TIVERTON — Despite a last minute hitch, the Tiverton Town Council last week approved the award of a base $1.8 million contract to the John Rocchio Corporation of Smithfield to rehabilitate the Stone Bridge Abutment.
An additional $84,390 was included for lighting — an item that provoked controversy due to concerns about light pollution at the site, and possible designs that might minimize it. The amount for lighting would not need to be spent, if at all, until near the end of the contract at the end of next year when all else is expected to be completed.
The big hitch came in the form of a troubling question from the town's consulting engineers, VHB, which had sent a letter to Department of Public Works Director Bill Anderson that sidetracked the Town Council's intended approval Monday, Sept. 25.
Following discussion among town officials, the concerns vaporized. VHB in its letter had alluded to recent experience it had had with rehabilitating the Padanaram Causeway in Dartmouth (a project it said was similar to the Stone Bridge Abutment rehab project) in which "unforeseen conditions" had arisen, raising costs.
VHB seemed to be recommending that the $84,390 not be committed yet to lighting, but instead be held in reserve for any unforeseen conditions that might arise with the Stone Bridge rehab project.
But that approach was rejected by Tiverton. The bid award included the lighting as still part of the complete deal, according to Town Administrator Paul McGreevy.
"But there's no way we can spend for the lighting at the outset of the project anyhow," Mr. McGreevy said. "So why not keep it in until the end? We'll know fairly early on whether we'll need the lighting funds." If the funds are needed later, the lighting can always be stricken from the project, he said.
So, at long last it looks as though the Stone Bridge abutment is going to get the fix that's been talked about for years.
The bids, rehab schedule
There were six bidders for the job, of which the Rocchio bid was "the lowest responsive and responsible bidder," said DPW Director Anderson in a Sept. 21, 2017 memo to the council. The total bid price was $1,781,833.45.
Mr. Anderson is a licensed professional engineer, and is familiar with the abutment's condition.
"It's crumbling," said Mr. Anderson in an interview last Friday. "They're going to have to re-build the concrete wall on the north and west faces of the abutment."
The selection of Rocchio was recommended by the Stone Bridge Abutment Ad Hoc Subcommittee, headed by former town councilor Brett Pelletier, by Mr. Anderson, and by VHB, the consultant engineers.
The schedule proposed by Rocchio, said Mr. Anderson, in a Sept. 20 letter to the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), "shows full completion in approximately 8 months beginning in January 2018."
"Because of the urgency of the project to protect the Tiverton Marina basin, it is anticipated that a rebid would not provide any potential savings to the project. As the town has not completed a project of this magnitude, a comparison to other projects is not available," Mr. Anderson wrote to RIDOT.
The town and the state have been talking about, and studying, the need for rehabilitation of the abutment since at least March 2004.
A key piece to the deal to achieve both the Grinnell Beach renovation (now nearly complete), and the abutment rehabilitation project, was the town’s purchase in 2013 of the old Seaside gas station for $400,000 (using grant funds).
As then Council President Ed Roderick said, renovation of the abutment, and of Grinnell's Beach, will set the tone for redevelopment in the entire Stone Bridge village area.
“This will begin the process for a new focal point in our town and showcase our waterfront. This will only make our town more beautiful,” he said.
Abutment eroding away
In December, 2014 then Town Administrator Matt Wojcik told the council that "the Stone Bridge abutment continues to deteriorate at a pace somewhat quicker than anticipated. The masonry is almost shot at the water line, as the water has worked its way in through tidal action."
"You've got stones actually forcing their way out and falling down," Mr. Wojcik said. "And the abutment itself continues to list more and more ominously towards the water."
Kate Michaud, former administrative officer to the Tiverton Planning Board, who also served then as chairwoman of the Stone Bridge Committee (and who is now town planner in Warren ), said three years ago that, "this is kind of an urgent situation at this point. Time is not our friend, due to deterioration, and due to rising construction costs."
The abutment protects the Tiverton basin, and a failure of the abutment in a heavy storm could imperil the entire basin and the boating businesses, homes and moorings shielded by it.
The Stone Bridge was built in 1907 has taken a beating from storms.
Mr. Pelletier, who lives above the basin near the Sakonnet River Bridge, and for years has observed the tidal flow through the area, says the current’s velocity has increased dramatically in recent years due to the removal a few years ago of the railroad bridge just north of the Sakonnet Bridge.
"What's happening with the abutment speaks to the incredible velocity of the water through the Tiverton basin," said Bruce H. Cox a few years ago. Mr. Co, a lawyer and boater, is chairman of Tiverton's Harbor & Coastal Waters Commission.
"It has been and remains an emergency. The tides wait for no man. A decade is a disaster. If the abutment should fail, no one knows where the parts and pieces might go, and it could disrupt commerce in the basin."
Former Tiverton Harbormaster, Dave Vannier, has worked on the water for years as a commercial shellfisherman, offshore lobsterman, and tow boat captain.
"If the abutment washes out, the protection for the basin goes away, and the waves will wash against the shoreline, and there'll be no protection for boats and the basin,” he said. “The basin is also used as a storm harbor if there's a hurricane."
Mr. Vannier estimated a couple of years ago that the basin was home to 400-500 boats, including those at moorings and at boatyards.
"What I can visually see, over the last five to seven years, is that the damage to the abutment has at least doubled, and that's just visual," he said then.
Since the railroad bridge was removed, he said, the current though the basin has increased from the typical two knots to about six knots.
There are eddies "everywhere" in the basin, he said, many that were not there before.
"About 100 feet northeasterly off the northwest corner of the abutment," Mr. Vannier said, "there's a hole at 65 feet at low tide, that's developed since the railroad bridge was removed, that all the charts show is 35 feet."
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