Bennington Select Board: Vote yes Tuesday on sewer bond

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On Tuesday Bennington and North Bennington voters will be asked whether to approve a Wastewater Treatment Facility Bond. After many years of kicking the can down the road (no pun intended), the Bennington Select Board hopes that the community will support this critical effort.

While the sewer plant has served our community long and ably, thanks largely to excellent care and maintenance from our town staff, most of the equipment is well beyond its useful life. This fact was born out in the past year when multiple systems finally began failing at once, leading to terrible odors and unacceptable discharge into our otherwise clean and healthy river. The project will focus on the most necessary upgrades to this almost 60-year-old facility.

It's a bit like driving your car for hundreds of thousands of miles, maintaining it regularly, but then learning it can no longer pass inspection. We have all been there — it has simply been driven into the ground. In the case of our waste water treatment facility, it can no longer pass inspection; the State of Vermont has declared that if the community does not replace critical components of the facility immediately, significant fines can be expected. This spring the State of Vermont served us with an "Assurance of Discontinuance," (i.e. a big, fat fine) and insisted on a plan to replace insufficient components within 120 days. To stick with the car analogy, if you were facing paying more in motor vehicle violation fines than you would for a car loan, how would you proceed?

The investment we are asking voters to approve will bring the sewer treatment facility into compliance with state regulations. Thus, the town will avoid being subject to fines, something the select board feels is the biggest waste of tax payer funds imaginable. But even more importantly, the beauty and health of our iconic Walloomsac River will be protected.

Recreation and wildlife are both essential components of a vibrant community — important for our health and our economy — and investing in long-term solutions is critical. Technology has advanced a lot in the past 30 years and we will have a much more efficient, effective, and adaptable system when we are done. Besides old age, new challenges face the sewer plant, too. Thirty years ago people knew not to flush plastic down the toilet; today tons of plastic from "disposable" items clog the works or are ground up and sent through the system as micro-plastic. The new facility will pre-screen waste, removing plastic from the system and, ultimately, from our waterways.

While engineers originally estimated the project would cost $17 million by deploying our town staff to do some of the work and anticipating some of the smaller upgrades in future annual town budgets, the immediate out-of-pocket has been reduced to $9.85 million. A state loan subsidy of approximately $445,000 is part of helping us replace the offending Rotating Biological Contactors (RBCs) and completion of critical facility upgrades. Because the bond repayments will not start until a year after the project's substantial completion, this work is unlikely to be felt by rate payers until 2020. Until then the sewer flat rate for a single family will remain what it is today. When the bond payments start, there is a projected increase in the sewer bill of $37.83 per quarter. While the select board deeply regrets this increase, we would ask you to remember that our sewer plant is played out and that most other Vermont communities have been paying between $15 million to $30 million for their sewer plant upgrades.

No more Band-Aids, Bennington, let's do this right. Please vote "yes" Tuesday. Invest in our community's health, our future, and the natural world around us.

Should you need further information about the facility, bond or voting information and location please contact the Bennington town office at 802-442-1037.

— The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.


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