Home owners along Riverside Drive and on the hillside above will soon vote whether to bring sewers to their dwellings, and end reliance on septic systems. Photo by Tom Killin Dalglish
A new law creating what will be called the Tiverton Wastewater District (TWD) is headed to the governor’s office for his expected approval and will take effect immediately. It will lay the groundwork for the construction and management of a town sewer system meant to replace the existing patchwork sewer, septic, and cesspool system in parts of town. Sewer votes will be taken neighborhood by neighborhood.
The law’s primary sponsor in the House, Representative (and Tiverton resident) Jay Edwards (D-Dist. 70), said, “It’s what the people in the area wanted and what the town council wanted. It gives people an alternative to very expensive septic systems, and it provides a long-term viable solution to the town’s wastewater problem. It will also make it easier for businesses to come in to town. They won’t have to put in expensive septic systems. They can tie in right away.”
Town Council President Ed Roderick concurred. “Obviously the law is in Tiverton’s best interests, because of the water issues we have with water quality and the discharge into the bay,” he said. “It will only make Tiverton a better place to live especially along the water, I’m hoping the economic impact on property owners won ‘t be that great, but it is less expensive than a septic system.”
The new sewer system will be governed by the TWD and the transition will happen quickly.
• The town council last month approved spending $2,500 from the Wastewater Commission’s budget to pay a business manager to assist in setting up the TWD.
• On May 23, the US Department of Agriculture announced that $4.6 million in grants and loans had been committed to Tiverton to help it set up the TWD.
• The Town Council on June 30 is expected to appoint the TWD’s seven-member board of directors, said Leroy Kendricks, chairman of the town’s existing Wastewater Management Commission. Under terms of the new law, he and the other current members of the Tiverton Wastewater Commission will be named the directors of the TWD.
• The TWD will take immediate ownership of all the current system’s assets,accounts, pipes and property, and all its liabilities.
• The 550 households in Tiverton that are tied into the existing sewer system that runs into Fall River, will soon be paying their bills to the new TWD.
• “Within a month or two of passage of the act, we’ll be looking for a vote in three priority areas,” to set the stage for the installation of in-the-ground sewers there, said Mr. Kendricks (see separate story). Those three areas — the Riverside, Bay Street, and Robert Gray neighborhoods — are close to the water, and contain an estimated 757 households where failed or aging septic systems, or contaminated groundwater, most abound.
• As for a timeline, “we anticipate going out to bid next winter if all goes according to plan, with shovels in the ground in the late spring or early summer of 2015, and completion about one year from then,” Mr. Kendricks said. After that, he said, “we’re going to need revenue, so the hooking up will take place as quickly as possible.”
• In addition to the three priority areas, another five areas (for a total of eight) in town are on the list for sewering, Mr. Kendricks said. Eventually, about 4,000 households in town are expected to be connected to the system.
• Despite the enormity of the task, “we plan a pretty low budget operation, about four to six employees,” Mr. Kendricks told the council last January.
• Where all the money will come from is not yet entirely clear, but the TWD has the power under the new law to assess fees for the use of its sewers, to issue bonds, to borrow, to seek and accept grants, and to tax. As for the taxing power the new district has under the law, “right now we do not plan to assess a tax, it’s not in our plan,”said Mr. Kendricks.
• The TWD is the only municipal sewer district of its kind in the state. It is not a part of state government nor of the municipality of Tiverton.
The pressure to sewer
The Rhode Island Cesspool Act of 2007 requires all properties in town within 200 feet of the shoreline to replace all cesspools by January 2014. Regulations adopted by the state in 2008 require that homes have installed septic systems that meet state standards.
“You can’t sell a home unless you’re in compliance,” says Mr. Kendricks.
“There really isn’t a choice of doing nothing,” he says. “You’re either going to tie in to the sewer system, or fix or install a state-approved septic system.”
There are other imperatives driving the need to sewer. Two outfalls along the north Tiverton shoreline — one near the base of Kearns Avenue in the so-called Robert Gray outfall area, and the other at the base of Summerfield Lane — have been found to be contaminated with fecal bacteria commonly associated with failed septic systems.
Sewer costs compared with septic costs
Estimated costs for individual septic systems, compared with monthly costs for sewers over a 40 year period, for each homeowner in the three priority areas, were reported by a study done last year for the update to the town’s Wastewater Facilities Plan. The results:
• Riverside: Septics: average $25,000 to $60,000, with average monthly costs for first 10 years in excess of $210 to over $500. Sewers: project costs $16,500 for each homeowner, with average monthly cost $125.
• Bay Street: Septics: average $25,000 to $30,000, with average monthly costs for first 10 years in excess of $270. Sewers: project costs $11,000 for each homeowner, with average monthly cost $105.
• Robert Gray area: Septics: average $15,000, with average monthly cost for first 10 years in excess of $151. Sewers: project costs $14,000 for each homeowner, with average monthly cost $115.