Town eyes stimulus aid for $1.8 million sewer project

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters may be headed to the polls as soon as this November to authorize $1.8 million in improvements to the town’s main wastewater pumping station off Seymour Street.
The upgrades in question involve increasing the pumping station’s wet-well capacity and improving the facility’s grit-removal system. The current wet well is becoming overwhelmed during certain wet weather conditions, prompting it to overflow on occasion. That overflow has found its way into the Otter Creek, thereby triggering the state mandate to have the problem fixed.
Town officials want to push forward quickly with a project, not only because the state may soon set a deadline for having the repairs completed, but because they were recently informed of the availability of federal stimulus money that could cover half of the estimated $1.8 million price tag.
Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger noted the town’s chances of receiving the federal stimulus aid seemed remote earlier this year.
“When we submitted the project back in the early spring, we ended up way above the threshold cutoff (for funding),” Finger told selectmen last week.
But Middlebury’s project has apparently moved up in the pecking order, as some of towns higher on the list have either not progressed enough in planning or have seen their proposals voted down.
“We have moved up to a point where we are now fundable, if we can get our engineering done on time and meet the somewhat arbitrary deadlines that have been set for the stimulus money,” Finger said.
A tentative deadline schedule calls for engineers to begin final design work on the project on Sept. 14. Selectmen could hold the vote on Nov. 3, with actual construction to begin next May.
If all proceeds to plan, Middlebury could float a 20-year, $1.8 million bond at a 2-percent interest rate. The federal government would forgive 50 percent ($900,000) of the bond amount, with the town paying the balance. Middlebury would have a number of options in paying down its share of the debt, including passing it on through sewer rates and/or tapping some or all of the more than $700,000 the town received through a legal settlement from the manufacturers of the municipal sewer plant. That settlement, forged several years ago, stems from the sewer plant not performing all the functions for which it was originally designed; for example, the plant cannot produce a promised “class A” fertilizer sludge. The current overflows, town officials said, are also among the shortcomings of the plant for which the town received the compensation.
Selectmen were scheduled to discuss the project and financing options at their meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. in the municipal building.

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