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By ANTHONY aRUSSO
CHARLESTOWN - The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) has agreed to begin writing new regulations regarding waste water treatment that will be aimed at protecting local salt ponds and lessening financial burdens for homeowners wanting to renovate.
The agreement was made as the result of a meeting between DEM officials and state legislators called by State Rep. Donna Walsh (D-36). Representatives Teresa Tanzi (D-34) and Spencer Dickinson (D-35) took part in the discussions.
Walsh said she received resolutions from Charlestown, Westerly and South Kingstown concerning innovative wastewater treatment technology, and asking her to look into DEM's current wastewater treatment regulations.
"We all recognize the importance of reducing nitrogen loading to our ponds but we also recognize the importance for providing affordable solutions for our citizens and a stimulus for the stagnant construction industry," she said in a statement.
Existing DEM regulations require homeowners to purchase de-nitrification systems when they make home renovations. Changing the footprint or height of a home automatically triggers system upgrade. These systems can cost in the vicinity of $30,000.
However, the DEM's new rules could make the process of renovation less costly and less of a headache for homeowners.
"I am pleased to report that RIDEM agreed to make three important regulation changes I hope will substantially help struggling homeowners and stimulate the construction industry without harm to our Salt Ponds Critical Resource Area," said Walsh.
The first DEM regulation change is going to be to re-write the de-nitrification upgrade rule, which will suspend the requirement for three years. However, the requirement will continue to stand for renovations that cost 50% or more of the assessed value of a home, or for a complete septic system failure.
The second regulation change will aim to permit the pilot use of promising wastewater technology. Up to 10 pilot installations of new technologies would be permitted under the new regulation, which may encourage innovation.
Lastly, DEM will employ a reciprocity rule, which will allow technologies permitted by other states with similar environmental conditions as Rhode Island to be used here in the Ocean State.
According to Walsh, states that may influence DEM's regulations are Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland.
"I am pleased because I know that the reciprocity is a good idea and [DEM] is committed to that," she said.
Walsh also said that while these regulations are not set in stone yet, and still need some work, she wants to see progress by March 1, the start of the building season. She said that she is going to continue following up with weekly phone calls to DEM.
"There's going to be some work done on these rules," she said. "I don't know exactly how it is going to be written. We talked about a lot of things, and some things still need to be worked out."
"March 1st," she stressed, "we will see what is actually done by then."
She said that the costly de-nitrification systems cause people to hesitate on renovations, which has a negative impact on the building industry.
"I think our contractors and builders need a little help with this," she said.
Walsh said that she was pleased with the results of the meeting and is glad she organized it. When she first got the resolutions from the towns, they were asking for legislation, but she thought that negotiations were a better approach.
"When you legislate something, you never know what's going to come out of it," she said. "When you negotiate, you have a better chance of getting something done."