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The Valley Reporter
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Waitsfield, VT 05673
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My contrarian view of the Waitsfield water and sewer proposal

02/28/2008

By Myndy Woodruff

Yikes!  How did a nice little town like ours get involved with this monstrous sewer and water project? I think we have been led down the wrong path. We don't have any failed septic systems and our wells and springs produce pretty good water. Not too long ago, Waitsfield's population was twice what it is today. We had an agrarian economy with 19 blacksmiths and a brickyard.  Water came from hillside springs and shallow wells. Sewage went into composting toilets, a.k.a. privies or outhouses. (Note to the Valley Rotary: You did not get it right. You need to dig a hole in the ground -- outhouses don't work well on frozen ponds.) Fast forward to today and find we have been led down a path that brings us to a $17 million sewer and water system for the Route 100 corridor.

When I was a select board member in the mid '80s, our new town manager found some money and commissioned a study of the S & W situation along Route 100. "Yup, we've got sewer and water and a municipal system could be built." I asked the engineer if we needed the system, to which he responded there were three criteria to consider:

1) Do we have good perking soils? Yes, there were pockets of adequate soils.

2) Do we have competent contractors? Yes, and today they are licensed. They build quality systems in accordance with Act 250, D.E.C and town ordinances.

     3)  Do we have failed septic systems?  No, most of the systems work fine.

The ability of the soils to perk would be the ultimate growth/development control. Finally, the engineer admitted that he likes to do this kind of preliminary sewer and water study. He said it was "the first shot of heroin" and that more studies would hook us. We would need many thousands of dollars to satisfy this addiction. Frankly, this seemed like good news to me. I naively thought, "Great, Waitsfield will be saved from the developers by the soils!"

This habit grew, and more studies were commissioned.  Have you ever heard a grant study come back saying, "You don't need this!"? Of course not -- it would put that Ph.D. out of work. Meanwhile our town planners brought in consultants who justified their pay by creating a master plan for Irasville which mandated high density housing and a "full build out" of the shopping centers. To sell this plan, Waitsfield hired a pretty smiling face with a town office showing us a model of what a full build out would look like. Yikes again! Every square foot was to be developed! I don't recall any sewer and water details even being considered at that time, let alone a $17 million and growing price tag. What did we do to deserve this? From my view Waitsfield is just fine the way it is now. Many of us have come here to get away from the hordes. I think two supermarkets and four hardware stores are enough. We are a bedroom community. Let Williston and Berlin enjoy their full build out status. I'll take The Valley the way it is.

The current real estate depression will erode the grand list and the economy is uncertain. This is not the time for Waitsfield to take on a huge unprecedented financial burden. It is interesting that the sewer and water development program is now using our tax money to sell us the package. I find it suspicious that the negatives are not presented along with the positives. What is the calculation that came up with the 1.5 cents increase in the tax rate? Did it include creating and staffing a public works department? Additional burdens for the road crew? Litigation expenses for the water easements? Repaving the pot holes annually until the pipeline ditches settle? Failed pumping stations and boil water notices? This won't be smooth sailing.

So what do we do?

     1) We vote no to all the components of the sewer and water system proposal. It is not right to ask all the taxpayers to pay for this questionable divisive scheme benefiting less than ten percent of the town. This is not like a school or road where everyone benefits.

     2) We need to diligently upgrade any improper septic systems in Irasville. The town sewage ordinance could be upgraded to mandate higher purity of the effluent being discharger into the water table. Good affordable "green" septic technology is here now.  Let's use it.

     3) We need to rescind the high density/full build out Irasville zoning asap. Town planners, now is the time for you to reconsider this flawed concept.

     4) We need a water source closer to Route 100 if this S & W project must go forward.

     5)  If the desire for a municipal sewer and water persists, it must be restructured into a sewer and water district with the benefiting properties paying 100 percent of the costs. The sewer and water system at Sugarbush is a good example of the district concept.

     6)  If we must tear up our roads, we should also consider providing for storm water runoff. We are now dumping untold tons of road salt, grime and sand into the Mad River.

     7) We should look at the recent Warren town sewer and water system. The Pitcher Inn project could not go forward without adequate sewer and water. Warren has a lot of ledge that does not perk. Warren had a genuine need. They benefited from a hefty contribution from the Pitcher Inn and sizable grants. Their system was built with the cost per dwelling at 25 percent of the flawed Waitsfield proposal. Even so, the project had plenty of well-publicized problems and cost overruns.

Suicide is a permanent fix to a temporary problem. Vote no.


Myndy Woodruff lives in Waitsfield.
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