EPA Funds Completion of Rhode Island Tunnel Project

(UC) — Rhode Island officials met on the banks of the Seekonk River in East Providence on Friday to celebrate federal funding for the completion of a $1.5 billion system of tunnels to prevent tainted stormwater from entering Narragansett Bay.

A Northeast REMSCO crew stands by a tunnel boring maching nicknamed the "Seekonk River Monster," used for excavation in CSO Phase II. (photo: Peter Goldberg for the Narragansett Bay Commission)

The decades-long Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project is the largest public works project in Rhode Island history, according to the Providence Journal, which reported the first two phases have been credited with major improvements in the water quality of Narragansett Bay. Those phases were completed in 2014, and the Narragansett Bay Commission has since completed a plan for the third, final stage.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved a low-interest Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan of $269 million – about half the amount needed to complete the project. 

During heavy rain storms, combined sewer flows can exceed the capacity of the current system and overflow into local rivers and the Narragansett Bay. These overflows can carry pollutants- such as sewage solids, metals, oil, grease and bacteria- that can affect human health and the environment.

The EPA's WIFIA loan will help fund the "CSO Phase IIIA Facilities" project, which involves construction of a 2.2-mile-long, 30-feet-wide deep rock tunnel along the east side the Seekonk River to store and treat stormwater before it reaches the bay.  The project also includes construction of two work shafts, four drop shafts, a tunnel pump station and several improvements to the wastewater collection system.

“This WIFIA loan will improve water quality in the Narragansett Bay, protect the health of local residents, and deliver on President Trump's commitment to upgrade our nation's infrastructure, create jobs, and safeguard public health and the environment,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

The final CSO phase will cost $548 million. EPA's WIFIA loan will finance nearly half of that figure—up to $269 million. Additionally, the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, through co-funding from the Rhode Island Clean Water State Revolving Fund and other programs will support a portion of the project costs.

The RI CWSRF program is co-managed by the RIIB and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. The WIFIA loan will save NBC an estimated $99.6 million compared to typical bond financing. Project construction and operation are expected to create 1,755 jobs, according to the EPA.

L-R: Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, U.S. Senator Jack Reed, Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) Executive Director Laurie Horridge, EPA Region 1 Administrator Dennis Deziel, NBC CFO Karen Giebink, Director RI Department of Environmental Management Janet Coit, NBC Chairman Vincent Mesolella (photo: By Peter Goldberg for NBC)

The Providence Journal reported that the 119,000 households in the commission’s service area are bearing the costs of construction, with the average annual bill for a typical residence tripling over the last 14 years to $480 and expected to peak at $590 in 2025 before dropping back down to less than $500 by the end of the construction period.

The WIFIA loan closing was announced at an event hosted by the Narragansett Bay Commission (NBC) at the Bucklin Point Wastewater Treatment Facility in East Providence. Speakers included Narragansett Bay Commission Chairman Vincent Mesolella, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (RI), Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Director of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Janet Coit and EPA Region 1 Administrator Dennis Deziel.

“With this loan closing, EPA has now issued 12 WIFIA loans totaling over $3 billion in credit assistance to help finance over $7 billion for water infrastructure projects and create over 12,000 jobs,” said Wheeler. 

NBC spokesperson Jamie Samons told Underground Construction that the commission has not chosen a contractor for Phase III yet. RFQs are due October 15.

NBC will select a short list from the respondents and issue an RFP to the short list in January 2020. Interviews will follow in the summer and award in the fall. Notice to Proceed is scheduled for December 2020, Samons said.


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