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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673
802-496-3928
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"Vote based on fact, not fear"

08/28/2008

By Brian Shupe

I support the water project that has been planned for Waitsfield over the past two decades, but did not sign the petition seeking a re-vote of the June 9 bond vote.

I shared the concern that scheduling another vote so soon would lead to greater division in the community. Reading recent letters to The Valley Reporter, and recently discussing the project with a couple of opponents, however, has changed my mind.  

An incredible amount of misinformation still surrounds this project, and the September 9 vote provides an important opportunity for Waitsfield citizens to vote based on the facts, not their fears. The facts include:

•  This project will not increase your property taxes.  It will be funded by a package of federal grants and long-term loans and connected user fees.  At least one-half of the initial project costs will be covered by grant funds.  The Town is expressly prohibited by funding agencies from levying taxes to support the project, with the exception of connection and user fees paid to provide service to town-owned buildings (library/municipal offices, school, town garage, fire department, Wait House), some of which rely on bottled drinking water.  These user fees should be offset by eliminating the need to upgrade the school's water system and continue purchasing bottled water. The bond article simply represents an assurance that the Town is taking responsibility (a form of collateral) for covering project costs.  Since the 1960s, no comparable project funded by Rural Development has ever defaulted.

•  Only people who hook up to the system will pay. The costs of connecting have been clearly (and frequently) disseminated by the Town. These include funds for contingencies, such as inevitable maintenance expenses and the possibility that a handful of users decide to not pay their water bill for a couple of months.

•  Connecting to the system is voluntary. If you live or have a business in the service area, and are satisfied with your existing well, fine -- you do not have to connect and will not pay a dime.

•  The water system is not limited to Irasville.  The proposed service area stretches from the Verd Mont Neighborhood (which is facing an expensive water system upgrade) on the Tremblay Road, south along Route 100 corridor and the Old County Road, past the school (also facing an expensive water upgrade) to encompass Waitsfield Village and Irasville, ending at the Mill Brook.  

•  The system is economically viable, or it will not be built.  Over 200 properties are included in the service area, including Old County Road and Tremblay Road, encompassing approximately 420 existing "Equivalent Users" (or "EUs," a term used to equate businesses, that might comprise several EUs, with a residence which comprises a single EU). Over 200 EUs committed to connect to the system prior to the March vote, out of 280 that are needed for the system to be self-funded. According to project engineers, this was on target to exceed 280 EUs by the project completion, based upon their experience with comparable projects around the country. The select board has made clear that they will not proceed with project construction -- regardless of the bond vote outcome -- if it is not financially viable.  

•  The well that will serve as the water supply was drilled on land that has been a town road for over 100 years. To obtain permits, the town had to acquire, through eminent domain, an easement on approximately .4 acres each on two neighboring properties, for which the town has paid the owners an amount higher than the appraised value. Ironically, the easement is to establish a water-supply source protection area which overlaps with an existing protection area on one of the neighboring properties.

•  This is the same project that was narrowly rejected on June 9, but different than the project voted on in March. In response to the March vote, the select board undertook perhaps the most extensive public outreach and listening effort in Waitsfield's history. In response, they increased the amount of grant funds allocated to the project, thereby reducing user costs, and eliminated a fire protection fee for property owners regardless of whether they were connected.  The result was a more affordable and equitable funding structure.   

•  There is a need. In addition to the Verd Mont Park and school, many homes and businesses have inadequate water supplies and face the always-present threat of contamination from the mosaic of scattered septic systems interspersed with wells and springs. It is far better to address tragedy through avoidance than through remediation.

•  Waitsfield is doing what nearly 80 other Vermont communities have already done. From some of the comments, you would think that the Town is pursuing some insane scheme that no responsible community would ever attempt. Vermont municipalities have built and maintained water systems (and sewer systems, for that matter) for over 100 years, and they have all benefited through expanded tax bases, improved public health and protection against the emerging era of resource scarcity and privation of water resources.

We all benefit if the vote passes. Like other communities with infrastructure, this will help us build a more vital downtown for The Valley (again, funded solely by users). It will remove public health threats, improve fire protection, provide a secure water supply for homes and businesses, and free up additional land for building and septic disposal by eliminating wellhead protection areas. This will not prompt some building boom but will facilitate well-managed infill development that will make the villages more walkable and allow for more housing here rather than on farm fields and forest land.

Finally, the September 9 vote is a way to unite -- not divide -- the community. It's a way to lend a helping hand to your neighbors in a way that won't cost you a dime (if you don't plan to connect to the system) but will make a big difference to many who are dealing with water problems. It will be an opportunity for the town to take on a big project that will pay big dividends -- in the form of a stronger village, bigger tax base (that we will all benefit from) and greater security.  These are benefits that will outlive every one of us by many decades.  Please vote yes on September 9.  

Brian Shupe lives in Waitsfield.
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