By Lisa Loomis
After almost a decade of planning and pre-engineering, Waitsfield is proposing a municipal septic system that will handle 18,000 gallons a day, rather than the 90,000 gallons a day originally envisioned.
How those 18,000 gallons a day will be parceled out is one of the questions that will be considered at a public hearing on the project this week. The hearing takes place at the Waitsfield Elementary School at 6:30 p.m. on June 14.
REDUCED IN SIZE
Other issues to be addressed will be how and why the project has been so reduced in size and capacity along with how and why the service area has shrunk from Waitsfield Village and Irasville, to just Irasville.
In 1997, Waitsfield purchased a parcel of land known at the Munn property. It is across from the Valley Animal Hospital on Route 100 south of town. Shortly thereafter the town hired Phelps Engineering to begin planning a municipal sewage and water system for the town. The Munn site can accommodate 90,000 gallons a day using a tertiary treatment system.
At a June 11 meeting, the Waitsfield Select Board opted to present to voters a much reduced system. That significantly smaller system will cost $5.5 million. That cost will include laying the pipes in the ground in Irasville only. Those pipes will bring wastewater to the Munn site where it will be put into a traditional leach field. To build the tertiary treatment plant will cost $5 million. Laying the pipes is now known as Phase 1 of the project and building the treatment plant is Phase 2.
Phase 2 has a projected start date of 2012 to 2015 and by that time it will cost an estimated $6.9 million to construct.
The town has secured $3 million in grants and low interest loans for the project and expects to ask voters to pass a bond vote in November for $1 million and hopes to secure another $1.9 million from a state grant. The tax impact of borrowing that money ($1 million) is anticipated to be $30 a year for a home valued at $200,000. Users of the system will also pay hook-up and user fees.
Select board chair Elwin Neill Jr. said the board's decision to reduce the scale of the project had to do with voters getting sticker shock.
"We felt that this might be a hard sell to the voters if we were to try and bring the whole thing. We felt cutting back was smart and that we'd get the infrastructure in and see if we can scrounge up more money to finish it," Neill said.
"We are hoping technology might change in terms of treatment and also that more money might flow from the feds in a couple of years," he said.
Neill and project engineer John Kiernan acknowledged that project costs just go up as time goes by and both agreed that the second phase of the project would be more expensive in terms of construction costs as well as more expensive in terms of borrowing money.
"The cheapest time to do all of it would be now," Neill said. To build the entire Irasville project today, complete with a tertiary treatment plant would cost $10.5 million. Town administrator Valerie Capels said each year of delay adds an estimated $1million to the cost of the project.
Capels said that installing the pipes through Irasville now would allow the town to install sidewalks in Irasville in 2008 or 2009 and allow the state to repave and reconstruct Route 100 through Irasville in 2010.
The 18,000 gallons per day (GPD) of capacity that will be created is equal to roughly one-third of what is currently needed for Irasville where the Mad River Green Shopping Center alone uses approximately 12,000 GPD. While the town is pursuing this project it is simultaneously pursuing the state designation of Irasville as a designated growth center with a Tax Incentive Finance (TIF) district. The town envisions Irasville as the area where commercial and residential development will occur.
When the entire 90,000 GPD municipal sewage system was planned, it was anticipated that the new development would use the new septic capacity and that failed systems would use it as well. With only 18,000 GPD proposed the issue of how to allocate needs to be addressed as well as the issue of how to accommodate new development. If the town achieves a TIF district, it can reap the increased property taxes from new development and use the money for infrastructure such as municipal sewage - but there must be septic capacity for that to occur.
Neill pointed out that the septic project is just part of what is being proposed. The town is also planning to construct a municipal water system at a cost of $7 million which will be funded through low interest loans, grants and user fees.
He said that growth in Irasville might be possible if existing septic capacity is freed up by the advent of municipal water. By law, water sources and wastewater systems must be separated by specific distances.
As for the Waitsfield Village portion of the project, that project is now on hold for at least a decade, Kiernan said. He said that the town is looking at whether there might be a site north of the village where wastewater could be treated. That would avoid the costly matter of laying pipes through ledge to bring wastewater south from Waitsfield Village via pump stations to get it through Irasville and into the gravity feed system to get to the Munn site.
To date, the town has spent an estimated $250,000 on the municipal water project (planning, permitting and engineering) and another $450,000 on the wastewater portion of the project. Capels said that those numbers are in line with what such projects normally cost to permit and engineer. She said it is typical for 'soft' costs of municipal wastewater and water systems to run about 25 percent of total costs.