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The septic system that serves Winter Park in Waitsfield has failed and the state will begin enforcement action if a solution is not found by November.
The Winter Park system serves The Big Picture, Valley Rent-All and other businesses nearby. It is located on land on the east side of Route 100 near Carroll Road. Bill and Julie Parker own the land where the system is located.
The town has been working on a solution through its planning commission and a wastewater commission. The solution involves creating a decentralized septic system to serve those businesses as well as several others in the area.
The decentralized solution is part of the town's plan to help retire debt that it incurred for planning and engineering a townwide septic solution, which voters rejected almost 10 years ago. That plan, known as the "big pipe" plan would have created a municipal septic system that collected wastewater and treated it at the Munn field across from Valley Professional Center on Route 100.
By creating decentralized pods of septic capacity in the town, the town will be able to utilize grants it has already been awarded to loan private property owners 55 percent of the cost of building the decentralized systems. That money will be paid back by the property owners to the town over 20 years at 2.5 percent interest. At the same time, the town will use the reimbursement to pay down the big pipe debt, which stands at $770,000.
The town has the ability to obtain $906,000 in grant funds to use towards decentralized wastewater projects.
The estimated cost of the Winter Park system is $225,000 with another $100,000 for engineering. According to Juli Beth Hinds of Birchline Planning, the town's consultant on the project, final design for the Winter Park project is ready to begin pending final agreements with the landowners.
The Big Picture, Valley Rent-All, NorthLand Design, Wood and Wood, Allen Lumber and the Irasville Business Park have signed letters of intent to participate in the project. The new system, as designed, will have a capacity of 8,000 to 9,000 gallons per day.
There are many moving parts to the new system. A trench test needs to be conducted to determine the capacity of the land and the adjoining Couples Club will need a new water source if/when the system is built. Project participants stand ready to hook up the Couples Club to Waitsfield's municipal water system to solve setback issues between the new system and the club's existing water supply.
But time is of the essence, according to Hinds.
"At a meeting we had earlier this year with representatives from the state, it was made clear to all folks who were there that a solution needs to be in place by November or enforcement would be initiated. The state has been extremely cooperative in expediting the decentralized system permits, but they also have the responsibility to protect public health and the waters of the state and the existing system has failed," Hinds said.
"Enforcement is tricky. It could mean that the system needs to undergo a 'best fix' solution which would be expensive and ineligible for the public funds. It could mean taking the money for a good long-term solution and throwing it away on a Band-Aid. I think everyone involved in this discussion realizes that that is not a good outcome," she added.
Once the Winter Park system is under way, the planners will begin working on the next decentralized system for the town.
"The one thing the town does not have is time. The grant funds have to be spent by the end of 2015," Hinds noted.