Council abandons plans for Chapel Street sewer, Dam repairs move forward


BURRILLVILLE – A plan to extend town sewer lines along Chapel Street to encompass six unserved businesses and eight additional residential properties has been rejected by the Town Council, with members saying that the high cost of the project would out-way any potential economic benefit to the town.

Needed repairs to a century-old dam, meanwhile, will move forward at a cost not to exceed $2 million.

Councilors had hoped to finance the sewer line extension with a loan from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund through the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank.  The project was slated to extend the existing line, filling a gap in between River Street and Union Avenue.

Estimates for the project provided by consulting firm James Germenia & Associates last April showed two potential options for the extension: a gravity sewer with a pump station for a cost of $1,202,800, or a low pressure sewer system for $612,208.

But a further review of the potential costs by consultants from the BETA Group, Inc., provided to the council last week, put the cost of both options at more than double, due in part to issues including the presence of rock/ledge in the area, and contaminated soil near both a gas station and an auto service station on the road.

“In the planner’s previous analysis of the expected conventional buildout of this sewered area, it was anticipated that the town could realize approximately $1 million in new building construction,” noted a letter to Town Manager Michael Wood from Public Works Director Jeffrey McCormick on the project. “If based solely on this new construction, that would yield about $16,000 in annual taxes, and would have a very long payback period.”

The needed $1.9 million bond for the project would have come with annual payments of around $150,000 on average through 2036, according to financial advisors.

The report from BETA also noted that the sewer extension would need to cross one or more state bridges, resulting in a lengthy permitting process with state agencies.

Both McCormick and Planner Raymond Goff ultimately recommended putting the project off until next year, but councilors went a step further, rejecting the plan entirely for now.

“It still needs to be addressed as a gapping 750-foot gap in our sewer, but this is not the way to do it,” said Councilor Raymond Trinque during the board’s virtual meeting last week. “Financially, it doesn’t make sense with the number of hookups you’re going to get.”

Councilors noted the expense was particularly out-of-reach in light of urgent repairs the town must now finance to the Harrisville Pond Dam.

“I think that we should resist the temptation to add on any debt that is not necessary,” said Councilor Dennis Anderson.

Councilors voted unanimously against the sewer extension plan, also moving to take the project off the town’s list of capital improvement projects, and a list of the council’s goals and objectives. Engineering work, they said, will be maintained so it’s available for future boards.

“This has been on the docket for a long time,” noted Town Manager Michael Wood of the project. “I think this is the right decision.”

Councilors did approve a second major infrastructure project, authorizing bonds for up to $2 million for improvements to Harrisville Pond Dam, where leaking and developing sinkholes have become cause for concern.

The dam was built in 1857 at a cost of $6,000. The 140-foot-long, 18-foot-high granite and cement structure was constructed with high quality workmanship and considered one of the best built dams in Rhode Island at the time, according to local historians.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management notified town officials of the need for repairs to the East Avenue bridge following an inspection last year. Barrels have marked where large sinkholes were discovered near the west side by the Assembly Theatre, and McCormick noted that his crew recently added sand bags and sealed a hole in the 100- plus-year-old gate.

“There’s no water going through that gate anymore,” McCormick said.

Wood noted that the dam project is also eligible for a loan from RIIB.

“If you proceed with this we’re going to apply for the funding,” said Wood. “It’s really a potential problem for the area if you don’t remedy that.”

“The sooner you get in the sooner you get your money,” Wood added.

“There’s no doubt we need to do this,” noted Councilor Stephen Rawson. “It’s pretty amazing that held up until now.”

Councilor Dennis Anderson agreed, noting, “I think this is a top priority.”

Councilors unanimously authorized financing for dam repair not to exceed $2 million.

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