PORTSMOUTH — The Town Council expects to approve Portsmouth’s comprehensive wastewater management plan on April 24.
Drafted by Town Planner Gary Crosby, the 40-plus-page document was written in response to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s (DEM) notice of violation issued to the town several years ago, which included a directive that Portsmouth install a sewer system serving Island Park and the Portsmouth Park area further south.
Mr. Crosby, however, has said the town does not need sewers. His plan calls for the town to continue to rely on on-site wastewater treatment systems, while providing assistance to property owners who have failing septic systems that need to be repaired or replaced. The plan answers all of DEM’s questions and comments made over the previous decade, and has been further amended to include comments made by council members and residents at a recent meeting.
Council President James Seveney said an April 2 letter from DEM Director Janet Coit indicated the state’s desire to work with the town toward a resolution to the issue. And, according to the letter, it might not involve sewers after all.
“I am sympathetic to the considerable town-borne financial cost of sewers, and I wanted stare to consider other approaches that would achieve our shared goal of swimmable/fishable waters. (As you know, many towns have received grant and loans to support the costs of wastewater treatment facilities.),” wrote Ms. Coit.
She went on to say, however, that DEM is still waiting for a wastewater plan from the town.
“I want to get off the dime on this,” Mr. Seveney told the council, which agreed to make any needed revisions to the plan before a final vote April 24. The plan is available for review on the town’s website.
Municipal court sought
In other business Monday, the council voted unanimously to direct Town Solicitor Kevin Gavin to submit draft legislation to the General Assembly that would allow the town to establish a municipal court.
The town has been trying to collaborate on a municipal court with another town but has not yet been able to find a willing partner, said Town Administrator John Klimm. The bill would allow the town to create a municipal court on its own if it so chooses, but the deadline for filing legislation is coming quickly, he said.
“We certainly don’t want to be the position where we’ll have to wait another year,” said Mr. Klimm.
The court would handle local ordinance violations as well as traffic violations. Mr. Klimm said the court is needed because the “building commissioner and staff says their hands are tied in terms of effective enforcement.”
Mr. Seveney he’s heard “too many complaints from citizens that our town staff” can’t handle the violations in a timely fashion.
Larry Fitzmorris of the group Portsmouth Concerned Citizens asked if the court would have jurisdiction over town charter violations against elected officials, which he said Tiverton has.
Other than the expensive option of going to Superior Court, Mr. Fitzmorris said, “there is no vehicle for us to pursue those.”
“I can see you’re going to have some fun with this court,” replied Mr. Seveney.
Mr. Gavin said the proposed municipal court would not hear charter violations.
The council also discussed Naval Station Newport’s potential divesture of utilities that currently serve the Melville area.
“At some point, the Navy base wants to be out of the utilities business,” said Mr. Seveney. “Are we interested in participating with Middletown and Newport in figuring out what happens to those utilities along Burma Road?” He added that he wanted to make sure the town is protecting its interests.
Council member Keith Hamilton agreed that the town needs to look into ways to improve the area’s utilities. “The water supply at Melville is woefully inadequate,” he said.
On a motion by Mr. Hamilton, the council voted to direct Mr. Klimm to maintain communications with the other two island towns toward protecting the rights of business at Melville relative to utilities.