With the help of an influx of federal funds, many cities are approving major water infrastructure projects

Pipes carrying clean water out of the Peter L. Jacob Water Treatment Facility at the Champlain Water District in South Burlington, Friday, Feb. 21, 2020. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Federal funding is likely driving a flurry of approvals for major upgrades to municipal water and infrastructure systems across the state.

Dozens of Vermont municipalities are working to improve their water infrastructure using federal funds that can flow to cities in a variety of ways. To use this money, towns need the approval of local residents, and several towns and villages have asked voters to approve their plans on town meeting day.

In Colchester, voters approved an $11.5 million bond to build a municipal sewage system for 289 residents of Malletts Bay by a vote of 2,027 to 839. The project, which is estimated to cost $16 .7 million is designed to stop pollution from leaking failing septic systems in the bay, which is part of Lake Champlain.

The measure has been controversial for years; voters declined to approve a bond in 2019. Those opposed raised concerns about the efficiency of a sewage system and the potential development the improved system could encourage.

This time, residents of the city outside the project area will not be responsible for the costs of the project – it would be funded solely by “subsidies and user fees from the 289 properties in the service area”, a Colchester Selectboard letter tell the locals.

City officials have struggled with sewage in the area since the 1960s. Although bacteria levels often exceed the state standard in rivers and streams, it is rarer for high levels to appear in lakes due to dilution and exposure to ultraviolet light, according to a 2015 determination by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, described in a city ​​report. But the levels of E. coli in Malletts Bay have often exceeded the norm.

In Vergennes, residents voted 384 to 60 to approve a $25.5 million bond for a massive overhaul of the city’s antiquated sewer collection system and wastewater treatment plant. The project won’t go ahead immediately — the voters’ blessing will spur city officials to seek more state grants.

The project is designed to stop untreated sewage overflows into Otter Creek, which eventually reaches Lake Champlain.

A explanatory on the project on the city’s website urged voters to consider its urgency, particularly because of sources of funding from state grants.

“To be eligible for additional grants and loans, the city must be able to demonstrate the availability of matching funds,” the site says. “Passing a bond will demonstrate that commitment.”

Montpellier voters approved $7.2 million for the reconstruction of East State Street. It will include both a new water and sewer system, which will cost $3.2 million, and an additional $4 million for roadway, sidewalk and cycling infrastructure improvements.

City officials plan to use state infrastructure funding and grants when available to help lower those costs for residents.

Manchester has voted overwhelmingly in favor of three ballot papers that will allow the city to expand the city’s public sewage and water systems, including a $1.9 million bond to expand the public sewer system and a $1.27 million bond to expand public water.

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