Bristol County Water Authority to build $35 million pipeline

Long considered, a new connection to Pawtucket supply is now a necessity, BCWA leader says

By Ted Hayes
Posted 5/21/19

As the Cross Bay Pipeline continues to leak as much as 300,000 gallons of water a day from deep under the Providence River, Bristol County Water Authority officials said Monday night that with or …

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Bristol County Water Authority to build $35 million pipeline

Long considered, a new connection to Pawtucket supply is now a necessity, BCWA leader says


As the Cross Bay Pipeline continues to leak as much as 300,000 gallons of water a day from deep under the Providence River, Bristol County Water Authority officials said Monday night that with or without financial help from the state or City of East Providence, they are moving forward with a $31 to $35 million plan to build a new pipeline through East Providence to the City of Pawtucket's water supply.

It's a project that has been talked about for more than six years, never gaining much traction at the local or state level. But with the recent leak and realization that Bristol County is as vulnerable to water shortages as it has ever been, the move has to be made, BCWA Executive Director Pam Marchand told a group of about 20 town councilors, local legislators and others during a meeting at the authority's offices in Warren.

"We never thought we'd have a problem with (the Cross Bay Pipeline) for the next 100 years, to tell you the truth," she said. But with the leak and poor quality of the BCWA's other possible sources of water in Massachusetts, as well as the cost to treat and make them potable, "the remedy is to build a pipeline."

"I don't think we have a choice."

Officials had already been working on the new pipeline plan prior to the discovery of the leak last month, and were just finishing up engineering work on the first phase, which is expected to cost approximately $5 million. That phase would cover the construction of a 24-inch interconnecting line from the Cross Bay Pipeline's terminus in East Providence to another pipeline from Providence, which serves as East Providence's main supply and lies further to the north.

The larger portion of the project, running a 24-inch or 30-inch main from that point all the way to the East Providence/Pawtucket border, would cost another $22 million or more. Other portions of the project, which would include ancillary equipment and infrastructure, would bring the cost up to $31 to $35 million.

If it began today, work would take two to three years and when it was done, Bristol County would draw its water both from Pawtucket and through the Cross Bay Pipeline.

Who would pay?

Ms. Marchand said that if no external funding sources are found, the entire cost would be borne by BCWA ratepayers and would likely result in yearly rate increases of 3 to 3.5 percent per year over the 15 to 20-year life of the bonds.

As many of the authority's existing bonds have been paid off, she and board chairman Allan Klepper of Barrington said authority officials have been planning for such an expense under their long-term 20-year budgeting schedule.

"It's within our budget limits to install Phase I," she said.

As for the larger section of line accounting for Phase II, 50 percent of that cost has also been accounted for in long-term planning and would come from rate increases, "with the assumption that somewhere along the line, East Providence is going to join us with the project."

For years, one of the main sticking points with the East Providence pipeline plan has been resistance from East Providence, where the City Council has balked repeatedly at contributing financially to the project. But with the recent leak, she said, "they're definitely concerned" because East Providence shares an emergency interconnect with the Cross Bay pipeline that is to be used for emergencies in that city.

East Providence's own water infrastructure "is in worse shape" than Bristol County's, and that has caused a reconsideration of the plan there, she said. She is optimistic that East Providence will come on board and contribute funds, and "at this point they are assuming they are going to be paying for half of it."

If city officials come on board and commit, she said, the plan would be to build a 30-inch line to Pawtucket that would serve both it and Bristol County.

But if East Providence balks again, she said, Bristol County will go forward anyway, building instead a smaller, 24-inch line that would not serve the city.

"They understand that if they won't be paying for it, they won't tie in" to the pipeline, she said.

Discussions are continuing, and the next step is to secure land along which the second phase of the pipeline would be built. Some of that land is owned by the City of East Providence and some of it is privately owned.

While no agreement to allow easements has come from the land owners or city, Ms. Marchand said, the hope remains that those will come. If not, there is always the possibility of speaking to the state and using the power of eminent domain to secure them. But she said "that's not likely.

"The urgency now, especially on the part of East Providence, is going to make a difference. I think the mayor is trying to convince the (city) council of the urgency."

Other funding sources

As they look to ratepayers and East Providence, Ms. Marchand said authority officials are also looking elsewhere for ways to help cover the project's cost.

When first envisioned, estimates were that the pipeline would cost roughly $22 to $27 million. In the early days, BCWA officials hoped to have it paid for largely with bonds and funds from the state. But approval for a bond issue on the statewide ballot never made it through the legislature and there has never been the will to discuss another one.

That has changed, she said, and she said BCWA officials want the state to approve a new, $50 million statewide water infrastructure issue on next year's ballot.

"We're not the only water supply with problems," she said, and she hopes that a statewide issue will have more success passing. She asked legislators on hand Monday night to support the proposal.

"I'll take any support I can get," she said. "That's why I'm here."

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