Hindsight is always 20/20 and in the case of Waitsfield’s water main break, this could not be clearer. It’s very easy to excoriate the players for their actions this far after the fact – and maybe mistakes were made – but assuredly not out of malice or mal-intent.
In 2013, a VTrans contractor punctured the town’s water main, leaving water system users without water and leading to a lengthy, extensive and expensive legal battle with the state that ultimately left the town on the hook for $80,000.
Immediately after the water main break, the town took a leadership position in organizing the temporary repair and the long-term repair, going so far as to take out a line of credit to cover expenses – not realizing that litigating against a goliath like VTrans may yield no reimbursement.
Isn’t that what we want our leaders to do? Lead during times of crisis and use the power of the town to hire engineers, borrow money and, unfortunately, pay attorneys?
It is understandable that the town’s water commissioners are not happy about being left out of the repair process and the subsequent litigation, especially since the select board has subsequently turned around asked water system users to cover some of the cost of the repair and legal battle.
And, keep in mind that when town voters were asked to approve the bond to build the water system, the select board made repeatedly clear that only users would pay the cost of debt repayment and ongoing maintenance. So, yes, it is understandable that there may be some pushback from some quarters for taxpayers other than users to pay for this repair.
But this system is a town asset. It is as much a piece of town infrastructure as the town’s historic covered bridge. Yes, system users are responsible for maintenance and debt repair, but the minute the system was badly damaged by an outside force, it has to be considered a town asset and one that all taxpayers will pay to repair.
If mistakes were made in the immediate aftermath of the break, those mistakes were made with an eye to public health and safety and trying to get affected businesses and families back online with water.
It happened, it was expensive. It’s offensive that VTrans and its contractor didn’t make the town whole, but it’s time to move on. Charging system users for this unfortunate event is wrong and depleting their reserve fund is wrong.