work to be completed by Memorial Day, 2006. Mains also will be installed on Howland Avenue from Narraganesett to Hamilton Avenue, on Green Lane from Narragansett Avenue to High Street, and on High Street between Hamilton Avenue and Green Lane.

Almost all of the excavation work will be monitored by archeologists because of the historic uses of the area by the Narragansett Indians. It originally was thought that the area had been adequately monitored during the sewer line replacement work two years ago, but a site tour of the roads involved led to a decision that most of the work needs to be monitored.

Dennis Webster of Mount Hope Avenue wanted to know why the work on Narragansett Avenue is not being co-ordinated with the long-awaited state public works project for that section of road. It was explained that the town is required to restore any roadway it disrupts with the water pipe work, and the state would be providing curbing enhancement, cross walks, and other improvements. Webster persisted, saying that the plan seemed redundant.

Several concerns Mary Anne Joyce, whose property abuts the water tower site, told town officials that she has inadequate water pressure. “I can’t shower when anyone else showers. Now it is miserable,” she said. She also told officials that she routinely hears noise from the site and expressed hope that the noise could be eliminated. In addition, she said that she had water in her basement for the first time ever during the recent heavy rains and asked about groundwater concerns for the tower construction. The tower work and water main replacement should be co-ordinated, she said. She asked that special attention be given to effective fencing to block vandals from putting graffiti on the existing tower.

The officials said that water pressure should be improved, but it could not be promised. The noise Joyce heard was probably from an air compressor, not the pump, officials said, but they did not say how noise levels might be different with the new tower.

According to officials, the new construction will involve a foundation, but not a basement so the groundwater level will not be a factor. The road restoration work will overlap with the tower work, and it is hoped that the fencing included in the project plans will deter vandalism, officials said.

One resident had several complaints about the town’s presentation of the water tower project to the Zoning Board of Review, and the lack of alternatives being presented. Officials said the options had been identified, and the reasons against them listed.

Treatment plant

Officials briefly reviewed plans for the new water treatment plant, but they will give more details when they conduct a public hearing after final designs are completed.

Budgeted for $3.82 million, that project has been delayed after the original plant site south of the existing building was determined to be in the path of hurricane winds. The plan now calls for placing the new plant to the north of the current plant. The existing plant will be kept for the storage of chemicals and equipment, which are now on the site of the Southeast Avenue Town Offices.

Other questions

Michael Swistak, president of the Jamestown Chamber of Commerce, asked about impact on insurance rates under the new fire codes.

Officials said they would have to get details on exactly how insurance might be affected.

Swistak also questioned the frequency of maximum water use.

Public Works Director Steven Goslee said the water use peaks “consistently” on many days every July and August.

One resident worried about negative impact on property values. Goslee said the town assessor reported that property sales were averaging 140 percent over assessed value.

Another resident asked about proliferation of antennas on the water tower. It was reported that the antennas are due to be transferred to the new tower, but no new ones were expected.

Rate structure

In addition to several comments about the unfairness of not billing all taxpayers for some of the water system upgrade costs, restaurant-owner Masso complained that the rate structure for water users was unfair. He said businesses and residences receive the same water, processed in the same way, but businesses “pay more for the same water. It is not fair.”

Masso told officials that his business bill has risen from $2,000 in 1993 to $25,000 this year. He said other towns give discounts for use of more water, but in Jamestown, the structure charges more for “excess” water use.

Masso also asked why the state meal tax was not being used to benefit the hospitality industry, but was being used instead for the general funds. That is not what that revenue was intended for, he said.

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