By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
EXETER – The words “cutting edge” and “Exeter” aren’t necessarily what you’d expect to find in the same sentence.
But in this large and heavily rural part of the state – sometimes considered pokey and Mayberry-ish by more cosmopolitan types – a combination of grant-funded initiatives and cross-departmental alliances are putting Exeter at the forefront of technology and environmentally-aware green projects.
In the process, the advances are saving the town and its taxpayers a ton of green as well.
Among those who can take credit for eschewing turf wars and power plays to pull together as a team working for the greater good are town planner David Schweid, emergency management director Stefan Coutoulakis, department of public works/animal shelter director Steve Mattscheck and support personnel from town hall including Patty Whitford, the 911 coordinator; Kerri Petrarca, the tax assessor’s clerk; and Lorrie Field, planning department assistant.
The amount and variety of progressive measures are aggressively futuristic.
Among those in place or fast-tracking are: computerized weather-updating and notification systems; a digitized mapping program documenting key financial and infrastructure data; a solar-powered hot water system; a furnace that runs on recycled oil; and money-generating landfill innovations.
Schweid has been the mastermind behind much of the grant research and writing, finding state and federal funds to support a diverse number of initiatives.
Those resources have been used to solve problems from providing low-cost hot water for the many loads of laundry generated at the animal shelter, to conserving money and heat
at the DPW garage.
Some $21,000 for a solar-powered hot water system, he says, came from the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act via the RI Department of Administration’s Office of Energy Resources. Schweid says the system, installed at the animal shelter in August with panels on the roof, a pair of 105-gallon tanks with yards of piping that occupy an entire closet and new commercial-grade appliances is “such a great fit for us.”
He notes that the shelter “does 11 to 14 loads of laundry a day in two big commercial machines using an enormous amount of hot water. They also use hot water for rinsing out cages.” Previously, the hot water was generated by an oil furnace. “We’ll know in the course of the next year how much the savings are from the oil bills. We’ll save a lot; I think it will be a great system.”
A big gauge on the front shows the water in the tanks stays at 150 degrees.
“We’re really happy about it,” says Schweid. “It’s need-and-supply and the neat thing is to have green, renewable resources.” According to Mattscheck, a representative of the Office of Energy Resources who came to inspect the system soon after it was installed was extremely pleased with what he saw.
An enormous red waste-oil burner – a state-of-the-art furnace called a Clean Burn 2500 that heats the DPW garage primarily on used fluids drained from the department’s fleet of vehicles – occupies what’s fast becoming a place of honor.
It is a monstrous system.
A big metal tank sits on a skid on the floor collecting and storing 250 gallons of liquid while the business end that churns out the heat is 10-12 feet higher, near the ceiling. Among the ecological benefits is the reduced chance of spill and contamination because the used oil is collected on site. Moreover, the furnace has received an EPA stamp of approval because its emissions are clean-air friendly.
With the former oil-powered forced hot air, Mattscheck explains, every time a 14-foot garage door is opened to let a truck in or out, “all the heat leaves the building.” He likes that the new furnace is American made – a condition of federal funding – and that he can use the waste oil instead of storing it before having it removed.
The new unit can run on “hydraulic, transmission and steering fluids as well as motor oil from 20 vehicles. It uses less fuel and heats faster.”
Schweid notes that the waste-oil burner “came from the same source – the feds” who kicked in $10,000. “He’ll keep that running all winter long,” he says of the DPW director. “There’s a big need, too. Those big doors are always open in the winter time. The heater runs for a long time.”
In other DPW developments:
n Because the department has acquired a diagnostic device that is plugged into vehicles and runs scans to get information on potential problem areas, there is now WiFi in the garage. That means that if a major emergency takes out all power sources, Coutoulakis benefits too because he has somewhere to go and connect his computer to keep up with developments;
n The department has saved the town $75,000 by collecting materials left over from roadwork projects, runoff cleaning and sand swept up after snow has melted and using it to make a green cover for the old landfill. Knowing for some time the landfill would need to be concealed, he started saving matter five years ago.
“We ended up with seven to eight yards. Instead of having to purchase it, we had ours tested and used it,” says Mattscheck.
n He also recently accepted a check for the town for slightly more than $13,000 from RI Resource Recovery Corp for recyclable materials collected at $21 per ton. Because of newly-imposed single-stream recycling allowing residents to combine unsorted recyclables, Mattscheck expects more people will recycle and the grant awarded the town will increase.
On the emergency management front, Coutoulakis has formed a relationship with the National Domestic Preparedness Coalition, a non-profit training group for first responders – located on Ted Rod Road in a former church building – and that organization has made its video-conferencing equipment available to him. “I can use it for FEMA,” he says of the potential to confer with the federal agency. “It’s a local business reaching out to us.”
n Exeter EMA also has a new fall-back system in which Coutoulakis uses his computer as the primary news-sharing device but can switch over to cell phone if needed;
n The single-number notification system – in which dialing one number alerts every resident of Exeter-West Greenwich to major emergencies – will be under a multi-year contract within the next two months. It had been on course for earlier implementation but the company selected to provide the service was bought out and Coutoulakis had to start over.
Without question, the venture capturing everyone’s imaginations is development of a Geographic Information System (GIS.)
This concept combines hardware, software and data to display and analyze information. Through a GIS, it will be possible to detect patterns and trends by examining layers of individual digital maps, each focusing on a key topic.
The grant Schweid wrote for $50,000 was approved by the statewide planning office. The project has gone out to bid.
In Exeter, the GIS will direct those trying to obtain the entire picture of the town’s workings to a single website. There it will be possible to pull up digital maps containing information such as taxes, topography, wetlands, plat dimensions, zoning, road locations, the storm water management system, any piping schematics and other variables.
Schweid notes that it will possible to access the GIS from home. The whole thing can even be printed out – truly a cutting edge tool.
“I think we can start the system and it will be operational in 18 months,” he adds. He credits the town assessor’s office with being “instrumental in expressing the need” for the system. Schweid is working with technical experts from North Kingstown to iron out the details.
“The direction we’re moving in is positive,” states Coutoulakis. “It’s a very exciting time for the community. Everything is coming together nicely.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN.