City Council - Mayor at Odds Over Department Head Meeting Attendance
All members of the council had reservations with a difference of opinion between Mayor Bob DaSilva and the City Council in making City department heads readily available to answer questions at council meetings. It is an issue that has been concerning to Ward Four Councilman Ricardo Mourato for some time and he placed the item on the April agenda for discussion. "I want to do my due diligence on issues and ask questions at public council meetings before the council has to vote on issues like rate hikes for the sewer operation, etc.," said Mourato. The Mayor has appointed his Director of Policy, Marc Furtado, to be his liaison with the City Council. Furtado has been attending all of the council meetings and generally speaks for the Mayor's office. "We don't want to stonewall or prevent department heads from appearing (at meetings). There is a separation of powers now with the new city charter. All department heads fall under the clear jurisdiction of the executive branch. Just the city clerk is under the council's authority," said Furtado.
Mourato and the rest of the council made a point to say that "we're not like much of the last council. We're not here to berate or abuse department heads, We want answers to questions in public, with transparency," he added. Ward Three councilman Nate Cahoon made it clear that the council maintains budgetary control. "Our department heads are among the highest paid in the state and while many may certainly deserve those salaries we may have to look closer at this issue when we plan budgets," said Cahoon.
Cahoon also raised the thought that a conflict of interest could occur often with the city solicitor. "Isn't an issue like this presenting you with a conflict," Cahoon asked solicitor Michael Marcello. Marcello answered that it could, but "basically I represent the entire city from a legal standpoint."
At-large councilman Bob Rodericks said the much of the problem could be attributed to "growing pains" with the new charter. "A lot of this can be solved by using some common sense. The new charter has some very vague language in it and this strong mayoral form of government is new to the city," he said. "I certainly don't ever intend to use subpoena power to ask a department head to attend a council meeting. We don't need that. I think this council has shown that we are acting very professionally and hopefully we will continue to do that," Rodericks added. "Subpoena authority is reserved for investigations not for seeking general information." Furtado said he thought that the issue can be resolved. "We want to work with this council in a positive way."
"I agree that there may be some growing pains here," said Ward Two councilwoman Anna Sousa. "A lot of my constituents contact me directly and not the Mayor's office. It is important that we all cooperate together," Sousa added. Council President Bob Britto said that he will work closely with the solicitor and Mayor to seek a beneficial answer to the problem.
Reached after the meeting, Mayor DaSilva expressed his hope to maintain a good working relationship with the city council. "I will certainly make department heads available to attend meetings for items on the docket. My office is in constant negotiations with different parties on issues like the Suez sewage plant contract, etc. Once a preliminary process is ready, I will bring department heads and others to council meetings for questions and final resolutions," said DaSilva.
City about to Ban Retail Use of Plastic Bags
East Providence is on the verge of joining close to 10 communities throughout Rhode Island in banning the use of plastic bags in retail outlets. A proposed ordinance by Ward Two Councilwoman Anna Sousa, entitled the 'Reusable Carryout Bag Initiative', received unanimous first passage at the April 16th City Council meeting. The purpose of the resolution is "to reduce the number of single-use plastic checkout bags used by retail establishments in the City, curb litter in the streets, protect marine environment, waterways, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and solid waste and by encouraging the use of reusable carryout bags by retail establishments, banning the use of plastic bags for retail checkout of goods, and to improve the environment in East Providence and the health, safety, and welfare of its residents," wrote Sousa in her proposal. Retail establishments would be encouraged to make reusable carryout bags available for sale. "Plastic bags (also) contribute to a significant burden on the City’s solid waste disposal and single stream recycling systems," said Sousa.
"Being the Ocean State means we have much marine life and we are a coastal area we need to preserve," said Sousa. "East Providence should join in this effort. I don't think this will harm local business as many are starting to prepare for this anyway," she added. The measure would give retailers up to six months to comply with the change. "I think that is reasonable and although I had questions before I tend to support it now," said Council President Bob Britto. Councilman Bob Rodericks added his support. "It may be an ideological difference between some, but I think this is good for the environment. I see the pollution the plastic bags cause our waterways," said Rodericks.
Some of the resolution's definitions include:
"Carryout bag means a bag used by the customer at the point of sale for the purpose of removing products purchased from retail establishments. Carryout bag does not include plastic barrier bags, double-opening plastic bags, or plastic bags measuring larger than 28 inches by 36 inches.
Double-opening plastic bag means any thin plastic bag with a double opening (top and bottom) to protect clothing or other items for transport."
"Paper bag means a paper bag that is fully recyclable overall and contains a minimum of 40% post-consumer recycled content and contains no old growth fiber."
"Plastic bag means a bag where any portion of the bag is made of plastic, including, but not limited to, those called “biodegradable, “compostable” or “oxo-biodegradable”." Plastic barrier bag means any thin plastic bag with a single opening used to:
a. Transport fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, small hardware items, or other items selected by customers to the point of sale;
b. Contain or wrap fresh or frozen foods, meat, or fish, whether prepackaged or not;
c. Contain or wrap flowers, potted plants, or other items where damage to a good or contamination of other goods placed together in the same bag may be a problem; or
d. Contain unwrapped prepared foods or bakery goods.
"Recyclable plastic means plastic that meets the current Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation’s standards."
"Retail sales establishment means any enterprise, person, corporation, partnership, business venture, or vendor that sells or provides merchandise, goods, or materials directly to a customer, whether for or not for profit, including but not limited to retail stores, farmers’ markets, fleamarkets, restaurants, pharmacies, convenience and grocery stores, liquor stores, seasonal and temporary businesses, jewelry stores, and household goods stores. This does not include sales of goods at yard sales, tag sales, or other sales by residents at their homes."
Henderson Bridge Project
A joint, open public meeting hosted by Mayors Bob DaSilva of East Providence and Jorge Elorza of Providence was held on April 24th to solicit information from the public on the Henderson Bridge reconstruction project. In June of 2009 the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) started Henderson Bridge repairs to include steel repair, replacement of bridge joints, a new drainage system and other improvements with the goal of extending the service life of the bridge. The project also established well-marked bicycle lanes for both the east and west bound movements.
The Henderson Bridge, or the "Red Bridge" spans the Seekonk River, connecting the cities of Providence and East Providence. It is often used as a secondary route for motorists trying to avoid traffic congestion on the Washington Bridge and Route 195.
Most in attendance at the public forum were supportive of the new bridge and some went as far as to request that the "bridge be aesthetically beautiful and symmetric as possible." Suggestions were made to include attractive lighting, art work, etc.
Recently Senator Jack Reed joined Governor Gina Raimondo, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Representative Jim Langevin, U.S. Representative David Cicilline, Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, East Providence Mayor Roberto DaSilva, RIDOT Director Peter Alviti and Building Trades Council President Michael Sabitoni at an event overlooking the structurally deficient Henderson Bridge, which is set to undergo a $70 million renovation, to discuss efforts to make bridge improvements and transportation investments that will help create jobs and improve the safety and efficiency of the state's transportation network.
Rhode Island ranks last in the nation, 50th out of 50 states, in overall bridge condition. About 22% of the 1,162 bridges in Rhode Island are structurally deficient. Built in 1969, the Henderson Bridge is a 26-span, 2,000-foot bridge which carries vehicles over the Seekonk River from East Providence to Providence. By replacing this bridge, RIDOT will reduce its statewide structurally deficient bridge area by 12 percent.
The Henderson Bridge and Henderson Expressway were overbuilt as they were originally constructed as part of an unfinished highway. Approximately 20,000 vehicles cross it daily and there are six lanes. It has been rated as structurally deficient since 1996 when RIDOT first started keeping such records. As a result, RIDOT has spent $4 million over the last ten years on repairs to keep it safe. It has been load rated four times since 2010 due to the continual and increasing amounts of deterioration.
The first phase of construction will take the bridge down to one lane in each direction. It will also include 2,500 feet of separated bike/pedestrian path infrastructure. The smaller footprint will require less maintenance and will free up almost 33 acres for potential development and recreational use.
"We are truly grateful to Senator Jack Reed for his leadership in being able to secure the funds to bring much needed improvements to the Henderson Bridge, which will create better access to Waterfront Drive and our waterfront as a whole," East Providence Mayor Roberto DaSilva said in the initial press briefing. "The transformation of Henderson Bridge not only fortifies the collaboration between two cities, but also allows residents of the state and the region to benefit from what will be a destination spot for generations to come."
"Red Bridge" History:
The current bridge opened in 1969 to replace the old Red Bridge and was also part of a planned US 44 freeway that would have extended from the Gano Street interchange with Interstate 195 (whose ramps were built specifically for the US 44 freeway), along the west shore of the river, over the bridge, then along a never-built section of freeway in East Providence, returning to US 44 just east of Route 114 and US 1A. Since the freeway was never completed, the section that was built was not given a route number. Curiously, the freeway's right-of-way in East Providence is completely cleared to its planned end at US 44. The bridge was named after its designer, George Henderson, of Rumford, R.I. (RIDOT/SOS/Wikipedia archives).
This is the sixth bridge to have been built over this part of the Seekonk River. The first was a wooden bridge built by Moses Brown in 1793 called the Central Bridge. The same year, Brown's brother John built the first Washington Bridge at a point further south. The second and third bridges were built as replacements for their predecessors, which were destroyed in 1807 and 1815, respectively. A swing bridge was built in 1872, which was replaced by a sturdier bridge of the same type in 1895 (RIDOT archives).
BCWA Water Leak
A leak last month in the main feed that serves Barrington, Warren and Bristol caused East Providence to make an emergency announcement. East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva, in conjunction with the Bristol County Water Authority (BCWA) held an emergency City Hall briefing April 11, 2019. The Mayor and BCWA Director, Pamela M. Marchand, addressed the community at large of a water leak which occurred in the main water supply for the East Bay system (Barrington, Warren, Bristol).
"On April 9th, the BCWA of water coming up in the parking lot in the Port of Providence. This supply line runs 160 feet under the Bay from the Port of Providence to Pawtucket Avenue in East Providence and then on to the East Bay communities. It is not a feed for East Providence," said a statement from Marchand.
A leak was found in the BCWA line in Providence. The BCWA hopes to repair the leak without any shutdown if possible. "We are working in an area which transitions pipe from ductile iron to 30"steel to 24"steel to tunnel under the Bay," added Marchand.
East Providence water may have to help backup the BCWA system. "Tomorrow, Friday April 12, 2019, the system will be tested and some flushing will occur. This may cause a water pressure decrease and some discoloration in parts of East Providence," cautioned Mayor DaSilva and other officials.
"It can't be predicted accurately," said East Providence Water Superintendent Jim Marvel, "...but the area most affected may be in Riverside. We don't anticipate any problem with the quality of our water from a drinking standpoint but we will monitor very closely as will the state," Marvel said.
"This is an issue we need to stay on top of. Although it directly affects BCWA now, it could very easily affect us should our system run a leak or breakdown in the future," said Mayor DaSilva. The city council and Mayor have begun preliminary discussions in this regard weeks ago. "Yes, I had already placed this issue on our April 16th docket for discussion," said Councilman at-large Bob Rodericks who was at the press briefing. "We need to fast forward a back-up plan for potential water problems in East Providence," added Rodericks.
The testing did not cause any water discoloration or decrease in water pressure in East Providence. "We needed to warn residents to be prepared just in case," said Mayor DaSilva. The pipeline in question brings fresh water to the BCWA. A proposed backup system that will cost some $5 million to build will benefit the BCWA and the entire city of East Providence should there be future failure. The entire cost will be borne by the BCWA but will come through a section of East Providence. The prior city council was presented with a remedial proposal but declined to take action.
Public Hearing April 24th
At the city council public hearing on April 24th, city councilors were in agreement that "something has to be done, sooner rather than later," in the event the over 50 year old main water supply for East Providence were to fail. Both BCWA and East Providence get their water from Providence Water through separate cross-bay pipelines. Neither water system has a backup water supply. as both are completely reliant upon Providence Water. The East Providence 32 inch steel water main, constructed in 1967, sits on the bottom of the Providence River. The BCWA 24 inch steel main, built in 1998 is encased in a tunnel just below the river bottom. It is that BCWA line that is currently leaking. There is a current 16 inch interconnection between the two systems which is insufficient to meet either system's water demand. It is not a transmission main.
A major break in either line could cause that system to be without water. Repairs would be extremely difficult and lengthy. BCWA proposes to create a water system redundancy to ensure a continued supply of water should a catastrophic incident happen to the cross-bay supply of water from Providence. The construction would be undertaken in two phases. Phase One would establish an interconnection between BCWA and East Providence water systems. Inspection and pipe rehab could more readily occur. Phase Two would establish an interconnection with Pawtucket's water system, providing for a second water supply to both BCWA and East Providence.
The City Council and Mayor Bob DaSilva agreed in principle that one of two options presented by the BCWA was the best. The preferred option is to install 8,300 feet of pipe at a cost of $4,750,000 million. This option would see construction along Village Green (South), Citizens Bank property (easement), Wampanoag Trail, Dover and Elder Avenues. This option will cost less and minimize traffic and business impact on heavily used Pawtucket Avenue. It also allows for a quicker installation period and minimizes utility conflicts.
The other option was to install piping along Pawtucket Avenue, Wampanoag Trail and Dover Avenue at a cost of $5,100,000 million. This option would take much longer, with many limitations due to State Road restrictions and congestion and more difficult utility work. It would also adversely affect businesses.
The City Council will begin voting on this project, which could start next Spring, at its May meeting. The entire cost will be borne by the BCWA.
Council Waives School Permit Fees/PCD Taxes
Councilman Nate Cahoon received unanimous support to authorize the Mayor's office to waive local permit fees which could have taken $1.6 million away from the school bond funding. "... the project cost estimate of $189,500,000 does not include costs associated with local permitting fees; and the costs of those fees are estimated to be $1,650,021.35 pursuant to the City’s project manager," said Cahoon's resolution. This only includes local city fees and all inspections will be overseen by the project manager, Peregrine Group, Inc.
In another move the council approved a request from Council President Bob Britto to provide a tax exemption status for Providence Country Day School. The school had been paying a tax to the city of approximately $5,600. Britto and other council members stressed that no other school pays taxes on property used for school purposes. "It's about consistency and fairness," said Rodericks. "Also, PCD has been a good neighbor to East Providence High School. They have allowed the high school to use their large field house for graduations and code red training, etc." Added Sousa, "Yes, it's about consistency."
Former Council Leader Offers Opinion:
"Over the course of this year, the City Council might consider identifying provisions within the City Charter which require fine-tuning in order to make our municipal government run more effectively. Charter Amendment questions can be placed on 2020 Election Ballot.
To this end, the Charter Review Commission or mini version thereof could be reinstated in early 2020.
Although the Commission did an excellent job in 2017, there is also still the need to further examine how we can make changes so that more well qualified residents decide to run for local office in the future." - Jim Briden, Rumford -