A proposal that the Warwick Sewer Authority seeks to lower the cost of sewers for 937 Bayside property owners by using conventional means of construction has outraged a member of the Narragansett Indians and runs counter to an agreement reached by the EPA, the state and the authority.
Former Ward 5 Councilman Carlo Pisaturo, who was appointed to the authority by Mayor Joseph Solomon, said Thursday he plans to suggest at a meeting of the authority finance committee this evening that directional drilling for the project be abandoned, which he believes would eliminate the need for pumps for most homes and reduce the overall cost of the project estimated at $23 million to $27 million. According to estimates, individual assessments would be in the range of $24,000 to $28,000.
After more than 20 years of discussions and even developing plans for a Bayside system, directional drilling that would eliminate the need to excavate roads was selected when it was confirmed Native Americans had once heavily populated the area. Evidence of Indians was unearthed in diggings conducted on Tidewater Drive and surrounding roads.
“Forget all the stuff with the Indians and do it the conventional way,” Pisaturo said.
He points out that other utilities, including water and gas lines, run underneath the Bayside roads and the area has been already disturbed. Further, he points out, with a gravity system rather than the low-pressure system now on the drawing boards, there would be no need for homes to have pumps. The pumps, he points out, operate on 220 volts, and he believes many of the homes affected are on 60 amp services, meaning additional upgrading expenses to the homeowner.
“Pocahontas and Tonto have had their day,” Pisaturo said. “It’s over.”
Pisaturo said he is not aware of Indian gravesites in the path of the sewers, and even should bones be found, who is to say they are human and, if human, who is to say they belong to Native Americans? He noted that there are historic cemeteries throughout the city and he wouldn’t be surprised if burials might be found.
“The cost is going to be excessive,” Pisaturo said of directional drilling, although he didn’t offer cost estimates. “We have to get moving on it [Bayside sewers],” he said.
Pisaturo acknowledged that Mayor Solomon finds the project “excessive” and understands the mayor’s hesitance to move ahead with construction until all the options have been explored. The project was to have gone out for bid with an award and start construction this summer when Janine Burke-Wells retired as authority director in the spring. Concerned over the financial impact on the city, although the cost would be paid through a revenue bond with repayment by the homeowners, Solomon wanted further review and the schedule was delayed.
Based on interviews with John Brown, historic preservation officer for the Narragansett Indians, and the memorandum of agreement signed in 2017 by the city, the state and the Environmental Protection Agency, directional drilling will be used for the project wherever possible.
To start, Brown questioned whether conventional construction would be less costly. Brown said the tribe was not party to the agreement worked out by the city, state and EPA.
“We went ahead under the claim that they needed to get this project done,” he said.
Brown has been informed of what was found at sites throughout the project area. He does not want to talk about specifics for fear that it may prompt “treasure hunters” to further disrupt what he calls “sacred sites.” He adds that knowingly disrupting sacred sites is a federal offense.
As to existing utilities in the area, he said if in the course of doing repairs or upgrades to gas and water lines, artifacts are uncovered work must cease and authorities notified.
Brown said he has not been contacted by the sewer authority recently and was unaware of Pisaturo’s suggestion that conventional construction means be explored.
The District 1 regional office of the EPA provided a copy of the 17-page agreement. In part it reads:
“To mitigate potential effects to historic properties, the WSA will pursue directional drilling as the preferred method for sewer system construction to the extent possible. Certain areas that will require excavation [jack and bore pits, manholes and service connections] will be defined by the WSA with specific boundary limits and identified in a pre-design plan. Prior to construction of the sewer mains and service connections, the WSA will conduct archaeological identification surveys of the excavation boundary limits identified in the preliminary design plans.”