How much water does one town need?

Commissions seek to find out
Fri, 10/23/2020 - 10:00am
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Block Island has seen its share of milestones in the past several years: the construction of the Wind Farm, the purchase of the power company, and the installation of the Community Anchor Institution high-speed broadband network.

Another game-changing moment came this summer when the Lark Hotels group proposed, and was approved for the building of an employee housing complex called The Grove in the downtown area.

At the joint meeting between the Town Council and the Water and Sewer Commissions, the Grove project received final approval for the allocation of 6,800 gallons of water and sewage use every day.

Town regulations and ordinances requires that any allocation over 2,000 gallons a day require approval from the Town Council and the Water Commission, which had granted approval at a previous meeting.

While the members of all three groups, as well as the Water and Sewer companies superintendents, felt that both the Water and Sewer Companies could easily handle this allocation for The Grove, the request made the members realize that the town needed to start thinking about how it could handle such large requests in the future.

To start, on the recommendation of Water Company Supt. John Breunig, the members of the Water Commission, and the Town Council, approved a request from Breunig to write a letter to the Rhode Island Water Resources Center to seek grant monies that would fund a Water Use and Availability Study for Block Island. Breunig said the last such study was done about 20 years ago. 

bout 20 years ago. The proposal for the $25,000 study was made by Professor Thomas Boving of the University of Rhode Island. In the proposal he wrote that Block Island’s “daily population can increase by more than 20 times” during the summer, adding that “such a large seasonal fluctuation in resident numbers strains the island’s limited freshwater resources.”

In a draft letter to the Rhode Island Water Resources Center, Breunig wrote: “Block Island is a unique locale with complex hydrogeology and large seasonal pressures. A Water Use and Availability Study could be used as a valuable tool in decision-making for water resources, planning and future development on Block Island.”

As of now, water and sewer allocation requests of more than 2,000 gallons a day for each have to be approved by the Water and Sewer Commissions, as well as the Town Council. But many on the call for the meeting felt that Block Island was just beginning to see a wave of major developments, aside from the number of new homes currently in the pipeline, to be built on Block Island.

While both Breunig and Sewer Company Supt. Dylan Chase said the flows each company handles now are well within their capacities, planning does need to be done for the future.

The discussion at the Monday, Oct. 19 meeting then focused on how — and who — to include to prepare the town for its future water and sewer needs. Breunig said he was trying to get on an agenda for a future Planning Board meeting to discuss how water and sewer usage factor into discussions of future developments.

“I guess one question is this a Town Council or Planning Board dialogue,” asked Councilor Sven Risom. “Where does the community want to go? Where do we invest or not invest? It will branch out very quickly.”

Risom said that Town Manager Maryanne Crawford should also be involved in any discussions. The Town Manager also serves as the Director of Public Works.

Councilor Chris Willi said a plan was needed because there are “three or four other parcels that would have the ability to put on another hotel or inn just in the downtown area.” He also noted that an application is in front of the Planning Board to subdivide the property where the Overlook is located adjacent to Champlin’s Marina.

“If you expand to New Harbor it expands the area of opportunity” for more big developments, said Willi.

Councilor Martha Ball felt that it was too early for the Town Council to get involved, and the first step would be to see the results of the requested water study.

“We’re not ready to jump into this. We’re not ready to have that discussion until we have more information,” Ball said.

“The purpose is to put a spotlight on it,” said Water Commission Chair Brad Marthens. “Our concern is what’s going on with the Lark group. We’re fine at the moment, but we need to plan it out five or 10 years.”

In other news, the contract to replace the High Street/Payne Road water main was awarded to Boyle and Fogarty Construction Co. for a total of $1,580,745. There was only one other bid from J.H. Lynch and Sons for $3,102,500.

That project is expected to start in the spring.

Assistant Financial Director Mona Helterline also reported strong year to date numbers for both the Water and Sewer Companies, which will allow both departments to lessen the amount they had expected to withdraw from their reserve funds to meet 2021 budget requirements.