Study to look at water, sewer improvements in economic overlay

Study to look at water, sewer improvements in economic overlay

SMITHFIELD – Despite a push for an ordinance change meant to encourage business and residential growth in the economic growth overlay district along the Route 7 and 116 corridor, developers and landowners are saying the area doesn’t have the water or sewer capacity to support a bustling community.

According to Town Planner Michael Phillips, the town is working to find solutions to fix the infrastructure in the overlay district, hoping it will entice businesses along the way.

During the Nov. 5 Town Council meeting, the council voted to approve a matching $390,000 grant from the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation’s Site Readiness Grant Program to research infrastructure improvements in the EGO district.

“We’re looking at inexpensive ways of improving the capacity of the sewer system there,” Phillips said.

He said he hopes to look at other capacity issues, as well as reducing water infiltration into the sewer and raising manholes in flat sections of pipe.

Smithfield Peat owner Jackson Despres spoke at the meeting on the lack of infrastructure to support commercial growth in town.

Despres said he’s spoken before the council numerous times about the town’s need for business growth to support the tax base, and the town “has done absolutely nothing in the last umpteen years to try and remedy the problem.”

“(Routes)116 and 7 is the only area in this town where you’re going to get any commercial growth and yet there is inadequate water up there, inadequate sewer up there,” Despres said. “Shame on this town.”

Despres owns a 32-acre pad-ready plot off Route 116 on 295 George Washington Highway. Though he received master plan approval for a mixed-use commercial and residential project called “Village at Stillwater” in 2016, the property still doesn’t have a developer.

According to the grant application, owners of the Village at Stillwater discussed a possible cost-sharing or in-kind contribution for a necessary sewer study and improvements.

Town Manager Randy Rossi said while Despres owns a substantial portion of the EGO area, the infrastructure study is for the town as a whole.

“It’s about equal opportunity for the whole town,” Rossi said.

He said previous studies were completed looking at capacity issues along the Routes 7 and 116 corridor, and the R.I. Commerce Corp. grant will take a closer look at flows and capacity issues.

Rossi said the study will allow the town to know precisely what it needs to accommodateproposals. The study will also show how much the town can handle now, he said.

“This will bring it all together as one package,” Rossi said.

Though the grant will not fund any of the actual upgrades needed in the EGO district’s water and sewer infrastructure, Rossi said it may fund water tank improvements in the area.

Rossi said the grant could potentially cover $200,000 for water tank improvements for the tank near Rubius Therapeutics at 100 Technology Way off Route 7. Funds used from the grant will reduce money borrowed by the Smithfield Water Supply Board for the project.

He said Rubius is open to partnering on projects in town, and the tank project is a possibility. Rossi described the water tank that sits behind Rubius as an “eyesore” during the Rubius groundbreaking ceremony in September 2018.

While Rubius, which broke ground last September, plans to spend $155 million over the next several years to develop a cellular therapy facility, there will need to be water and sewer upgrades for that development to occur.

“This alternative (grant) funding could help us get it done sooner,” Rossi said.

He said the town aims to protect water at all costs, and the project is a necessary to keep water flowing.

“It’s a pretty interesting process, but it’s a costly thing to do,” Rossi said of the study.