The sad farewell of Brian Edwards

2016-12-06 11.36.24 HDR.jpg
Chris and Mike at Brian's grave. Click to embiggen.

It's a cold, raw afternoon in Loomis Hill Cemetery outside Syracuse. A middle-aged woman parks a dark blue SUV near a tin-roofed gazebo and approaches the two men standing by a casket.
"Are you family?" she asks. "I saw the hearse pulling into the cemetery with no cars following it, and I said to myself, 'Nobody should be buried alone."
"We're just friends," I say. "His name was Brian. Brian Edwards." I offer her my hand. "John."
"Sheila."
"Sheila, thank you so much for stopping." At this point, I had to turn away; I had something in my eye.

Death is disorienting. There's always that moment where you scan the subject line in the e-mail, see the caller ID from a friend at an odd hour, and suddenly your timeline bifurcates into pre- and post. I don't think it's the dying who see their lives flash before their eyes. That's just projection. It's those left behind who begin to wander mentally, like Billy Pilgrim or Dr. Manhattan, through an ensemble of flickering moments, emerging from the rubble of Dresden, remembering a cold glass of beer amid the strangeness and charm...

Brian Edwards died "at home" on November 16. Having no fixed address and no living relatives, the Onondaga County Medical Examiner did their best to find someone to contact. Finally, they put a death notice in the Post Standard and scheduled interment at the Loomis Hill Cemetery, the burial place of last resort. The process is documented thoroughly and clinically on the Department of Social Services web site.

It is just before 11am on Tuesday, December 6, and I'm standing in the cemetery with Chris Doherty. This is clearly an indigent facility; no gate, no office. No staff. We have to call the funeral home to be sure we’re in the right place. The whole north end has no headstones, only tiny metal name plaques, flush with the ground. The last row is freshly turned earth dotted with green plastic frames, each containing a name. There's a tin-roof rectangular gazebo with a church truck partly unfolded beneath. Next to the road sits an uncovered outer interment receptacle with its lid on the ground a few feet away. An empty concrete shoe box. Two roller bars span the open shell.

Funeral director Matt Klinger from the Frazier-Shepardson funeral home pulls up in a late-model hearse, climbs out, approaches us.
"Are either of you Brian Edwards' brother?" he asks.
We tell him we're not, just friends. He offers condolences, retreats back to the hearse where four of the guys from the cemetery crew have appeared to hoist out the pale blue fiberboard coffin.
"Over there?" one of the guys indicates the gazebo.
"No, just here." Klinger points to the concrete liner where they roll the casket to a stop.

It is May 9, 1981, and I'm sitting with Brian and Tom Boyce outside the Carrier Dome, yelling "US guns killed US nuns" as Secretary of State Al Haig is given an honorary doctorate at commencement. We had just busted our knuckles raw hauling a keg of beer down from the house many of us shared on Clarendon Street to support the protesters. We set up at the back of the physics building and began pumping. It being the 1980s, the police were remarkably restrained, simply telling us to stay out of the way of foot traffic. Brian had to run down to M Street to resupply cups when we ran low. We sat on the ledge at the back of the building, chanting and dispensing refreshment until now-Doctor Haig was bundled up in his limo and whisked off.

It is sometime in 1980, and I'm with Brian and a gang of our friends in the front row of Gifford Auditorium, watching the all-night Ape-A-Rama. In the days before Netflix, DVDs, or VHS, the University Union Film Series was the way you could see movies, and we were part of the crowd that hung out and watched them. All of them. The programming was wildly eclectic, with Syracuse debuts of foreign features cheek-to-jowl with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Head, and The Stunt Man. On this evening, we had settled into the front row with a carefully concealed case of Schmidts to watch all five of the original Planet of the Apes films. It was about three in the morning when someone got on the stage to sheepishly announce that the distributor had sent the wrong film. Instead of "Battle for the Planet of the Apes," the film cases contained a print of "Rabbit Test." I remember watching Brian laugh hysterically at things that I don't think the filmmakers intended.

It's the night before the burial, and Chris and I are at Mike Schafer's house north of Syracuse, on a soggy isthmus between a lake and a swamp. Mike is a musician and one of the founders of the post-punk/grunge/noise band "Mechanical Sterility." Brian used to do lead vocals (and I sat in occasionally) back in the early 80s. His house is pleasantly stuffed with books, toys, 20,000 records, and an enormous range of musical instruments (there are entire milk crates of "untuned" and "tuned" toy instruments, something Spike Jones would appreciate.) We sit in his living room, jam desultorily on our old standards, and talk about Brian. Mike hadn't seen him in a while. He'd been trying to keep Brian connected, picking him up for a weekend so that he could shower, sleep in a bed, and have a couple of square meals every few weeks. The rest of the time he was living behind stores, on benches, in a nest where the reporters from Syracuse.com found him, or sometimes in a crack house with street friends. Not a situation that seemed to have any future to it.

Brian was one of those "nonstudents" who hang around a university, much more common I suspect in the late 1970s than these days. He came into our group through science fiction, frequenting a used bookstore that Chris ran on Geddes Street downtown. That plugged him into the campus sf group that used to get together and watch the original "Battlestar Galactica." I first recall meeting him in 78 or 79, probably at some sf film in Gifford, maybe "Dark Star" or "Silent Running." He was smart, funny, always carried a sketchbook (as many of us did in those days before smart phones) and liked the same stuff. Over the next few years, we hung out, jammed, wrote stories, used whiteout to repurpose comic books, recorded tapes, created weird art, listened to the Grateful Dead, lay in Thornden Park watching the stars rotate around the Earth, and generally did stuff which I'm glad is not recorded on social media.

But then there was a commencement and Al Haig, and some of us moved on.

Brian, well, did not.

I remember looking at a line he had copied down in a sketchbook, "I promised I would drown myself in mystic heated wine." It's from a Doors song, "Yes, The River Knows." Folks may think it's Jim Morrison, but was actually written by Robby Krieger, who admitted in an interview that he was channeling that dark, nihilist vibe that runs through Morrison's stuff. And while Brian was a wide-eyed optimist (his favorite song was Lennon's "Imagine") he was ill prepared for the grim meathook realities of the 1980s. He struggled with inner demons that he never spoke about but which showed up in his artwork. And I think it’s fair to say that he had a complicated relationship with alcohol and other substances. In many ways, he was both Jim Morrison and Syd Barrett. Inventive, clever, and wry, but somehow not quite a match for the rigged game where we all find ourselves, for better or worse, playing cards dealt by an invisible hand.

It is sometime in 1983. I am jamming with Brian and Mike in his apartment on 109th Street in New York. Most of our crew had moved to New York City, as one did in those days when one was young and looking for work in creative fields. We are riffing on Lennon's "Oh, Yoko" making up new lyrics about Ronald Reagan. Brian is side-splittingly funny. There may be a cassette tape somewhere. But as Mike says the day before the burial, "Man, we used to buy such cheap tapes. Four for a dollar. If we'd just spent more on the tapes, we could actually listen to them now." Such is time and technology and crisis of capital. Brian only has enough money to stay in New York for a few months. Bouncing around Manhattan filling out job applications. On the day he's already planned to move back to Syracuse, an offer at a video store finally comes through. But it's too late, he's already committed to leave.

Matt Klinger looks at his watch. It's 11am. He stands at the head of the casket and reads a committal service prayer from a small, stapled pamphlet, then looks significantly at us. I reach out, touch the cool blue cardboard and recite a bit from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. "Follow the Clear Light." Chris mumbles something that I don't catch. Then we both take a few steps back, looking away, not catching each other's eyes, which are leaking.

"This is as far as we can go," says Klinger. "The cemetery workers will take it from here."

And they do. Chris and I retreat to our cars, parked on a gravel swale just west of the gazebo, as the workers slide straps under the coffin and lower it into the concrete container. They bring in a backhoe, which picks up the lid and hoists it into position. Then they spread a sling around the vessel, two loops, one lowered over each end, secured only by friction, and pick up the entire ensemble for the short trip up the road to Section M, Row 1, Grave 25. The backhoe lowers Brian into the grave.

The years after Brian moved back to Syracuse had ups and downs. For a while, several of our gang would head up to Mike's house and jam. I was off in the world of full-time jobs, never had the time to get there. I'd listen to the tapes that Mike sent, full of weird music and Brian's infectious laugh. Then the first decade of the 21st century took its toll on the group. Our friend Tavis, who played kick-ass lead guitar, drowned in a rip current off a south Jersey beach. Was that an inflection point? It hit us all hard. Mike’s ex, Mary, also a vibrant, clever writer, passed away. It’s September 26, 2009, and I’m standing with our friends at the surfline of Coney Island. Mary loved the dilapidated charm of the boardwalk, the delightful dive vibe of Ruby’s, being in the Mermaid Parade. We are tossing roses into the ocean.

The backhoe has finished filling in the grave and now repositions to smooth out the fresh earth.

Mike drives up. He's had trouble finding the cemetery and couldn't reach us on our cell phones. He's wearing a long black coat. "I went through my closet trying to find something, and finally put this on," he said, "And when I looked in the mirror, I heard Brian saying, (imitates commercial announcer voice) 'What the well-dressed man is wearing to funerals this year.'"

It is, truly, exactly what Brian would have said.

RIP Brian Jay Edwards

brian_photo.jpgBrian Edwards, one of my good friends from undergrad days at Syracuse University, passed away last month. I only heard from friends this afternoon; the obit has no detail. The funeral will be this coming Tuesday. It's just awful.

Brian was amazingly creative with both words and images. He always carried a sketchbook, and drew clever cartoons and elaborate, trippy designs. When we'd all get together and jam, he'd sing, or verbally doodle lyrics in a style that few but Jim Morrison have pulled off successfully. He was clever and creative and always seemed like he was just about to laugh -- usually at something absurd in the world that he would gleefully point out.

He was a kind and gentle soul. His favorite song was Lennon's "Imagine." He could put that on repeat and sketch for hours.

Life threw some tough stuff at Brian, and Syracuse is a hard place to find work. Over the last few years, he didn't always have a place to live.

Our friend Steve Shapiro posted a slide show on YouTube featuring music by the band Mechanical Sterility that Brian used to play with back in the early 80s; that's him on vocals. (As the name might suggest, the sound is post-punk/noise/grunge, so content warnings and all...)

Brian was special person and a good friend. It's a poorer, sadder world without him in it. My thoughts are with his family and friends.

An evening with Edgar Allen Poe at PHS this weekend

poe.jpgThink current events are scary? For real terror, take in an evening with the master of the macabre, Edgar Allen Poe, performed by the Portsmouth High School Drama club. Witness the Tell-Tale Heart, the Cask of Amontillado, the Oblong Box and other blood-chilling tales from the pen of the writer who invented the genre.

The show opens tonight and runs through Saturday. Curtain at 7pm and tickets are $10/$5 student and senior, available at the door.

Hope to see you there!

Full disclosure: Our son Jack in in the cast. No objectivity here.

RIP Bill Rosen, musician and friend

bill_rosen_facebook_selfie.jpgBill Rosen was a talented singer-songwriter, a brilliant, funny guy, and someone who cared deeply about others. This week, in San Bernardino, my college friend was murdered in the parking lot of an apartment complex where he was staying. There was an ambiguous but worrying post on his Facebook page, and when I reached his cousin, she gave me the terrible news.

Bill's murder showed up in local news items as just another crime story: San Bernardino County Sun, KABC TV. I hadn't known Bill's circumstances for a while; thanks to the false sense of transparency of Facebook, it seemed everything was going okay.

We had done theater in college, back at Syracuse University. We'd jammed together on guitar and shared enthusiasms for Loudon Wainwright and Steve Forbert. I still remember one afternoon in the summer of 1979, he pointedly played me "Thinking'" from Forbert's "Alive on Arrival" when he estimated that I was being particularly obtuse about something. He was the kind of friend who would do that. He told me that I needed to up my guitar playing in no uncertain terms, and I owe him. Because he then started showing me how to do hammer-ons and pull-offs. It's a rare friend who can tell you difficult truths in a helpful way.

We lost touch for a while after college. I bumped into him in Greenwich Village in 1982; I was on my way to a gig and carrying my guitar and we chatted for a while. Then we lost track of each other again. That was easy to do in those days, before the web and Facebook and mobile phones. A long gap. Then, out of the blue, in 2005, I got an e-mail saying that he'd looked me up and found my web site.

He was doing corporate communications at the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and I was periodically working out of an office in NYC, so we got together for lunch a few times. Usually al fresco in one of the vest-pocket parks in the East 50s, over bagels or sandwiches. He was the same Bill -- a bit older, a bit road-weary and dented here and there by life as we all end up being in our forties. Over lunches, he shared his story. He had tried to make it as a musician, lived in LA, wrote and recorded demos, and come close. But there are just a lot of folks aiming for a very limited number of slots in the fame machine. Even in giving up on that dream, though, he netted a wonderful story. I'll let hime tell it, as he shared in an e-mail:

The Forberts.jpgHere's a quick Forbert story: I lived in L.A. for 5 years (the 10 longest years of my life!) pursuing a career in music. (Things went well, but not fast enough for me, so I bagged it.) After letting go of the dream, I made my way back home, driving cross country in an 18-foot Ryder truck. On our way back to NY, my girlfriend and I were driving though Meridian, Mississippi (Steve's childhood home), and, after a series of phone calls, located Steve's parents and stopped in for a visit - pulling up in our 18-foot truck. (They probably thought we were there to clean out the house.) 5 minutes after getting there, and sitting in the den watching Mr. Forbert read the newspaper, I turned to my girlfriend and mouthed, 'What the fuck are we doing here?' Shortly after that Mrs. Forbert brought out a tray of Gaucho cookies and Coca Cola and the conversation took off - no doubt due to the half-pound of sugar we all powered down. 4 hours and countless photo albums of Steve as a child later, I finally had to insist that we had to hit the road. All in all, a nice visit. I exchanged Xmas cards with the Forberts for several years afterwards. A few years later, I met Steve following a show at the Bottom Line and I mentioned this story to him and asked if his parents had ever mentioned it to him. They had. But he was far from impressed. If anything, he reacted as if I were a lunatic. Oh well.

We carried on an e-mail conversation for a couple of years, and we talked about music and shared a few tunes back and forth. Here are two of his songs I particularly admired. Here's how he pitched them...

As for my music, much of what I was writing back at Syracuse was folk-rock, with a heavy emphasis on the lyrics and no emphasis whatsoever on the music. Music was nothing more than a vessel to carry the lyrics. I never really abandoned folk-rock, but my music evolved (or devolved, depending on your point of view) into rock 'n' roll. Attached is the first of two songs from the late 80s along along with lyrics. I’ll send the second in a separate email. Both were recorded in my home studio. I'm playing all the instruments and doing all the vocals.

This one is "After All," and you can see the lyrics here.

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And this next one is my favorite Bill Rosen tune, "Never Have Time for it All." It is a truly great song, and Bill knew it. So, apparently, did other folks in LA, as he told me in an e-mail...

'Never Have Time for it All' was going to be my 'meal ticket.' A half-dozen different artists were interested in recording it; it was going to be the theme song for a show on NBC; it was going to be included on the soundtrack of no less than three films. Lots of promises, but in the end, none of them happened. Such is show biz.

Here's the song, and the lyrics.

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And here's how he explained how the song came to be...

I wrote 'Never Have Time...' a couple of years after 'It's the End of the World...' and a year or so before 'We Didn't Start the Fire.' Of course, by the time mine was getting heard, there were some who thought I had ripped off Billy Joel. There's that 'timing is everything' thing again. In truth, it wasn't supposed to be a song and I certainly didn't model it after anything. I was laid up with a pinched sciatic nerve for a few weeks and I simply made a list of all the things I had said over the years that I wanted to do in my life. When I was all done, I had this completely ridiculous list of things, many of which I'd never live long enough to do and realized 'Hey, this might work as a song.' But in order to get it all in under 4 minutes, I had to speed up the delivery. (YAWN) And that's the completely uninteresting story behind the song.

I feel so sorry that Bill never had time to do more of the things he wrote about. I will miss his quick wit and clever turn of phrase. His wonderful music. I will mis his grit and optimism. Even after being laid up following a horrible bike accident, and the loss of his parents, this summer he got a tattoo with Seamus Heaney's last words, "Noli Timere" (Latin for "Be not afraid, as Heaney texted his wife following his heart attack.) But mostly, I will miss knowing that somewhere, out there on the other coast, was a king-hell guitar player who would always tell it like it was and be a true friend. I will miss you, Bill.

Here's a picture Bill took during the August, 2003 blackout of the Northeast US, You can see the original on "Astronomy Picture of the Day" for August 18, 2003.

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Editorial note: This has been a tough post to write. I wish Bill's family and friends peace and healing, knowing just how difficult those are in these awful circumstances.

Portsmouth Police hold open house Sunday 12-2

police_station.pngThe Portsmouth Police Department is holding an open house on Sunday from 12-2, and according to their Facebook post, "There will be free face painting, tours of the police station, an opportunity to sit inside the police vehicles, fingerprints for children and child ID kits, as well as car seat installations and check-ups. At 1 pm we will be having a bean bag competition for kids with a chance to win Lego set prizes!"

This is a great opportunity to stop by and take a look at the station, if you still have any question about the necessity for the replacement bond on the November ballot. You can find the Feasibility and Space Needs Study here.

Portsmouth Town Council settles road abandonment suit for 800K

Heidi Drive complaintAt last night’s executive session meeting, the Portsmouth Town Council unanimously approved a settlement agreement with the plaintiff, R.I. Nurseries, Inc., in the litigation resulting from the Town Council’s 2011 abandonment of the “paper” public road known as the “Heidi Drive Extension,” the town announced in a statement today. In exchange for a release of liability and dismissal with prejudice of all claims against the Town of Portsmouth and the members of the 2011 Town Council, R.I. Nurseries will receive a settlement payment from the Town in the amount of $800,000.

The settlement agreement was reached after a lengthy mediation and negotiation process with retired R.I. Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams as the Mediator. Both Chief Justice Williams and the Town’s special litigation counsel, Marc DeSisto, recommended the terms of the settlement agreement.

In 2010 the Planning Board granted R.I. Nurseries master plan approval for a 14-lot residential subdivision on its farmland to the north of the alpaca farm known as “Glen Ridge Farm.” At that time, Glen Ridge Farm was part of an existing residential subdivision which included the Heidi Drive Extension. The Planning Board required that the paper road be built as a gravel gated road for emergency access to the new subdivision. The owners of Glen Ridge Farm objected and petitioned the Town Council to abandon the paper road under Rhode Island’s road abandonment statute. The Town Council held a hearing pursuant to the abandonment statute. The Council determined that the paper road had “ceased to be useful to the public,” and voted to abandon the road. The Council also held a hearing under the statute to determine and award the amount of damages that R.I. Nurseries, as an abutter of the public road, would sustain as a result of the abandonment. The Council awarded zero damages to R.I. Nurseries. A decree of abandonment was then entered and the public road became the private property of Glen Ridge Farm.

R.I. Nurseries filed a lawsuit in Newport Superior Court seeking to have its damages assessed by a jury, as provided by the abandonment statute. R.I. Nurseries’ complaint also alleged a violation of its constitutional rights to due process and other claims against the Town. R.I. Nurseries alleged that as a result of the abandonment it was forced to incur substantial additional costs to construct an alternative second access road as later required by the Planning Board, together with additional cost for permitting, a loss of a portion of its land for building the alternative access road, and a diminution in the value of its new subdivision. It also claimed pre- judgment interest and attorneys’ fees.

Chief Justice Williams stated that “this settlement agreement represents an eminently fair, reasonable and equitable resolution of a long and arduous dispute between these parties, and litigation which has already been pending for more than five years. Both sides were facing an upcoming jury trial in the Superior Court which in all likelihood would have been followed by appeals and cross-appeals to the R.I. Supreme Court, taking several more years to be resolved. By making peace now and putting this ongoing controversy to rest, the Town eliminates a significant risk of higher potential liability to the plaintiff for damages, R.I. Nurseries recovers fair compensation for its loss of access to the Heidi Drive Extension, and both sides avoid the certainty of further acrimony, inconvenience and litigation expense. This is what mediation is all about.”

Amended complaint as filed (1.6mb PDF)

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

Portsmouth to flush town's northern water mains

The Portsmouth Water and Fire District (PWFD) announced their schedule for the annual flushing of water mains in the northern part of town in a news release today. Here are the dates and areas that may be affected:

Oct 18 Willow Lane and Sprague Street., Bristol Ferry Road to Camara Drive and Mitchell Road, and side streets.
Oct 19 Bristol Ferry Road from Cherokee Drive to Bayview Avenue, Boyds Lane to East Main Road and side streets. East Main Road from Sprague Street and Child Street to Boyds Lane and side streets, including Viking Drive area.
Oct 20 Island Park and Hummocks Point areas.
Oct 25 Sprague Street to Freeborn Street, Turnpike Avenue and side streets; West Main Road from Statue Way to Sprague Street and side streets.
Oct 26 East Main Road from Child Street to Clements and Aquidneck Place and side streets to Sakonnet River. Also Common Fence Point.
Oct 27 Common Fence Point.

Discoloration of the water is expected during and after the flushing. Flushing in one area may create discolored water in other areas. Customers are advised to avoid washing clothes and those with hot water tanks are advised to avoid drawing hot water during the flushing hours and until any discoloration has cleared. It is expected that the water will clear by midday after the flushing. Customers may also experience low water pressure during the flushing. This schedule is subject to weather conditions or other unforeseen circumstances.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

Aquidneck Land Trust hosts annual "Race for Open Space"

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 3.03.14 PM.pngAquidneck Land Trust (ALT) will host its 9th annual Race for Open Space 5K on its unique course along the Sakonnet Greenway Trail on Sat. Nov. 5, 2016, according to a release sent to local media.

Runners and walkers of all ages are invited to participate as individuals, teams or families. Walkers are welcome to bring strollers and leashed dogs. Registration begins at $25, but discounts are available for children, families, and military personnel.

New this year, ALT and Lizzie Benestad, a certified Road Runners Club of America coach, are offering a six-week, 5K training program that will get participants ready for the Nov. 5 race. The $80 fee includes race registration and an individualized training plan. The program starts Wed. Sep. 28 at 5:30 pm at the Gaudet Middle School track.

The race will start and finish at The Glen on Linden Lane in Portsmouth. After the race, participants and spectators are invited for food and festivities.

Registration begins at 9 am and the race begins at 10:30 am. Proceeds of the race go toward the overall mission of ALT. To register today, go to www.ailt.org/5k.

Aquidneck Land Trust’s time-sensitive mission is to conserve Aquidneck Island’s open spaces and natural character for the lasting benefit of our community. The organization has conserved 2,552 acres on 76 properties across Aquidneck Island since its founding in 1990. ALT is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the first land trust in Rhode Island to have received national accreditation. For more information, visit www.ailt.org.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

Portsmouth water mains to be flushed in October

The Portsmouth Water and Fire District (PWFD) announced their annual water main flushing schedule in a news release, and advised that in early October, PWFD customers' tap water may temporarily appear discolored. The following parts of town could be affected on these dates:

Oct 3 East Main Road and Middle Road from Crossings Court to Hedly Street. Hedly Street and all side streets, including Industrial Park. Corys Lane and all side streets. Kings Grant and all side streets. West Main Road from Hedly Street to Union Street, including Father Flanagan’s and John Street.

Oct 4 Middle Road and all side streets to the west, Mill Lane and all side streets, West Passage Drive to Locust Avenue, Stonegate Drive, Greylock Drive, and Greystone Terrace area.

Oct 5 East Main Road to Middle Road, from Town Hall to Union Street.

Oct 6 East Main Road from Sherwood Terrace Vanderbilt Lane, east to the Sakonnet River, Union Street, Jepson Lane, and all side streets.

Oct 11 East Main Road from Lawrence Farms to Sherwood Terrace. Vanderbilt Lane to Sandy Point Avenue and all side streets.

Oct 12 East Main Road from Union Street to Mitchell Lane and side streets, Oakland Farms, Bramans Lane east to Meadow Lark Lane. Sandy Point Avenue and Sandy Point Farms.

Oct 13 Wapping Road to Old Mill Lane. Bramans Lane and side streets. Old Mill Lane, Indian Avenue and side streets.

Discoloration of the water is expected during and after the flushing. Flushing in one area may create discolored water in other areas. Customers are advised to avoid washing clothes and those with hot water tanks are advised to avoid drawing hot water during the flushing hours and until any discoloration has cleared. It is expected that the water will clear by midday after the flushing. Customers may also experience low water pressure during the flushing. This schedule is subject to weather conditions or other unforeseen circumstances.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

Aquidneck Island communites net $1M EPA clean water grant

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 12.27.46 PM.pngOn Friday Sept. 16, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Sen. Jack Reed announced a $1 million grant to the communities of Aquidneck Island for an innovative new program to protect and restore fresh and salt water quality on Aquidneck Island, according to a release from the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission (AIPC). The three-year program was developed by the AIPC in partnership with the City of Newport, Towns of Middletown and Portsmouth, Aquidneck Land Trust, and Clean Ocean Access.

The grant is aimed at reducing storm water runoff, which washes pollution into drinking water reservoirs and coastal waters on and around Aquidneck Island. Storm water is a problem for water quality throughout the U.S.; however with relatively little protected watershed, large surface reservoirs, and some of the state’s most popular recreational beaches, Aquidneck Island is uniquely vulnerable to this type of pollution.

“Island Waters” will develop an inter-municipal partnership to help the communities develop more effective ways of managing storm water. For example, the partners will work together to identify, design and build high-priority storm water improvements Island-wide, and will look to share resources and training. While much of the “Island Waters” grant is for engineering and construction, the project also includes a storm water financing plan and extensive outreach to homeowners and other Island stakeholders.

“Island Waters” builds on extensive work by all three Aquidneck Island communities in recent years to improve storm water management and financing, including new watershed studies commissioned by Middletown and Newport, a storm water financing study by Middletown, and the establishment by Portsmouth of a wastewater management district. The project will also take advantage of recent work by Clean Ocean Access to test storm water for pathogens that threaten human health, and watershed conservation planning by the Aquidneck Land Trust. The partners will work closely with the state Dept. of Environmental Management, Dept. of Transportation and Eastern RI Conservation District to implement the project.

“The three Aquidneck Island communities – and the Navy – share a single drinking water system, while all three municipalities contribute runoff to our reservoirs and coastal waters,” said Julia Forgue, P.E., Director of Utilities for the City of Newport. “The City welcomes the opportunity to work more closely with our Island neighbors to ensure clean, safe waters for residents and visitors.”

“Clean water is very important to Middletown residents, and the Town has been working hard to reduce storm water pollution from public roads, for example through the work we’re doing in the Maidford River watershed and at Second Beach,” said Shawn J. Brown, Middletown Town Administrator. “This grant will help further implement our watershed plans.”

“Through our new wastewater management district, Portsmouth is reducing septic system pollution, and this grant will help us eliminate illegal discharges to coastal waters,” said Richard A. Rainer, Jr., Portsmouth Town Administrator. “Moreover, the ‘Island Waters’ project will help Portsmouth to reduce pollution into the Island’s drinking water system.”

The project is funded by EPA’s Southeast New England Coastal Watershed Program, with additional funds from all six municipal and non-profit partners. The grant is providing $996,820 in federal funding toward a total project cost of $1,164,620. The partners are providing $167,800 in municipal & private match, much of it as “in-kind” match through staff support.

Editorial note: Written from a news release.

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