WESTERLY — Protecting the town’s drinking water source and improving the safety of changes made to the intersection of Elm and Beach streets were among the topics the Town Council asked state legislators, Monday, to help with as they start the 2014 legislative session today.
Sen. Dennis Algiere, R-38th District, Rep. Samuel Azzinaro, D-37th District, and Rep. Brian Patrick Kennedy, D-38th District, all pledged to work on those matters and others discussed by council members and residents.
For more than a year the council has heard from residents concerned that two quarry operations — The Cherenzia Co.s’ site on White Rock Road and the Westerly Granite Co Inc.- owned parcel where Copar Quarries of Westerly works in Bradford — could pose a threat to the aquifer that feeds public drinking water wells. Town Councilor Jack Carson said the town must protect its water source since tying into water systems in neighboring parts of Connecticut or other parts of Rhode Island is not feasible. He noted the Cherenzia quarry’s proximity to town water wells. Both quarry companies have consistently denied that their operations affect the water supply.
“This is one area that you could serve the constituents for the goodness of the entire community and the surrounding area as well,” Carson said.
Officials are looking, Carson said, for financial assistance from the state to facilitate the possible purchase of land that could be preserved as open space to protect the aquifer. Councilor Christopher Duhamel said that in addition to the possible purchase of the Cherenzia property, the town is seeking help to buy the 300-acre Lucey property, between Bradford Preserve and the site where Copar operates.
“It’s a worthwhile goal that we should achieve this year if possible. I think we’ll need your help doing that,” Duhamel said of the Bradford land purchase proposal.
Town Manager Michele Buck confirmed that an informal discussion with representatives of the RI Water Resources Board resulted in the town learning that the board’s funds were currently limited for use only for new water well projects. Algiere said the legislators would speak with Buck this week and then meet with the water board authorities.
Councilor Kenneth Parrilla said he narrowly avoided a serious accident Sunday when an oncoming driver who was speeding failed to obey the new stop sign at the intersection of Elm and Beach streets. Other councilors said they were concerned that a new brick area that juts out into Beach Street is a safety hazard.
The three legislators had discussed the area prior to Monday’s meeting and plan to meet with state Department of Transportation officials, Algiere said. He went on to say that most of the problems were due to speeding and other driving problems as well as drivers needing time to get accustomed to the redesigned roadway.
“When that was designed that design went to the council and went to the police department. Everyone signed off on it. It’s a new intersection,” Algiere said.
Azzinaro stressed the need for patience, saying drivers will likely, eventually, get used to the changes in the road.
While aspects of the redesigned roadway need improvement, Councilor Caswell Cooke said the project is an overall improvement compared with the previous design. He thanked Algiere and the others for working to obtain state funding for the project as well as for work on Railroad Avenue and Dixon Street.
Buck asked the lawmakers to consider possible revisions to the state’s affordable housing law. Town Planner Marilyn Shellman said the town meets many of the requirements of the law but does not qualify for exemptions given to some other municipalities in the state due to defects in the formula used to meet threshold requirements of the law.
Kennedy said he was pleased to learn of Shellman’s findings and encouraged town officials to attend meetings of the newly reactivated joint House and Senate Housing Act Implementation Oversight Commission. He said state officials have heard several complaints throughout the state of inadequacies with the law and methods for counting affordable housing units in specific communities.
The town will also need the legislators’ help navigating problems created by The Westerly Sun’s move to Connecticut and meeting the requirements of state laws pertaining to legal advertisements, Buck said.
George Tattersall, Misquamicut Business Association president, said the MBA is seeking assistance from the lawmakers to tweak a law that allows for the creation of special taxing districts. Modeled after a similar district in Providence, the MBA hopes to establish a taxing district to raise money to be used for marketing, security, and keeping the tourist area looking good. Misquamicut Fire District Moderator Michelle Vacca said that while she supports efforts to promote and improve the Misquamicut area she is concerned about putting a new tax burden on property owners. Town Council President Diana Serra said the proposed tax district would be the subject of an upcoming council workshop meeting
Cherenzia Companies is The Westerly Sun’s landlord.