Federal lawsuit challenges denial of waterline tie-in for Jamestown homeowner
A lawsuit filed in U.S District Court this week asserts that elected leaders in Jamestown have granted at least a dozen applications for extensions or connections to the municipal water supply from applicants on well water — even though the town has told other applicants they are prohibited from doing so.
The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of Christina DiMeglio, whose family was forced to move out of their single-family home on the east side of the island after her well ran dry. The Board of Water & Sewer Commissioners last year denied DiMeglio’s request to tie into the town’s water supply 200 yards south of her driveway, saying it is prohibited by its regulations.
DiMeglio’s case, and the town’s decision, were detailed in a Hummel Report investigation published last week in The Providence Sunday Journal.
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.
Jamestown records show at least a dozen tie-ins approved in rural district
But Joelle C. Rocha, DiMeglio’s attorney, in a 16-page lawsuit filed Monday, wrote: “Since 2013, the town has granted at least twelve applications for water extensions/connections to properties in the rural water district, some of which are similarly situated to [DiMeglio] and some which presented a less dire circumstance” than the application DiMeglio filed last year with the town. Rocha based her claims on public records provided by the town, which provide a detailed accounting of each hookup.
“The board at some point gave them an extension into the rural district,” Rocha told The Hummel Report after filing the suit. “It didn’t appear out of thin air.” Rocha added that she believes there were more connections between 2009 and 2013, but she is waiting for public records to confirm it.
Based on the records Rocha already received: One applicant in 2013 asked for a 500-foot water main extension to their house on Racquet Road in the rural district and provided well-testing reports that the property “always had a very high, unmanageable iron level and is beyond correctable.” As part of the board’s approval, it found that the granting of the application was improving the area because a new fire hydrant was going to be installed.
DiMeglio has offered to pay for the 650-foot extension to her house.
In 2014, town records show that the board granted three water extensions ranging from 400 to 1,300 feet. As recently as 2020, the town approved a connection for a 5,300-square-foot home whose owner is listed on tax assessment records as having a Boston address.
The lawsuit continues: “The basis for approval and for the application was that the existing well at the property no longer yields sufficient water to supply a residential dwelling. In considering this application, Jamestown’s Public Works Director noted that the board previously granted water services to properties in the rural water district.”
It was the same argument that DiMeglio unsuccessfully made a year later.
The town’s public works director, Michael Gray, according to the records, determined “that the request would not have an adverse impact on the water users in the urban district. Additionally, for this application, the public works director emphasized that each applicant should be reviewed on their own merits. The board made no findings as to the benefit to other users or the area in making their determination as to the application.”
DiMeglio's latest application denied by town on Monday
On Monday, the Town Council, sitting as the Board of Water & Sewer Commissioners, denied a new application Rocha filed July 1, after a state law passed that she says overrides the local authority’s decision to deny DiMeglio’s application.
Town Councilman Randall White spent nearly 45 minutes Monday outlining why he believed the new application should be denied and urging his fellow council members to follow his lead, which they did unanimously.
He questioned whether the sponsors of the new law, signed by Gov. Dan McKee in June, intended it to apply to DiMeglio’s situation.
“Whether [the town has] water or not, I’ve got to get it, because I as a resident have a right to have the town provide me with water. That can’t be what it means,” White said.
On the same day Rocha filed the federal lawsuit, she also petitioned the Rhode Island Supreme Court to consider an appeal of the board’s initial rejection of DiMeglio’s application in June 2021. The high court is an applicant’s only avenue of appeal after denial at the local level.
Lawsuit: Town 'cherry-picked data' in deciding who gets water connections
In the federal lawsuit, Rocha wrote:
“As the manager of the town’s public water supply system, the board knighted itself with the ability to decide who is able to have the privilege of utilizing water from its system, under whatever standards it sees fit at the time of the application, or which suit the board’s intended or preferred outcome. The board cherry-picked data, most of which was no longer supported, or had been superseded, or did not tell the whole picture, in order to form a basis to deny the application.”
The lawsuit names the five members of the Town Council, individually and in their capacity as water and sewer commissioners. While the town has received a copy of the suit, it will not be officially served until next week, at which point it will have 21 days to respond.
Town Council President Nancy Beye did not respond to an email asking whether she has voted to approve any connections or extensions since joining the council in 2018.
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