By Lisa Loomis

When Waitsfield voters attempted to pass a single, townwide municipal wastewater system over a decade ago, the town incurred nearly $700,000 in state loans and received $906,100 in federal State and Tribal Assistance Grant (STAG) funds.

Since the townwide wastewater vote failed, the town had a specific amount of time to begin to build a system or pay back $679,000 in loans. Before the payback period arrived, the town was able to work with its consultants and engineers and create a revolving loan fund with a portion of that money, thereby reducing the amount the town had to pay back.

That revolving loan fund allows the town to provide low-cost loans to town property owners who need to build smaller, decentralized wastewater systems. Such a system will soon be built serving Winter Park. The town is working to finish other similar projects before a December 31, 2015, deadline to have new projects built or lined up to use up as much of the STAG funds as possible.

Last fall the town's planner and wastewater consultant Juli Beth Hinds worked with town officials to find a way to use more of the STAG funds toward a stormwater repair project on Bridge Street. That project went out to bid this summer but came in $240,000 higher than anticipated, forcing the town to rethink it. Hinds was able find a way to divert STAG funds to reduce that project's deficit and further use up more of the STAG funds, reducing what the town will have to pay back.

Most recently, Hinds and town administrator Valerie Capels have worked with town engineers and state and federal bureaucrats to find a way for the town to capture (not have to pay back) almost all of the STAG money.

"EPA and DEC have gone back through the STAG grant and find grounds to reimburse expenses up to the amount of the remaining $906,100 at 100 percent of project cost.  This means we'll be able to retire a chunk of the big pipe loan right off the bat, reimburse most of the cost of the town office septic system and hopefully close the remaining funding gap of the Bridge Street stormwater system and make loans to property owners of five more systems (including Winter Park), who will then repay their principal as a 20-year low-interest loan as previously planned," Hinds explained.

"The upshot, which we are still working out with the state, is that if everyone pays their loan payments, the town will owe the state about $8,000 per year on the big pipe repayment for the next 12 years instead of the $36,000 currently due and will net about $20,000 per year on loan repayments for eight years after that," she added.

In addition to the Winter Park system, the town is working with Hinds and other consultants on four other decentralized systems in the village and Irasville. The town is also working to include the town office and Bridge Street stormwater project as STAG-reimbursed projects.