By Ed Read

Remember when going out to dinner in The Valley was a question of “where should we eat tonight?” instead of “is any place open tonight?” It wasn’t all that long ago. On June 11, we can take a step toward revitalizing our local economy by voting in favor of the Waitsfield Community Wastewater Project. Before I go any further, I ask that you read this with an open mind and a willingness to look at this project as a potential game-changer, and not as another burden on your wallet. It’s not. Hear me out.





It can be argued that affordable housing has been our greatest ongoing local issue over the past 20 years. It’s getting worse. Less available housing equals fewer employees equals fewer restaurant staff, plow operators, store clerks, etc. There are simply too few working-class people living here to service the needs of The Valley.

How does a wastewater system tie into this? By freeing up potentially developable land that would otherwise be used for private septic systems. Piping, leach fields, tanks, and setback requirements all take up valuable space. Full disclosure: I own a piece of land in the service area that I’m considering for housing development.

Compare the affordable housing dilemma to other issues we’re all facing. Property tax increases, health care costs, insurance costs, climate change – all problems that need to be addressed on a state, federal or international level. No wonder so many of us have become skeptical and distrustful of government. And even though the economic and demographic challenges that have created this housing issue need to be addressed on a bigger stage as well, they can also be remedied on a local level.

What about the existing housing stock, you ask? It’s not enough. The overcharged real estate market has put house prices out of the grasp of the middle class.


Furthermore, many family homes have been sold and converted into short-term rentals (a topic for another day). New housing needs to be built, and to put any kind of dent into the current need, it will have to be of the high-density variety. Of course, many factors need to fall into place, two of which are zoning and infrastructure. The town of Waitsfield has done its part by recently amending its zoning regulations to promote housing development. That brings us to infrastructure.

Great ideas drive progress, but infrastructure enables progress to happen. A centralized wastewater system can enable us to make progress on the affordable housing front. We need to make this happen. And really, this isn’t exactly an earth-shattering engineering marvel. Hell, you can go back to 1700 BC to find evidence of early waste disposal systems, and it reasons that many advancements have been made since then. It’s safe, it’s effective, and it’s the right time.

The most common skepticism I’ve heard about the proposed project is that it’ll just be another hit to our property tax bills. False. Any costs not covered by grants will be borne by system users who’ve voluntarily opted in. If this was going to be funded by property taxes, I wouldn’t be writing this. The biggest drawback will be traffic delays during construction, so at least those who need something to complain about on Front Porch Forum will have some new ammunition.

The great French writer and septic enthusiast, Victor Hugo, once penned, “The history of men is reflected in the history of sewers.” Let’s make a little local history ourselves. Join me in voting “Yes” on June 11.

Read lives in Fayston and owns Mad River Property Management in Waitsfield.