Councilors balk at state plan for East Providence to join Pawtucket water system
EAST PROVIDENCE — Water-related issues remained a hot topic of discussion during the latest East Providence City Council meeting held Tuesday night, May 22, in the City Hall Chamber.
In the last several weeks, the Council has voted against then reversed course and supported a $19 million bond measure aimed at retooling the city's aging water system. The Council also voted approvingly to a modest series of increases to the quarterly water consumption rate as well as instituting a flat yearly meter fee.
The latest discussion on the topic involved the possibility of East Providence hooking into the Pawtucket system as a secondary means of accessing water meant to augment its main service from the Scituate Reservoir via Providence.
Kenneth Burke, General Manager of the Rhode Island Water Resources Board, appeared at the May 20 meeting in an attempt to lobby for the Council's support of a proposed funding initiative in Governor Lincoln Chafee's Fiscal Year 2015 Budget for a project referred to as “Pawtucket Pipeline.”
Mr. Burke told the Council the city would at some point in the future need to seek either an alternative source of its water or enter into a costly reconstruction effort to replace the existing line underneath Narragansett Bay that currently provides water to East Providence from the reservoir.
The governor's legislation includes a state match of 50 percent of the funding to connect with Pawtucket. The proposal follows an earlier initiative from Gov. Chafee's office, which encourages cities and towns to consolidate services when feasible.
Estimates for East Providence to connect to Pawtucket currently stand at approximately $13 million. Because towns farther down the East Bay would also have access to the system — Barrington, Warren and Bristol — they would share in the cost of the project.
Mr. Burke told the Council "inaction on this means you will lose the state match of 50 percent."
Throughout Mr. Burke's presentation Ward 4 Councilor Chrissy Rossi voiced her opposition to the proposal, noting a lack of information and her reluctance to connect to Pawtucket's notoriously poor system.
For dramatic effect, Mrs. Rossi at one point displayed a filthy filter from a coffee machine from a Pawtucket-based business provided by School Committee member Tony Ferreira and city resident Freddy Rybka, who are both employed there. Mrs. Rossi said she "would not" subject residents of East Providence to "Pawtucket water."
Pressed later in the discussion on his motives for being at the meeting by Ward 3 Councilman Tommy Rose, who has been a vocal critic of the recent water initiatives passed by the body, Mr. Burke freely admitted he was attempting to gain East Providence's support as a means of showing the General Assembly municipalities were behind the legislation. Mr. Rose also derisively added the plan to connect to Pawtucket's system "has been the plan all along."
As they have during recent discussions, when asked for their opinions on the matter City Public Works Director Steve Coutu and Water Superintendent Jim Marvel Tuesday night reiterated the need for East Providence to seek a secondary water source or rebuild its existing one.
No action was taken by the Council. Mayor Jim Briden, the Council President from Ward 1, asked Mr. Burke to return to the June 3 Council meeting with a more detailed financial and construction framework for the body to review. Mr. Burke agreed.