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The town doesn't intend on endlessly using chlorine; however, with an extensive distribution system like this the water has to be chlorinated continuously. According to recent scientific studies, drinking chlorinated water can pose serious health risks. It has been directly linked to cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, gastrointestinal disease of the elderly. A family that gave up its free water will have to pay for that chlorinated water and yet it may elect to pay extra for bottled drinking water. Why didn't the board point this out?
The units that signed on are overwhelmingly businesses rather than single family homes. According to the board, the water should be for the people, but an average family cannot afford this water. For 60 single family homes, the cost amounts to $125,000 per house. For that amount the average family could buy bottled water for the next 150 years and still use the water they now have, for free. Also a family would have to pay a substantial, one-time connecting fee. Businesses, on the other hand, can pass on this cost to their customers. Why would a family want to sign on for such expensive water?
The engineering expense of $1.5 million has not been included in the cost. Another big riddle is the cost of the project. The construction of the 4.9-mile system amounts to $9.1 million (the board had borrowed $1.5 million for engineering and now the board wants to borrow an additional $7.6 million). In Stowe a much larger project was completed in 2005 for close to $10 million for the 18-mile system. This included engineering, construction, much larger water tanks and a bigger treatment facility. By comparison to Waitsfield, our system should cost much less per mile, but amounts to vastly more, i.e., 3.3 times more per mile, than Stowe.
Another way of looking at this: The select board has $3.7 million in grants and the loan for $1.5 million. That amounts to $5.2 million. Judging from Stowe's experience, that amount is more than sufficient for the completion of the project. Why does the board want their residents to take an additional loan for $7.6 million?
The new water system will allow gradual build-up of the urban center. It will be highly profitable for the landowners and developers. The urban expansion will bring pollution, traffic jams, crowded living conditions and the destruction of the wetlands.
A third vote will show what we really care about. Is it gradual commercial development in these trying times, protection of our natural setting or do we want big urban development and higher taxes?
Arno Noack of Waitsfield is chair of the Committee for Fiscal Responsibility
Editor's Note: The water system will not be regularly chlorinated, and the engineering expenses have been included in the costs. The $1.5 million is included in the $7.6 million total cost of the project. The Waitsfield project is 5.4 miles, not 4.9 miles.