By Lisa Loomis
As the third vote on Waitsfield's proposed water project approaches, the select board has scheduled three public hearings in advance of the September 9 vote.
The water project is coming back before voters for the third time, having been voted down at Town Meeting and again on June 10. After the June 10 vote, the town received a legitimate petition calling for a revote and is legally obligated to hold such a vote.
The project was voted down by 13 votes, 219 to 206, on June 10. At Town Meeting the project was voted down by 44 votes, 442 to 398.
The $7.5 million dollar is slated to serve Waitsfield Village, Irasville, the Tremblay Road and the Old County Road. The project would have cost $7.5 million and the town had obtained $3.6 million in grants. All the operating costs of the system were to be born by users. The project will provide fire protection to the service area with hydrants.
After the petition was received and the third vote scheduled, the question of whether 5 or 10 percent of registered voters needed to sign the petition calling for a revote was raised by town resident Vic Dumas. The petition the town received was signed by five percent of voters.
The board, at its August 11 meeting, reviewed an email from town attorney Paul Giuliani which explained that a petition calling for reconsideration of a bond vote requires five percent of registered voters while Vermont Statute 24 V.S. A. 1755 requires that a petition by voters seeking to place an item on a ballot for bond debt for the first time must include at least 10 percent registered voters.
The board also reviewed a proposal from John Kiernan of Phelps Engineering to provide interim services prior to the upcoming vote. Phelps Engineering has worked with the town on the municipal water and wastewater project (also voted down at Town Meeting) for a decade. After the Town Meeting vote, the town scaled back spending on engineering and scaled back further after the June vote.
Kiernan this week offered to provide additional services such as helping the select board's water task force prepare for the public hearings, attend the public hearings and provide technical information during the public outreach period (revising written materials, website content, flyers, fact sheets, policies etc). The proposed interim services agreement also called for Phelps Engineering to conduct a preliminary evaluation of the Flemer polo field at the north end of Waitsfield Village for suitability for disposal of wastewater. Since the wastewater project failed at Town Meeting, the town has not pursued that project further, although had fielded a number of questions from voters about whether that field might be a suitable wastewater disposal site. The field has been donated to the town by the Flemer family, but the transaction is not yet complete.
After the first vote failed, and after the second vote had been warned, the town received a petition calling for the board to cease and desist all efforts towards the water or wastewater project and in particular, to cease spending any money on the projects. That petition had no legal teeth and nothing actionable for the town to do, although the board expressed concern about continuing to spend money. At this week's meeting, the board declined the interim services agreement except for having Kiernan attend one of the three public hearings.
The town has spent an estimated $1.1 million dollars engineering and planning both projects. Had the bond votes passed, and if the next vote passes, those costs will be covered by grants and loans the town has received for the projects, as well as by fees from system users. If the vote fails, those costs will be paid by all taxpayers.