athornebrooke@ricentral.com

EAST GREENWICH—The town council worked Monday to establish the means by which it would implement climate resiliency upgrades for the East Greenwich Wastewater Treatment Facility. It is slated to authorize that 50 percent of the wastewater fund’s unrestricted net assets be used as matching funds for a grant received by the state to improve resiliency. The upgrades afforded by the grant would better insulate the facility against flood damage and sea-level rise, as well as ensure it maintains decent working order in the event of mild environmental changes due to climate change. Joseph Duarte, director of the town’s public works department, spoke to the initiative.

“As you know, climate change is here. It’s going to be here for a while in terms of its effects on our treatment facilities,” Duarte said. “During the 2016 elections there was a bond for green economy and a clean waterfront, and a small portion of that, $5 million, was put aside for treatment plant resiliency upgrades.”

“What we are doing is applying for that grant under the RIDEM Wastewater Facility Resiliency Fund. We’re asking for $191,305 for various improvements to the plant,” Duarte continued. “It includes things that will protect our treatment plant from any climactic changes, not permanent sea-level rise, but climactic events.”

The proposed upgrades to the wastewater facility are based on RIDEM and FEMA studies aimed at addressing how climate change will affect critical infrastructure through phenomena such as flooding. As part of the grant application, Duarte has compiled a number of upgrades that need to be implemented to help the facility maintain readiness for an environmental disaster. Though there has not been cause to believe that a climate catastrophe will affect the town in the near future, Duarte expressed that the availability of time and money made the present the best opportunity to pursue the changes. In this way, the town is preparing for the infrastructure it needs before it needs it.

“We’re going to be a few years ahead of the game, and it’s a thing I highly recommend,” Duarte said. “The big problem we’re having since the 2010 storm is not impact from the outside in. We flooded from the inside out. So this is unique.”

The proposed designs for the facility will help to ensure flood resilience and uninterrupted operations in accordance with the town’s resiliency plan. Construction will include new, stackable flood barriers, waterproofing, containment walls, watertight hatches and manhole covers. Due to the complex nature of updating the existing infrastructure, and the extent of the required changes, an outside engineering firm will have to be hired by the town. The activities carried out under the auspices of the grant funding will be overseen by public works director Joseph Duarte, and assisted by special project coordinator Fred Gomes and wastewater superintendent Shawn O’Neil.

When asked by town council president Mark Schwager whether the improvements were essential, Duarte responded in the affirmative.

“There are additional things that we can add to this [plan], but this is everything we identified from pump stations, the collection system and manhole covers. The plant was just about the only thing we need some assistance on, and that’s what we’re seeking to do here,” Duarte said.

The motion to approve the grant application and the use of matching funds was approved unanimously, 4-0 (council member Mike Donegan was absent). It is anticipated that the upgrades will be completed within 17 months of receiving the grant funds.

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