Inside Town Government

The Department of Public Works

By Laurence J. Sasso, Jr.

This is the second in a series of articles describing the inner workings of the town of Smithfield’s various offices and departments.

There is almost no place you can travel on wheels in Smithfield and not be the beneficiary of the efforts of the Department of Public Works.

There are 112 miles of roads in the town and the department is responsible for their maintenance and upkeep. It is just one of their duties.

Gary Tikoian, a life-long resident of Smithfield, has been acting director of the DPW since November 1, 2017 when he was appointed for a six month term.

A self-employed excavating/utility contractor for 35 years, Mr. Tikoian notes that he started his working career at Adler’s Clear Acres Farm at age 14, and before going into business for himself was employed at Santoro Sand and Gravel, and J.C. Boyle and Sons (now Boyle and Fogarty). He was also a sub-contractor for 35 years with the Cumberland-based J.H. Lynch and Sons, Inc., a major construction firm.

He brings all this experience to his current job along with a passion for results and a deep affection for the community where he grew up and went to school.

At this season of the year, like the residents who depend on the DPW to plow and keep the streets open, Mr. Tikoian and the DPW staff are focused on the winter weather.

“The department has 17 sanders and plow trucks and four pickup trucks,” he points out. All of the road clearing is done by the town. Independent contractors aren’t used.

“We pride ourselves on snow-plowing and keeping the roads safe in winter,” the acting director comments.

“As many residents know, we’ve done an excellent job over the last 40 years. I can’t take the credit for that. It’s the employees. The men do an excellent job plowing the roads. When I ask them to step up to the plate they do it all the time.”

He cites Deputy Director Charles Walsh and Foreman Norman Cabral, a 30 year employee for their long service.

In addition there are 11 driver-laborers, one equipment operator, one mechanic, one welder, two water technicians, an administrative assistant, and the recycling coordinator.

Besides the coordinated effort of the workforce to keep up with the falling snow when there is a storm, the DPW is ready with their sanding equipment to treat the pavement with a mixture of two parts sand and one part salt. The application of this mix ameliorates the freezing that can make driving treacherous.

To prepare for the winter Mr. Tikoian explains that they start the season with the salt barn full. It holds approximately 3200 yards of the sand and salt mixture. The sand comes from Greenville Ready-Mix, which is on Cedar Swamp Road, a short distance from the town highway garage located at 3 Spragueville Road. The salt comes from Morton Salt on Allens Avenue in Providence. In a typical year the DPW will use three full barns of the mix.

Making a candid observation Mr. Tikoian says he was “really disappointed” when the state’s salt barn at the corner of Route 7 and 116 was taken down.

“It would have been a major asset to the town. We could have saved money by buying an entire year’s supply of sand and salt at one time,” he declared, explaining that the increased storage capacity would have allowed the purchase in the off-season when prices are lower.

During the warm weather months the staff turns their attention to the job of repairing the damage done to the roads in the harsh times. Potholes and damaged pavement are fixed, pavement is resurfaced where necessary, and traffic markings on the roads are re-striped. The shoulder areas of the roads are cleared of brush as well.

“The department has a wood chipper and an excellent tree guy in Curt Donahue,” the acting director explains, mentioning that when windstorms blow down trees and block the streets, it is the DPW’s job to clear them away.

In the more rural sections of the town encroaching vegetation is routinely mowed and cut back with heavy duty equipment mounted on tractors. The DPW also is responsible for sweeping the streets and maintaining the sidewalks and replacing street signs that have been damaged or destroyed.

Besides all these other tasks, new Town Manager Randy Rossi, as reported in last month’s issue, has charged the department, when possible, with stepping in to assist on site preparation and the like for upcoming projects. This is intended to save town resources.

As a result, the DPW tore up and cleared the site of the basketball court at Anna McCabe School and removed the chain link fencing at the East Smithfield Neighborhood Center. These jobs set the stage for the restoration and repair of both facilities. Such cost-cutting projects are seen as possible models for future endeavors to save the community money when feasible.

The town’s recycling coordinator Melissa Chaput is based at the DPW too. She manages residents’ needs regarding trash pickup and recycling and can be reached at the department’s main number 401-233-1034, extension 105.

“She is excellent, a tremendous asset to the town,” noted Mr. Tikoian.

There is also a new on-line form on the town website ( that can be used by residents to request the services of the DPW.

While it might not be widely known, the DPW manages the fuel depot for all town vehicles, and it sure looks like they’re not going to be running out of gas any time soon.

Official statement of
DPW responsibilities

The following description of the Smithfield Department of Public Works duties appears on the town website:

The Department of Public Works (DPW) is charged with the responsibility of maintaining the town’s public rights of way and all infrastructure included within, excepting sanitary sewers. Thus, traditional public works maintenance includes but is not limited to the following: road reconstruction, resurfacing, crack filling, pot-holes; curbs, bridges, culverts, drainage ditches; sedimentation, detention, and retention basins; roadside mowing, brush, vegetative control and forestry operations; street sweeping. Weather related winter operations include snow and ice control and seasonal operation of a sand screening plant. Environmental programs include the operations of an oil igloo, curbside yard waste and Christmas tree pick-up programs.