With a ceremonial toss of sand in the shadow of the I-295 overpass on Central Avenue, state and local officials this morning marked the beginning of Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation's $4 million sewer line project.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, Mayors Joseph Polisena of Johnston and Charles Lombardi of North Providence, state Sen. Frank Lombardo III, and town council members Eileen Fuoco (D-Dist. 1) and David Santilli (D-Dist. 3) joined officials from RIRRC and Narragansett Bay Commission, which will now handle the wastewater from Resource Recovery and other businesses located near the Central Landfill.
RIRRC Executive Director Michael OConnell called the new project a "win-win-win-win all the way around," helping all the entities involved.
"It's a benefit for Resource Recovery, it's a benefit for the town, it's a benefit to the residents, it's a benefit to the businesses here," OConnell explained. "Briarcliffe Manor is going to expand its business based on knowing this ability to expand with the sewer."
Briarcliffe owner Ashkay Talwar, who also attended this morning's event, said the sewer will be a boon to the assisted living facilty, which has been operating its own wastewater treatment plant on its property.
"[Handling wastewater] is clearly not our core business — it's a distraction," Talwar explained. "This new sewer line takes away headaches for us."
Last spring, the town approved a 60,000-sq.-ft. addition to the current Briarcliffe facilities, which Talwar said in March would be suspended until the sewer line is complete.
This morning, Talwar explained that Briarcliffe may begin the new project and hook into its existing wastewater facility while RIRRC completes the new line along Central Avenue.
"It's a matter of timing — this gives us flexibility," Talwar stated. "The biggest saving is the ability to concentrate on what we do, which is look after people and provide care for them, and not go into the intricacies of running a sewer plant — that's the biggest advantage: We get to go back to what we do best."
Chafee noted the potential for business development on the properties near the Landfill on Shun Pike.
"Anytime you can have businesses associated with the Landfill growing, that's a positive," said Chafee. "People might say that the Landfill growing is a negative, but the businesses are growing and hiring people, and this new sewer line will help those businesses grow."
The governor also explained that municipal sewers are needed because of the age of many septic systems across the state.
"It's an expensive decision to put in a whole new system and just hope, or [homeowners can] hope that a wastewater treatment line comes through — in this case, their hopes are being rewarded, and that's always the best option," Chafee said. "No more failing cesspools and the problems that come with them — just put it into the pipe, and it goes away."
As he'd mentioned during a previous interview announcing today's ceremony, Polisena cited the opportunity for homeowners to have a better system, as well as RIRRC's funding of complete repaving of Central Avenue, as highlights of the project.
"To have municipal sewers, there's no doubt about it, those property values will go up," Polisena explained. "If you want to sell your home and you have a septic system, people are very reluctant [to buy it], especially if it's an older system."
RIRRC Director: 'We weren't able to get through' to Cranston
About the only party that the new line won't help is the City of Cranston, which will be losing RIRRC as a sewer customer.
The city had been collecting some $750,000 in fees from Resource Recovery each year, and has claimed that the Central Landfill operator owes $2.1 million in fines for what the city claims was untreated wastewater.
OConnell said that RIRRC "sought a business relationship, and we found it with NBC, and that's how we want our relationships with our vendors to be."
As for the city's claims about untreated wastewater, OConnell explained that Resource Recovery has been working on fixing the problem.
"Those were all issues that are going to be addressed with the pre-treatment [system], which we're going to have to be doing whether we stayed with Cranston or [switched to] NBC, so those issues were the same," OConnell said. "What made it difficult with Cranston is we weren't able to get through to them. NBC is willing to accept our additional flows, and work with us on setting up the limits so we meet their limits as set by DEM."
The new project is expected to get underway within the next couple of weeks, beginning on Shun Pike and moving down Central Avenue to Atwood Avenue, where the new 12-in. line will intersect with a 27-in. main pipe that takes sewage to the Fields Point treatment plant, NBC Director Raymond J. Marshall explained.