2007-02-08 / Front Page

Water plant construction could begin this summer

By Dotti Farrington

No residents attended the public hearing Monday on the environmental impacts of the new $3.5 million municipal water treatment plant to be built next to the existing plant on North Main Road, just north of the Great Creek.

The hearing was conducted in barely 20 minutes at a special meeting of the Town Council sitting as the Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners. Councilors also met an hour before the hearing for an executive session on unspecified litigation and resumed the closed session after the hearing.

The price tag for the plant, to be completed by the end of 2008 if there are no further delays, is $1 million more than projected in 2004, when it was defined and later approved as part of a $6.2 million bond issue that included construction a second water storage tower and improvements to the water distribution line.

Delays in the schedule for the plant design reflect tight space limitations of the existing site that includes considerable wetlands on its boundaries with the bay's West Passage as well as the Great Creek. To locate the new plant within the site, the design calls for use of some wetland that the state requires to be replaced with twice the lost wetland space.

The town drafted a design to meet that environmental requirement, but had to redesign it when, a few months ago, Native American artifacts that could not be disturbed were found in the substitute space. The archeological survey said that new footprint for the proposed plant was free of artifacts.

But the town's redesigned plan for wetlands mitigation is still subject to final approval by the state Coastal Resources Management Council.

The formal environmental impact report, dated Jan. 22, was prepared by Gary Chobanian, senior sanitary engineer and funding administrator for the state Department of Health, which is the lead state agency on the water treatment plant development and operation. The health department administers the Safe Drinking Water funding program that will provide loans for building the plant.

Chobanian prepared the report of several hundred pages in conjunction with the town's Public Works Director Steven Goslee, and Deputy Public Works Director Michael Gray, who is also the town engineer A copy of the report is available at the town library. The town plan meets or needs to meet the requirements of a number of state regulatory agencies. In addition to the department health and environment departments, the town plan must meet state plans for land use, outdoor recreation, Greenways, Greenspace, and Community Forests, Rivers Policy, Narragansett Bay Conservation, water supplies, emergency response, drought management, and water-source management.

The plant design was prepared by Fay, Spofford and Thorndike of Burlington, Mass., town engineering consultants on water projects. They worked with Gifford Design Group of Cumberland, especially on the wetland mitigation aspects of the project.

Justin Gould, principal engineer for Spofford and Thorndike, led the presentation at the hearing. He said the new plant will provide enough treated water to meet existing maximum water needs of the 47 percent of island residents who have municipal water service.

It will feature state-of-the-art technology that will be 99 percent efficient, wasting only 1 percent of the water treated, instead of the 15 percent now lost during the treatment process.

The new technology will also ensure that the town meets the newest, more stringent, water-quality regulations that the existing plant cannot meet, Gould and others explained.

The speakers, officials, and reports all emphasized that the increased water supply does not mean that the town can expand the municipal system.

Gould projected that all needed approvals would be completed within two months, bids could be sought in April, and construction started this summer, to be completed in late 2008.

Council President David Long observed that the plans represent a process of work covering some eight years in which he served as a town official. "It's great to see it carried forward," he said.

Long and Councilman William Kelly praised Goslee for his role in the project.

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