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Reversing Course

JAMESTOWN - The owner of a house whose well ran dry several years ago will now be able to tie into the municipal water supply here, after town leaders - facing multiple lawsuits - agreed to reserve course and allow her to connect to a main located 200 yards south of her house.

The plight of Christina DiMeglio was first detailed in a Hummel Report investigation, published in The Providence Sunday Journal in September 2022. Town leaders acknowledged  in 2021 that DiMeglio was in “dire straits” - but denied her request to tie into Jamestown’s water district, saying they were concerned about having enough water to supply future development.

 

That resulted in DiMeglio’s lawyer, Joelle C. Rocha, pursuing multiple legal avenues: including an appeal to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, a lawsuit in federal court, an appeal to the state’s Water Resources Board and legal action against the town’s tax assessor.

 

With a Supreme Court hearing on the horizon, the Town Council, meeting as the Jamestown Board of Water and Sewer Commissioners, held a special meeting on Tuesday to announce the settlement.

 

“I’m in a bit of shellshock that we finally made it, but I’m really happy, really excited and relieved to be able to go home,” said DiMeglio, who bought her house on East Shore Road overlooking Narragansett Bay in 2016, but had to move out in 2020 after the water quality and supply dwindled to a trickle. She has been paying taxes for a house she can’t live in.

 

Before approaching the town, DiMeglio hired engineers and water experts who told her they had done all they could to extract more water from her 440-foot well and the only option would be to tie into the town’s water supply. She offered to pay for the extension of the 650-foot line.

 

Since purchasing the house, she has married and has a 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter, but the family had to rent a house when the 1,700-square-foot Jamestown house became unlivable. At one point she moved in with her mother and father, former Providence Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr.

 

While the majority of Jamestown’s 5,400 residents - including the five members of The Town Council - are connected to the “urban” water district, the DiMeglios live in the “rural” district, where everyone relies on well water. Town leaders contend they are prohibited from supplying water to the rural homes, according to the water district’s regulations; even while they accepted DiMeglio’s compelling argument and an estimate that her house would draw an average 160 gallons a day from a system that has a capacity of 185,000 gallons daily.

 

Rocha, in her federal lawsuit, detailed multiple instances of the town allowing homes in the rural district, to tie into the town’s supply.

 

The two sides entered federal mediation in late February but were unsuccessful in reaching an agreement. Rocha said a new state law (passed after DiMeglio’s 2021 application) that would have put pressure on the town to allow her to connect - coupled with the looming Supreme Court hearing - may have put pressure on Jamestown to settle.

 

“It’s not often that the Supreme Court elects to hear a petition relating to a municipal decision,” Rocha said. This is a unique issue and I think the granting of that petition and the expediting of that appeal certainly didn’t hurt our case.”

 

The town, which has spent $63,291 for legal fees to date, issued a two-page statement, outlining why it threw in the towel on the case.

 

“After conferring with legal counsel, the (town) has realized that the introduction of this untested new general law into the mix of considerations for judicial review in the pending cases creates legal uncertainty and potentially significant liability risk to the sustainability of our decision.

 

“The financial risk is significant- possibly in the millions of dollars. Even if the Commission is ultimately successful, the financial costs of defending our actions and litigating issues related to the interpretation of the new statute would be similarly significant. Either way, the water system users would have to bear these costs.”

 

The agreement requires DiMeglio to drop her lawsuits and to pay for the water line and connection. It also includes a “non-disparagement” clause for both sides, and the town admits no liability.

 

“I am so thankful and relieved to reach a settlement that allows me to return home to Jamestown with my family,” she said. “As a resident, I hope that resolving the water issues remains a priority of the town, so that any resident in need would have access to this essential resource.”

 

DiMeglio said she’s not sure how long it will take to secure the required permits from the town and have the construction complete - but hopes to move back in by spring.

 

The DiMeglios have not been able to use the property  - with the exception of spending a couple of weekends over the summer, without being able to do laundry or shower.

 

The town, however, is not done with the issue of allowing other residents in the rural district to tie in to the municipal supply. It concluded its statement, saying “The board will also seek to improve the flawed newly amended general law to prevent intrusion into the affairs of our town’s water system by the state.”

 

The Hummel Report is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that relies, in part, on donations. For more information, go to HummelReport.org. Reach Jim at Jim@HummelReport.org.

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