2007-06-21 / Front Page

Keiser condemns state board's water rulings

By Tom Shevlin

Taking umbrage with the State Water Resource Board's recent 6 to 1 vote to rule the Jamestown Water Department in non-compliance for not submitting an acceptable five-year water management plan, town officials said Monday that Resource Board General Manager Juan Mariscal "owes us an explanation."

In the monthly meeting of the town council sitting as the Water and Sewer Commission, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser once again defended the town against what he called the "very punitive approach" taken by the Water Resource Board at last week's hearing, while Town Council President David Long described the situation as "a mess" and the board's actions "egregious."

Keiser reported that a number of issues had come up in the hearing which shed more light on the board's decision. To begin, he said that he was surprised to find the process does not provide for more communication between parties. According to Keiser, non-compliance issuances are not a frequent action taken by the Water Resources Board, especially when their own rules and regulations are explicitly designed to encourage a more cooperative approach.

Further more, Keiser reported that General Manager Mariscal acknowledged that the board had unilaterally decided to raise their standards of review without general notification being sent to the appropriate parties.

Keiser said that he met with board staff members prior to the meeting and pointed out that several of their findings were erroneous, including an inaccurate estimate made by the state indicating a 38-percent increase in the town's customer base since 1999, as well as baseless allegations of poor water quality in the Jamestown Shores. Acknowledging their mistakes, the staff subsequently asked that those findings be deleted from the board's record.

In the end, that was not enough to prevent the board from ruling almost unanimously in favor of a non-compliance designation.

However, the town was not without some support. According to Keiser, coming to the defense of the island was one member of the resource board as well as a neighboring town water manager who had been sitting in the audience. Jon Schock, a Water Resource Board member and Public Services director for the Town of South Kingstown, and Henry Meyer, manager of the South Kingstown Water District both voiced their support for the town, Keiser reported.

Keiser conceded that he was not satisfied with some of the work that had been done by the town's consultants, but added that it was nothing that would amount to an issue of non-compliance. He further stressed that "at no point during the review process was the town notified…We were on the outside looking in." Long quipped "we weren't even on the outside looking in; we didn't even know it was going on."

Councilwoman Barbara Szepatowski asked if the non-compliance status could negatively impact the town's bond rating. Keiser responded "potentially yes," adding that the board's decision represents "an unnecessary black eye for a town that has been singled out for its water management."

However, the town does have recourse. According to Keiser, the town can file an appeal with the state once official notification of non-compliance is received.

Long remarked that "there has been some serious damage here," and went on to ask Keiser to invite Mariscal to the next council meeting set for June 25. Councilman William Kelly also suggested that a letter be sent from the council to the governor and water board expressing the discontent with the Water Resources Board and their actions.

Long also expressed dismay over reports that the board had acted on misinformation provided to them by an unnamed island resident who had made allegations of mismanagement by the town. At one point, council members were so exasperated by the allegations that they went so far as to inquire about the possibility of taking legal action against the unnamed resident.

Concluding, Kelly remarked that "we've been singled out."

Town officials are expected to next address this issue at next week's regular town council meeting on Monday.

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