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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Rep. Walsh reconvenes South County taskforce

Work resumes on wastewater treatment alternatives
News release from Rep. Donna Walsh

One year ago, representatives of South County town governments, DEM, CRMC and the RI Builders Association resolved a long-standing impasse and worked out a plan for new regulations to boost home improvement projects, open the door to new wastewater treatment technologies and promote efforts to restore and protect coastal ponds. DEM’s new regulations took effect in July, 2012.

The same taskforce that created this new regulatory approach met on April 8 to review its effects and set out a course of action for the future. “We needed to see what worked before we can decide what we need to do next,” said Rep. Walsh.

Town officials reported the new regulations have allowed dozens of stalled small home improvement projects could go forward. Until the change was made, any building permit application for any project regardless of size triggered the requirement that the homeowner upgrade to an expensive de-nitrification system. Small projects that might cost as little as $2,000 prohibitively expensive when they triggered the need to install a new $30,000 de-nitrification system. Most of these project ended up shelved, hurting the local construction industry, or were done without permits as some building officials reported.

The new rules exempted most home improvement projects of up to 600 square feet from the requirement to upgrade. Even more projects would have gone forward, the group agreed, if not for the effect Hurricane Sandy had in diverting most contractors toward necessary repair work and away from home improvement projects.

This regulation is scheduled to expire in November 2014, allowing one more full construction season, and an opportunity for the Taskforce to devise more permanent approaches to the needs of coastal communities.

The other key provision in the regulatory compromise reached last year was to expand the technologies available to homeowners to upgrade their onsite wastewater treatment systems. The taskforce has operated on the belief that more choices will mean more competition and lower prices.

DEM reports that it has approved two new technologies: the Singulair TNT system and the AdvanTex RT Treatment System. There also is a new demonstration project that was been installed at a Charlestown home last September that uses a SoilAir system with a Geomatrix leachfield.

DEM now recognizes composting toilets as an effective denitrification system, although they believe its uses are more practical at state or municipal systems, or at new homes designed to use composting toilets. DEM and builders agreed that it is impractical to retrofit homes for composting toilets because of the amount of plumbing changes required.

With ten months of experience under the new regulations, the Taskforce felt it can see the way forward to adjusting the home improvement trigger to perhaps a smaller square foot limit while ultimately working toward the requirement that South County homes in critical areas undergo wastewater system upgrades when those properties are sold. The Taskforce also wants to see more systems added to the list of approved options.

Taskforce members will meet again at the end of June to review hard data on the number of home projects that have been approved, carried out or are in the pipeline, as well as opportunities to test new technologies.

For more information, please visit Rep. Walsh's website at