NORTH SMITHFIELD – Residents experiencing problems with well water in the area of Eddie Dowling Highway by Dowling Village, take notice: some of your neighbors are also having trouble, and over-salting by the Rhode Island Department of Transportation may be the culprit.
RIDOT has installed new wells in the area to correct the problem for more than one homeowner, but water at another property at 199 Eddie Dowling Highway was reportedly so contaminated with sodium and chloride that a new system would not have resolved the issue – even at a depth of 700 feet.
The issue came to light for a second time during a request by homeowner Michael Mongeon to the Town Council this week for approval to seek relief on a flooded lot through the federal Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program.
NRI NOW first reported on the over-salting issue in 2020 when homeowner James Yates told the story of his prolonged effort to get the contamination problem solved at his home, a a newly-constructed four bedroom ranch on Hanton Road. After years of research and persistence, RIDOT finally installed a new well on his property this past Christmas.
Yates expressed concern that others might not know about the program, which he noted was difficult to find.
After an article on Yates’s story was published last July, NRI NOW was contacted by a second resident in the area, Julie Rousseau, who noted that she lives just four houses away.
“We have lived here for 6.5 years and in the last 1.5-2 years we, and our neighbors, have all noticed a massive change in our water quality,” wrote Rousseau in an email last year. “When we first moved in we had water tests done and didn’t get great results, but it has gotten exponentially worse since. We had no idea there was anything we could do.”
NRI NOW contacted RIDOT about the issue last year and learned at the time that in addition to Yates, the department had installed new wells and water treatment systems for two other homeowners in the area.
But It seems at 199 Eddie Dowling Highway, even bigger problems took center stage.
“The well that he had providing water to the home is contaminated,” said John Baxter, director of the Senate Office for Constituent Services, of Mongeon.
In a communication for the Town Council, Baxter notes that RIDOT was prepared to install a new well on Mongeon’s property, and three attempts were made to obtain potable water.
“The sodium in the water still rendered it undrinkable – unusable actually,” Baxter said.
In 2018, RIDOT tried to work with the city of Woonsocket to extend the public water line around 800 feet to resolve issues for all homeowners in the area, with plans to reimburse the city roughly $360,000 for design and construction costs.
“The draft agreement hit a standstill with the Woonsocket City Council because they did not want to be responsible for any maintenance activities or recurring costs resulting from this water line extension,” Baxter wrote.
Last September, Baxter noted that his office received a request from Mongeon, and performed a site visit of the property with an official from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management.
“When we arrived and performed the walk-through, what we had found was actually the complete reclamation of the Mongeon property by the wetlands,” Baxter said.
Flooding has now made that property, “almost uninhabitable,” Baxter said.
Now, RI DEM has said that the property should be condemned, and the homeowner is pursuing relief through the federal BRIC program, administered through the RI DEM. Town Council approval is required, Baxter said, because the property would be taken off the town tax rolls.
Town Planner Tom Kravitz noted that Mongeon purchased the property knowing that the water was contaminated.
“RIDEM grants can be complicated,” Kravitz said of the process to apply on behalf of Kravitz. “It’s going to take time for me to do it.”
Kravitz asked who would own the property once the grant was administered and Baxter said he did not know.
Town Council President John Beauregard said he wants town Solicitor David Igliozzi to look at the issue.
“I just want to make sure we don’t approve this and all of a sudden the town’s on the hook for something we didn’t expect,” Beauregard said. “We just want to do our diligence.”
Attorney Joseph Lamagna, who spoke on behalf on Mongeon at the meeting as well as at a meeting regarding a separate Victory Highway property he owns in December, said the property was purchased when it was still useful and had tenants.
“The wetland enlarged itself and polluted the fresh water supply,” said Lamagna, noting there’s now water in the basement even with a sump pump operating 24/7. “Then the septic system became contaminated with the rising water table. It’s uninhabitable.”
For those with well water issues, the Rhode Island Department of Health’s Private Wells Program serves as a central point of contact and assists homeowners with navigating to the right offices and agencies. More information can be found here.