Burrillville council approves financing for $5 million sewer project

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BURRILLVILLE – Members of the Burrillville Town Council unanimously approved the financing of a $5 million project to upgrade the town’s sewer system, improvements sewer officials say are needed in part due to the flushing of wipes that clog up equipment.

The project, first presented to the council in January, includes a headworks upgrade and improvements to the Oakland Pump Station, and work will be financed through a 20-year loan not to exceed the $5 million cap.

Councilors had asked for more detailed financing information after the initial presentation of the project and at the board’s last meeting in February, Supt. Michael Emond said that the increase for ratepayers will not be as high as anticipated in January.

“Most of the rate increase was already implemented,” Emond said.

The improvements were at first anticipated to add somewhere between $5.61 and $12.60 to the residential sewer rates – but Emond said the new costs will actually be much lower, totaling only 92 cents on average per residence in the first year.

“The information we saw last time was not exactly correct,” said Town Manager Michael Wood.

Bills already increased by around 10 percent this year in anticipation of the project.

“The cost has already been mostly allocated in the fiscal year 2021,” said Emond. “We start to see very little change in the cost per resident over the 20 years.”

Finance Director Leslie McGovern reportedly sat down with sewer officials to calculate the cost to users, and noted that the Sewer Commission will soon finish paying off some of its older loans.

“Some of the funds that are rolling off could be allocated to the anticipated expenses,” McGovern said.

Council President Donald Fox noted that costs will only affect residents on the system.

“This is a project that is going to be paid for by Burrillville Sewer Commission ratepayers only,” Fox said.

The current round of improvements will address one issue that’s increasingly plagued systems across the state: the flushing of wet wipes. New, more modern equipment will include a screening system to remove some of the debris, including the offending wipes or “rags.”

“We are inundated with rags,” said Emond. “They’re in the filters, going into the sand, clogging the sand.”

But more work will still be needed for Burrillville’s system in upcoming years after the project is finished, including upgrades to electric, fire and HVAC.

“It’s a 40-year-old plus system that has seen better days,” Emond said.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management is also requiring all towns in the state with a wastewater facility to submit a resiliency plan, due in July of this year. State officials are expected to look at the Burrillville’s system to determine what further upgrades are needed.

“We don’t know what their priorities are going to be,” Emond said.

Emond noted that sewer costs in Burrillville are roughly average compared to the 20 other municipal systems in Rhode Island, and that such improvements are inevitable.

“This just never ends,” Emond said, noting that sewage is corrosive and some equipment is constantly running. “It doesn’t stop, unfortunately.”

“We’re trying to be good stewards of this infrastructure,” Emond said.

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