Portsmouth led down garden path on wastewater

Portsmouth led down garden path on wastewater


To the editor:

The Portsmouth Town Council is to be commended for its attempt to ameliorate the effects of the Cesspool Phase Out Act on the residents of Portsmouth, particularly our Island Park and Portsmouth Park communities.

Just as with proposed effort to put in sewers, so the effort to force up grading of onsite wastewater disposal systems is beyond the financial ability of many residents. In fact the EPA has a guideline which DEM refuses to acknowledge that homeowners should not have to spend more than 2 percent of their income on wastewater disposal. At present, DEM is back before the legislature to insist on more cesspool phaseout. I guess that 200 feet is not enough.

DEM will tell you that cesspools do not treat sewerage. They will tell you that untreated sewerage form cesspool pollutes. Perhaps! The waters surrounding Portsmouth test within standards. They have for some time. Some are open to shellfishing in spite of nearby cesspools.

DEM will tell you that cesspools are a threat to the environment. All human activity is in the same classification. When we talk about threats we should mention that East and West Main roads are real threats. Just think of how many deaths and injuries we have seen in the past 20 years on these modern intensely patrolled highways. Once again in the dark of night, the State Police have closed the Portsmouth barracks. When was the last time you say a State Police local radar effort?

A year ago DEM Director (Janet) Coit wrote (April 2, 2013) that she was “sympathetic” to the cost issue. Since then we have not heard anything, at least publicly. In the same letter, Director Coit seems to hold out hope for clusters. This was reviewed by Lombardo Associates Incorporated and while the effort was never completed, it was quite apparent that that possibility was not feasible. There were numerous problems with that effort which I will save for another day. For now let’s just say Portsmouth did not get what it paid for or what LAI committed to.

In the same letter Director Coit said that she had directed legal counsel to proceed with a hearing. That never happened. The town did ask for a dismissal of the Notice Of Violation recently. While our attorney’s arguments were quite cogent and persuasive, we must realize that the hearing officer is DEM’s judge, jury and executioner — hardly a level playing field or in keeping with our process of jurisprudence that is characterized with our American concept of fair play.

Director Coit said DEM had not received our “alternative wastewater disposal proposal.” Well, it has been sent in fact some time ago. Guess what? DEM has not responded and this in turn has ensured that Portsmouth residents have not been able to avail themselves of the 2 percent loan program.

At present many homeowners are upgrading their systems. Some are not. Some situations have no technical solution. Some homeowners just don’t have the money with or without a loan program. Ninety-nine percent are not polluters. DEM knows this. They hoodwinked the legislature to pass this law without funding, knowing full well the impact it would have on property owners in the most moderate-income section of town. Since then we have had most dramatic economic downturn since the Great Depression and Rhode Island continues to rank the lowest economically in the nation.

For all our present Town Council’s best intentions, they have fallen prey to the strategy of secrecy. This in the long run has hurt their credibility. The residents just don’t know what is up. They have chosen to reject the 10 years of data that has accompanied this governmental tragedy. They think they can just talk to DEM.

DEM has tried to shift the burden of their responsibility to the town. They got caught at it. They are not happy about. They got caught. Now they want to get even. This long ago ceased being about the environment. They always knew what the impact was on the residents; now we all know.

Portsmouth Town Councils have a long history of being led down the garden path. This is one incident. We are now at $2 million on this one. Let’s not add this to our legacy of wind turbines, fire trucks, town hall construction and various school construction.

Philip T. Driscoll



  1. Certainly Mr Driscoll speaks with great passion and with first hand knowledge of this situation. We are all fortunate to have citizens in our Town who are willing to devote the time and energy required to actively effect change. Thank You, Mr Driscoll.