though you can’t “Even see the sewers, they are the backbone of the economy.”
Paul Pinault ’73 helps keep Narragansett Bay clean in his job overseeing Rhode Island’s largest wastewater treatment utility.
In 1980, a federal court ordered Rhode Island to rescue the failing sewer system in Providence. In response, the state created the Narragansett Bay Commission. The EPA sent Pinault in to negotiate the transfer of the sewer system from the city to the commission. He spent many of his mornings over coffee with the controversial (and former) mayor, Buddy Cianci, making sure the city was keeping its promises. The transfer happened in May, 1982. Pinault, still a federal employee on loan, remained to oversee construction and help raise funds for the commission. In 1984, the agency called him back to Boston, but the bay commission asked him to stay. Pinault accepted, taking the job of assistant director for construction and grants. He was named deputy director in 1988 and became executive director in 1991. In 1995, the Rhode Island Society of Professional Engineers honored him as its “Engineer of the Year.” That same year, the EPA, his old employer, named the NBC’s Field’s Point Wastewater Treatment Facility the best-operated and maintained large secondary treatment facility in the nation. Having done a fair job beginning to clean up the nation’s air and water, federal and state governments have turned their attention elsewhere. That has made it harder for people in jobs like Pinault’s to argue for funding to rebuild sewer infrastructure. He contends that there is a $20 billion gap between what the government is spending and what it should be spending. To that end, he represents New England on the board of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies. As 2002-
2003 Association board president, Pinault testified before a US Senate committee in October 2002, urging senators to once again engage in the fight to keep the nation’s waterways clean. Arguing for $5 billion for water and wastewater construction nationwide, Pinault said, “This would serve both as an immediate job creation program and would also demonstrate a strong commitment to the long-term, sustainable and reliable source of funding of water and wastewater infrastructure upgrades and repair, and the environmental well-being and public health of our nation.” Today, he chairs the group’s National Clean Water Funding Task Force. The body is pushing Congress to create a broadbased tax that would feed a trust fund dedicated to clean-water projects, along the same lines as the federal gasoline tax, which goes to build highways. What might we tax to pay for new sewers? “Anything you can flush down a toilet,” Pinault answered.
Robert Lovinger, a senior writer for Lifespan’s marketing and communications department, is a frequent contributor to the alumni magazine.
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