Council votes to move forward with Jillson Avenue water treatment plant

Council votes to move forward with Jillson Avenue water treatment plant

WOONSOCKET - The project has spanned administrations and tested just how lucky city officials would be in gambling delays.

Comparing the current situation to a game of Russian roulette, City Council members said Monday that it's time for Woonsocket to start building a new water treatment plant, and instructed the mayor to move forward with building on a site that was purchased for that very purpose back in 2012.

"I feel that this plant is not going to last much longer," said Councilor Christopher Beauchamp. "I want to have the shovel in the ground and get this going."

City officials were told back in 2004 that their current facility, the 60 plus-year-old Charles Hamman Water Treatment Plant, had between 15 and 18 years left before the equipment would fail. And the Department of Environmental Management has demanded for years that Woonsocket to do something about the pollutants expelled from the facility into the Blackstone River. Currently, the DEM-mandated deadline for completion of a new plant is May of 2016.

Former Mayor Leo Fontaine commissioned a seven-member Water Treatment Plant Project Advisory Committee to choose a site for a new facility in 2011, and after months of study and debate, they recommended that the plant be built on an 18 acre plot behind Bernon Heights Elementary School.

The City Council approved the choice, which was also affirmed by a vote of the Budget Commission. Property records show that the city purchased land on Jillson Avenue from Roland and Suzanne Michaud for $390,000 in Dec. 2012.

After the mayoral election in 2013, however, Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt asked council members to review consideration of several sites for the plant's location, including one plot of land in the town of North Smithfield, just across the road from the current facility on Manville Road.

"It was a surprise to me that there was a change in direction because there were a lot of people involved and it was not an administrative decision," said Councilor Daniel Gendron, who served on the committee that chose the Jillson Avenue location back in 2011.

The site in North Smithfield currently serves as a firing range for the Woonsocket Police Department, and was deemed to be an "optimal" location from a physical standpoint by the water advisory group. It was ultimately disqualified, however, because of uncertainty over how much the town would charge the city for taxes.

City officials tried to circumvent tax negotiations for the land this June, proposing a bill in the General Assembly that would add "a municipally owned water treatment facility which is partially or totally located in another community and supplies potable water in compliance with state and federal standards to that community" to the state's list of tax exempt property. The bill ultimately never made it to the House floor.

In a press release this week, the mayor said the decision was ultimately up to the City Council.

"That decision and its impact on the life of the neighborhood affected should be weighed carefully," said Baldelli-Hunt. "It is important that we move this project with all deliberate speed to avoid the dangers and public inconvenience that are posed by the current aging treatment plant."

"I think it's time to do what we already voted on once," Beauchamp said this week.

Gendron added "It's not a matter of if this plant is going to fail. It's a matter of when."

Pointing to the $4 million that would be spent for piping and $3.5 million needed for a pumping station for the Jillson Avenue site, Baldelli-Hunt told councilors she could still negotiate a tax treaty that could make the North Smithfield property an attractive choice. She also said that Alan Brodd, who briefly served as the city's public works director, refused to have his name attached to the plant if it was built on Jillson.

"My new Department of Public Works director has also indicated that Jillson Ave. is not an appropriate site," said Baldelli-Hunt. "I would suggest to you that you take the time to speak with them."

Councilor Robert Moreau pointed out that building on the site will require blasting a rock ledge.

"I think the cost is going to be a lot more than what we believe it is going to be," Moreau said.

Further, Moreau said residents in the area are largely unaware of the plan.

"The average homeowner that lives in this area (does) not have a clue," Moreau said. "That area to get to this site in my opinion is going to be devastating to the homeowners."

Councilor Roger Jalette pointed out that engineers had actually named the drilling of stone as an advantage of the Jillson Avenue site. And Beauchamp said that even with a PILOT agreement, the tax burden could increase in 10 years.

Gendron agreed.

"The tax is always going to be an unknown. It's a burden we would pass on to our kids."

Beauchamp also disputed how much the quality of life would change in the plant's new neighborhood.

"I don't see a daily deluge of trucks going in and out of that plant," he said. "Watch the quality of life for 42,000 people (diminish) when we have to pay for their drinking water. We're kicking this down the road again and again."

Council President Albert Brien added "The prior council approved this site. The Budget Commission approved this site. We are playing Russian roulette."

The council votes 5-2 in favor of the Jillson Avenue site with Councilors Moreau and Garrett Mancieri in the minority.

Council members also affirmed a previous vote to contract for "design build" services for the new plant rather than "design, build, operate," maintaining the jobs of the current water department workers instead of privatizing. The council took the same vote in 2013, but was overridden by the Budget Commission, which approved a DBO last June.

Baldelli-Hunt stated this week that she also prefers the design-build approach.

Comments

My neighbor just told me about this water treat plan for Jillson Ave.I am shocked. We have wild life down here that you don't see in other parts of the City. Deer , Wild Turkey,and who knows what else.I bought my house in Feb after living in the north end of Woonsocket for eleven years because of its peaceful surroundings. I am sure many of my neighbors are unaware of this.

I would like to know where on jillson ave this is going. It is all wetlands over here. I need permision from DEM just to do repairs on my home. And if they plan on blasting ledge all the houses down here are sitting on a vien. What will this do to all our houses