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The Valley Reporter
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Waitsfield, VT 05673
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Water, water everywhere, except in town?

07/10/2008

By Brooke Cunningham

I have been asking around because the water issue in town is the biggest decision that we have had put before us in Waitsfield in the 40 years that I can remember. It has been defeated twice, albeit narrowly, and the town is trying to get it raised again. We keep hearing and reading things from the boards on why we should commit to this huge project, but we have heard little or nothing from the ones who theoretically will pay for it. I decided to go talk to some

of the people who will be affected by the burden of this bond.

I am going to put this out in shotgun form because it is a collection of opinions rather than a story. Pretty much universally the people that I spoke to believe that there does need to be some form of reliable water delivered to the village, but their approaches to a solution are widely varied.
 
One person told me that she felt that when the inquiry into how best to do this started, the committee went quickly for information to a large company with experience building large town systems. "Of course they came back with a project built around taking the biggest available water source and using large-scale thinking and technology to get it delivered where they wanted it. That is what they are used to doing." She felt it was not ever researched as to whether a network of smaller systems could be an option.

On that subject another person told me, "I know the village needs water, but I think we need to consider many options on how to deliver it. I have talked to some people in town with enough water to share, and it appears that the state regulations make it difficult to find a well that has enough water and also has enough protection area to be used to supply some or all of the village. Still, I think we should take our time and get it right, look at many options, not just run out and get the job done because the timing is right for someone else." We went on to talk about the possibility of building huge storage tanks near the heavy springs that are already supplying homes in town. I am not an engineer, but it was interesting to discuss. I also heard, "I am worried about the older buildings in town. They were built for 20 pounds of water pressure and when a 60-pound pressure system hits that old plumbing I am afraid of all the internal plumbing problems that owners will face."

And here is a unique approach that we haven't heard before. "I am not clear on why we are thinking about spending a fortune on hauling this pristine valuable water all the way off the mountain just to flush toilets in the villages. I think we should find another way to flush toilets. We can network smaller groups of homes and businesses on The Valley floor for that. If the town really isn't going to let this 'no' vote be heard, I think we should use the well up on the mountain, bring the water to town, set up a water bottling plant and sell the pure aquifer water in order to pay down our taxes." That is an interesting idea which would certainly be helpful to all of us.

For myself, I am not sure about spending so much on this infrastructure based on "growth." At a gathering of two dozen or so Realtors I posed the question, "Who has had a request for someone looking to live in the village?" and not a single hand was raised. We just aren't seeing this housing need that the town seems to feel is hanging over our heads. There might be something to "if you build it they will come," but the risk is high, and is that really how we want our villages to be used?

I think that we should look at our villages as our face to the world, our community gathering areas and as revenue streams. We should spend tax dollars and time supporting business initiatives so that when people gather they can shop, dine and enjoy themselves and think about moving here if they don't already live here. We should be building a magnet for traffic, a reason for people to come, show them a place that they want to stay. Any business person in town will tell you that it is tough here now. Restaurants are closing, retail is struggling. Perhaps we should be spending more time supporting our businesses, developing new regulations that encourage creativity and strategies for interesting visitor attractions that drive the need for growth so we can justify the expense of a water project.
 
Actually, one very astute person suggested to me that "the boards should simply give business developers new permits that are conditional on meeting the criteria for water and septic. With that incentive someone will certainly come up with a good solution!"

Cunningham lives in Waitsfield.
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