North Smithfield signs waste agreement with Woonsocket

North Smithfield signs waste agreement with Woonsocket

WOONSOCKET – A new agreement for waste treatment between the communities of Woonsocket and North Smithfield will result in an annual increase of around $45-$50 for each of the 4,400 homes in North Smithfield that depend on the service.

The contract, signed by both municipalities this week, brings to an end some six years of angry exchanges between neighboring officials, and the resulting litigation.

“The city of Woonsocket and the town of North Smithfield reached an amicable settlement to the unfortunate dispute between the communities over a wastewater inter-jurisdictional agreement,” a joint news release from Woonsocket City Council President Daniel Gendron and North Smithfield Town Council President John Beauregard stated this week.

Prior to this week, officials in North Smithfield and Woonsocket had been unable to agree on a fair price for use of the city’s Cumberland Hill Road treatment facility. Due to recent and costly upgrades mandated by the Department of Environmental Management, city officials said they required changes to the agreements that govern use of the facility by the town, as well as waste plant users in Blackstone, Mass. and portions of Bellingham, Mass.

Blackstone and Bellingham signed new agreements, but North Smithfield officials refused, saying that the new proposed 20-year contract with around $200,000 in annual host fees was unaffordable and unfair. In 2015, former Town Council President Robert Boucher even referred to the proposed fees as “blood money” and to Woonsocket officials as “gangsters.”

The issue had landed in Rhode Island Superior Court, and Judge Richard Licht was set to issue a decision in the matter by the end of this month.

Now, the communities have signed a settlement that calls, in part, for North Smithfield to pay Woonsocket all amounts owed relative to the host fees going back to fiscal year 2014. In addition, Woonsocket agreed to waive all interest on the past due amounts, in conjunction with other mutual concessions. According to Beauregard, the concessions total around $175,000.

According to Gendron, the settlement reflects the good relationship that actually exists between Woonsocket and their neighbors in North Smithfield, and he said that, after he and Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt met informally with Beauregard and North Smithfield’s Town Administrator Gary Ezovski, it became clear that the dispute was overblown and easily remedied.

“After several years of disagreement that was sometimes the subject of unfortunate rhetoric, officials from both communities held a series of informal meetings that led to an agreement that settles all outstanding issues to the satisfaction of both communities, including those before the R.I. Superior Court,” the release said.

North Smithfield had spent some $45,000 to litigate the issue.

That ended this week following a meeting arranged by Woonsocket Public Works Director Steven D’Agostino. Gendron, Woonsocket Councilman James Cournoyer and D’Agostino met with Beauregard and North Smithfield Councilman Thomas McGee to hammer out the final details.

Beauregard said, “The agreement is fair and equitable to both sides, but more importantly demonstrates the solid and productive relationship that exists between the two neighbors.”

The fees, Beauregard noted in a later talk with The Breeze, will be charged to the town’s roughly 4,400 users, and is expected to amount to an additional $45-$50 per year per bill.

“Ideally, it would have been great to owe nothing, but it’s nice to have it behind us now,” he said.

Gendron said, “Councilmen Beauregard and McGee, along with Administrator Ezovski, brought a refreshing and pragmatic approach to the discussions that allowed us to get past an unfortunate chapter that was not reflective of the longstanding healthy relationship that exists between our communities.”

Gendron and Beauregard thanked the administrations and councils of both communities for coming together to finally resolve this issue so that all parties can move forward and direct their attention to other pressing matters.