By Chach Curtis

I’m responding, again, to some of the same questions that a few Waitsfield voters are asking on social media about the cost, funding and tax impact of Waitsfield’s proposed wastewater system. Let me provide more detail to reassure our community that the select board and project team (I serve on both) have indeed done our homework.

  • How much will it cost?

The total estimated project cost of $15 million includes planning, design, engineering, permitting, construction, legal and administrative costs. It also includes the cost to connect priority homes and businesses (those with old or unsafe private leachfields) to the community system, so that they will pay no upfront cost to connect. 

  • Who has paid for the planning work done to date?

To date, the town has completed a feasibility study and a preliminary engineering study, and is near completion on the 30% design. The town has paid for 100% of this work with state grants totaling $378,000. There has been no impact on town taxpayers or tax rates. The town expects to receive another $250,000 of grants to cover the next phase of design work to start later this summer. 

  • Who will pay for the rest of the work?

One more time, the town is not asking taxpayers to pay for this project, and the project will not impact your tax rates. The town has applied for another $13 million of state and federal grants to cover 90% of the remaining costs to complete the project. The other 10% ($1.7 million) would be covered by a long-term, low-interest rate loan. Loan payments and maintenance costs (estimated at $150,000 per year) will be covered by usage fees paid by those connecting to the system. The town funded the water system the same way, and it has operated successfully for over 10 years.

  • Will other Valley towns contribute to the cost?

No, there is no plan to ask other Valley towns to cover a portion of the project cost. If we are not asking our own taxpayers to pay for the project, why would we ask theirs? 

  • Are there strings attached to the grants?

A precondition for two of the grants is a positive bond vote. The funding agencies ask the town to hold a vote to demonstrate public support for the project. The town has scheduled the vote on Tuesday, June 11. The ballot asks voters to authorize the select board to pursue the grants and loans mentioned above to fund the project. If we don’t get enough grants to make the project affordable, we will pause the project and not incur the debt. 

  • What if something bad happens after we build it?

Any system can fail, but remember, we are not proposing a nuclear power plant! A community wastewater system functions much like your own septic tank and leach field, but at a larger scale. When a connected home flushes a toilet, their waste will flow to one of four intermediate septic tanks in the villages, then be pumped through a larger sewer main along Route 100 to the treatment system at the Munn field. If the sewer main breaks or a pump fails, users will still be able to flush their toilet. We will just have to pump the four tanks more frequently until we fix the pipe or replace the pump. Same thing if the treatment system went off line -- just pump out the four intermediate tanks more often until we get it back on line. We will hold reserve funds to pay for unforeseen costs, just like the water system does. Re litigation risk, that is why we the town (and you and me as individuals) carry insurance.

  • What are other Vermont towns doing with their wastewater?

All other Vermont towns our size or larger have some form of municipal wastewater system. Many of those towns are using the same Sequencing Batch Reactor (SBR) system that we have selected -- over a dozen are operating right now in towns like Northfield, Plainfield, Randolph, Johnson, Middlebury and Stowe. Sugarbush has operated a similarly-sized SBR system for 20 years, in compliance with state regulations despite more challenging conditions (think of the volume of waste on a busy winter weekend). Our engineering firm Dubois & King built several of these Vermont SBR plants. Over the last two years, the project team has interviewed vendors, toured plants, met with operators, met with permitting agencies and funders, reviewed sewer ordinances, etc. We have done our homework.

Please vote on Tuesday, June 11.

Curtis serves on the Waitsfield Select Board and the Wastewater Planning Committee.