By Kara Herlihy

Waitsfield residents voted no, and the select board would like to know why. The town's ongoing effort to create a municipal water and wastewater system in Irasville was brought to residents at the first of two public forums to discuss why residents voted down the project at the March 4 Town Meeting.

At a morning meeting on April 8, town administrator Valerie Capels presented core questions to the public in an effort to gauge why they may have voted the project down.

Questions posed to the audience included, "Is there one thing that could be changed about either project that would bring you to a yes vote?" and "Do you think the town should re-examine the projects, make adjustments, and bring them back to the voters?"

Craig Keown read a letter he wrote that detailed several points of opposition to the project, stating that it was "too expensive, the timing is wrong, taxes are too high, there is no direct benefit to the majority, and increasing building in wetlands is a bad idea."

Mike Kingsbury shared information he had gathered from a poll at the Village Grocery, which indicated that people "were not educated properly" and were thrown by the high cost of the hydrants.

Hugh Campbell said that he "perceived it as an injustice" that people who get returns have the inadequate water and sewer; he added that it was "a little like asking me to pay someone else's mortgage."

Waitsfield resident Judy Needleman said she "was kind of appalled that after the vote, the select board thought that people just didn't understand it."

Bill Curley spoke to sustaining the businesses that are already here, mentioning specifically the need for public restrooms. "The Mad River Green Shopping Center's well ran dry after three days," he said.

Curley continued, "It's never a good time to spend money, but we're a tourist town, and we need to act and look like one."

Waitsfield Planning Commission member Brian Fleisher said that the project will "benefit the whole town's water quality, and the water system was always designed for users to pay for them."

Town resident Marie Leotta said, "We need managed growth to make our town look better; we want to see this town looking like a town."

Karl Klein said, "We didn't do a good job of informing the public -- it wasn't misinformation. I see the water as very important -- it's a leap of faith, but we need planned responsible growth to support the town."

Russ Bennett added, "The finances of these ideas need to be broken down, so people know where the funds are going." He continued, "If voters don't have real clarity, they rightly vote no."

New select board member Kate Williams urged public participation and input in the project saying, "We need to make sure it's balanced; we want to have as wide a representation as we can."

Article one, which asked for permission to spend $7.5 million for municipal water, was voted down 442 to 398. The second article (phase one) which called for $5.6 million for public wastewater was voted down 484 to 336. Article 3, (phase two) called for $6.5 million for public wastewater, was voted down 297 to 254.

At the March 24 meeting of the select board, John Kiernan of Phelps Engineering explained that the town has a $1.8 million Rural Development grant which will not be lost until August.

The grant could be used for either water or wastewater. The town also had three separate STAG (state and tribal assistance grants) for $1 million each. Two were designated for water and wastewater, while one was designated for wastewater only. He said that it would be possible, although time consuming, to get the third grant re-assigned so it could be used for water or wastewater.

The water and wastewater debate will continue Thursday, April 10, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Valley Players Theater.