Key departments share updates on Suffolk’s 2045 plan

Published 8:25 pm Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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Suffolk Planning and Community Development returned to provide their fourth update on the 2045 comprehensive plan, with a few extra guests. During City Council’s work session on Wednesday, Sept. 20, the semifinal update brought forth a multi-department presentation on current updates as well as quality of life services for their department. 

Comprehensive Planning Manager Keith Cannady brought in directors of four departments — Director of Public Works Robert Lewis, Director of Public Utilities Paul Retel, Director of Capital Programs and Buildings Gerry Jones, and Director of Parks and Recreation Mark Furlo — to present council with issues within their department that need addressing.

“We will be focusing on, with this update, looking at the growth boundary, looking at the growth areas, how should that change, should it change at all and where and in what way,” Cannady said. “We’re going to focus this afternoon on not so much the boundaries and the colors on the map, but the infrastructure, the services that are needed in a coordinated way to serve that growth and development.”

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In Lewis’ presentation on transportation, five key issues were addressed: Congestion and safety, travel choices, freight traffic, integrating transportation with land use and responsible regionalism. Lewis expressed how these key components are nothing new for the city.

“I wish I could tell you these issues are brand new, but these are issues that we’ve been dealing with in the last 25-plus years that we’ve been here. All of these are ones that we look at daily. Transportation is one of those things that we talk about every day, how well it works and how well it does not work at any given moment.”

Another issue Lewis noted was how to pay for various projects and needs required for the city.

“Several of us, including the Mayor, the [City] Manager and myself, are sitting on regional committees. We’re always looking for opportunities,” Lewis said. “Certainly, there’s a lot more money flowing from the federal level today. Federal money has a lot of strings attached to it, but we’re always looking for opportunities.”

Likewise, he expressed how the city always needs more funding to help construction improvement projects continue. 

“As a city, we probably need to consider, we need to start trying to figure out how we can find a dedicated funding source to help us move forward,” he said.

On water and sewer, Retel provided a presentation noting how investments in water, sewer and broadband utilities are needed and that the city should focus on three key issues: Capacity for accommodating future growth and timing of utility expansion, future drinking water regulations and water supply planning and protection. Retel expressed that future drinking water regulations is one that his team is watching “very closely.”

“Got a couple of things that are stirring out there in the regulatory world. … You might have heard a class of chemicals called ‘PFAS.’ Stands for Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. Think broadly in terms of ‘Teflon,’ it’s everywhere in the environment. EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] just issued some regulatory limits on those that will be made final fairly soon,” Retel said. “Right now, we’re in good shape with respect to the drinking water quality because we’ve done some testing on those. But those regulations are out there with the potential to impact us.”

Retel said the second thing to watch out for was EPA regulations to lead service lines in older areas of the city. He says his team is going through a required inventory of lead service lines due within a year. 

“Right now, our water chemistry is excellent such that there is no issue with lead service lines. But if what we’re watching is if the administration right now comes back and says ‘You guys need to take all of those out of the ground,’ that would be a significant impact on our utility rates,” he said.

On water supply, Retel said they are finishing up some water treatment master planning on expanding the G. Robert House Water Treatment plant capacity. On water distribution, he noted plans on extending services in Route 58 and 460. Lastly, the north and central growth areas are well positioned on sewer service with over 150 sewage pumping stations.

Jones followed up with a review of major city projects from the past 25 years, noting 41 major projects. He also discussed the investment from those years.

“If I had the whole list, it was probably over 150 total projects, but I narrowed down to the major ones which were 41,” Jones said. “ … I sat down with Budget and finance here recently, and I said ‘Can you give me a number of what we put together funding wise of what we budget over the last 25 years in capital projects. And that number came out to be a little over $700 million. $700 million worth of investment in these growth areas in the last 25 years. That’s a significant number of projects that was funded to make these projects happen, by this council and some of our past councils in the last 25 years.”

Finally, Furlo provided a quick presentation on Parks & Recreation’s additions, noting the Suffolk Seaboard Coastline trail.

“One of the big projects that we’ve worked on is the Suffolk Seaboard Coastline Trail. We currently have two phases completed, and we’re on the design of phase one and a portion of phase three. We’ve been making a lot of progress on this project,” Furlo said.