NORTH SMITHFIELD – Officials in Woonsocket are set to discuss a proposal that could see water lines extended to homes and businesses along Route 146 following a request from their counterparts in North Smithfield, who note the project could bring more business to the area.
Although in its preliminary stages, proponents say the project could eventually bring life and development to several currently vacant or blighted properties, including the land holding North Smithfield’s famous “Milk Can,” a former ice cream store now sitting in disrepair.
Woonsocket City Council President Daniel Gendron brought the issue before his board this week, scheduling a workshop to discuss the issue on Monday, Oct. 24.
“I was contacted by the council president, Mr. Beauregard, who has requested to possibly see if the city would be able to provide water for the new 146 highway that’s being installed,” Gendron said. “I told him I would ask for a meeting with the City Council.”
The news comes as the Rhode Island Department of Transportation continues work on long-overdue repairs to the highway, a main route connecting northern Rhode Island and Massachusetts to the southern portion of the state. North Smithfield Town Council President John Beauregard said it was former Town Administrator Gary Ezovski who pointed out the urgency of discussing the option prior to the highway’s completion.
“This was something we had discussed before, but It kind of fell by the wayside,” Beauregard told NRI NOW this week. “If we don’t do it before the roads are done, they’re not going to allow us to dig up a brand new highway. It became more urgent to have these conversations and get it done.”
Preliminary engineering for the project foresees a 12-inch water main extended from Dowling Village to Sayles Hill Road, before looping back to the North Smithfield development. Businesses along both sides of the highway – which include Pytko Construction, North Smithfield Auto Body, Lakeside Pools and many more, would potentially benefit.
The Milk Can once operated as a food stop in neighboring Lincoln before it was moved to its current location in 1987, and efforts to revitalize the structure have been stymied due to water contamination on the property.
Beauregard noted that there may be federal funding available to complete the extension work, but to apply for it, the town first needs a commitment from the city to provide the water.
“This is step one,” he said. “We can’t move on to step two until we have a water source.”
Beauregard said that a meter at Dowling Village would potentially provide water to an expanded Slatersville Water system.
“They would bring it to the meter and North Smithfield would take it from there,” he said of Woonsocket’s role.
Ezovski said it was people from out of town who read the news about the start of 146 construction project that put the issue back on his radar. An environmental engineer by trade, the former administrator noted he still participates in the Rhode Island Business Coalition.
“I really wasn’t looking for anything to do, but I said I’d work with them to start asking questions,” Ezovski said. “I have had some part in getting a discussion going and trying to keep it moving. The question with that area is: what can we do to make it stronger – make it a place where jobs can grow?”
Ezovski noted that the impetus of state roadway construction comes also at a time when federal funding has been made available to target infrastructure improvements such as water line extensions.
“It’s the right time and the right place,” he said.
Beauregard said he’s hopeful the talks with Woonsocket officials could lead to further collaboration and a possible solution to other water issues – including inadequate pipes in Union Village, as well as more expansion along 146.
“The people I spoke to are looking at it regionally,” Beauregard said, pointing to potential growth for the stretch of 146. “It could be more employment for people from Woonsocket. They’re looking at the big picture.”
“I would like it to see it go all the way down to the Lincoln line because there’s a lot of properties there that could really benefit from having water,” he added.
Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski, who has also been part of the initial talks, noted that the proposal would have to be brought before both RIDOT and the North Smithfield Town Council, and that project is dependent on federal funding.
“It’s going to be quite costly,” Zwolenski said. “The rate payers couldn’t afford this.”
Still, if consensus can be reached, and collaboration between leaders from the two communities moves forward, he notes, it could be an attractive prospect.
“It would provide the possibility for more business opportunities and expansion for existing businesses,” Zwolenski said.
Beauregard has been invited to the Woonsocket City Council workshop, expected to be held at City Hall on Monday starting at 7 p.m.
“I plan on attending,” he said.