The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) announced today new steps to protect the environment, while continuing to tackle inherited challenges that have been ignored for too many years. For the first time ever, the Department has included $111.9 million in funding for drainage improvements in its 10-year strategic plan - a significant investment aimed specifically at reducing pollution from stormwater flowing into Narragansett Bay and hundreds of lakes, ponds and rivers throughout Rhode Island.
In addition, RIDOT today announced that it has agreed to a number of remedial measures to reduce pollutants in stormwater from direct and indirect sources to the state's water bodies through a consent decree with the Department of Justice. As part of this agreement, RIDOT will develop a Stormwater Control Plan to achieve the requirements of reducing stormwater-related pollutants, and will pay a civil penalty of $315,000 for failure by prior administrations to comply with the conditions of its Rhode Island Pollutant Discharge Elimination System stormwater permit. RIDOT also will undertake two Supplemental Environmental Projects involving the preservation, through a conservation easement, of two parcels of land in Johnston and Lincoln that abut current state park and conservation properties within the watershed of an impaired water body. This project was undertaken in connection with the settlement of an enforcement action, United States v. Rhode Island Department of Transportation, taken on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act.
"It became immediately apparent to me after starting at RIDOT that one of the biggest issues needing attention was the condition of our drainage systems, a problem we tackled head-on," RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. said. "It's time to stop talking about the problems and start fixing them, and we're committed to fulfilling RIDOT's obligations and responsibilities under the Clean Water Act. This funding will go a long way toward protecting our environment and the state's roads and bridges."
"Protecting our environment is in all of our best interests, and we must be vigilant in taking action to reduce pollution," said DEM Director Janet Coit. "Our natural resources, and in particular Narragansett Bay and our waterways, are treasured and invaluable assets that support our economy, families, and way of life. I commend RIDOT on this investment to improve stormwater management and will continue to work with the Department on its ongoing efforts to meet state and federal water quality requirements."
The new funding outlined in the 10-year plan commits $6 million to $16 million per year for the repair, maintenance and improvement of its system of 25,000 stormwater catch basins, over 2,000 outfalls, and about 100 structural best management practices (stormwater treatment systems like detention ponds, retention ponds, and stormwater treatment units). This process began last month, when the Department announced that it is seeking qualified bidders to inspect and inventory its statewide drainage system to properly address maintenance and repair issues and meet state and federal stormwater drainage regulations, while making necessary infrastructure improvements to reduce flooding. RIDOT received three proposals yesterday, and will begin the evaluation process immediately with the intention of having a firm begin work by the end of year.
Coupled with the increased funding for drainage improvements and the drainage inventory and assessment underway, RIDOT plans to establish a new drainage group in its Highway & Bridge Maintenance Division that will focus entirely on maintaining the system.
These drainage improvements will have two positive effects on the lives of every Rhode Islander. First, it will improve the water quality in the state's rivers, streams, ponds and, more importantly, Narragansett Bay, which has a major significance in the recreational and economic future of Rhode Islanders. Secondly, poor drainage systems contribute significantly to the destruction of our roads. The improvements RIDOT is about to undertake will allow the Department to better maintain and preserve the state's transportation assets in which the taxpayers of this state invest hundreds of millions of dollars.
The investment in drainage improvements is the latest step in the administration's continuing efforts to protect the environment and support job growth. It comes on the heels of landmark legislation passed this year to eliminate outdated underground wastewater systems like cesspools, and streamline wetlands permitting by providing a consistent process for the business community while strengthening wetlands protection.