$5.1m vote on Vergennes-Panton water plant nearing; meeting set

PANTON — Vergennes-Panton Water District officials are hoping for a better turnout at their next pre-vote public meeting on a $5.1 million proposal to upgrade the district’s 37-year-old Adams Ferry Road water treatment plant in Panton, a project that could more than double rates for a typical household.
Only one resident showed up in Vergennes on July 7 to learn about work — which officials call long overdue — to replace all the aging plant’s 30-plus-year-old pumps and filters; replace all its electrical, heating and ventilation systems; build a new control room and upgrade its equipment; improve chemical treatment equipment; and improve chemical storage areas.
Vergennes and Panton residents will vote on the plan on Aug. 4. They will cast their ballots at the water district office on Canal Street in Vergennes. Before then, a public meeting is set for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Panton Town Hall, immediately after officials offer tours of the Lake Champlain plant from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m.
At the meeting and during the tours, officials will explain why they believe residents should support a project that will mean a dramatic increase in their water rates — although project engineer Peter DeGraff of East Middlebury’s Otter Creek Engineering noted new Vergennes-Panton user fees will remain below the Vermont average.
Currently, DeGraff said, a typical single family household using Vergennes-Panton water pays about $174 a year, less than half the state annual average of about $400 for municipal water.
District officials have estimated the new rate for such a household, including payments on a bond to pay for the project, would be about $368 per year, or about $1 a day.
DeGraff said the district board has done well to keep rates low, especially given that the 1973 plant was expected to function for just 30 years.
“They’ve already gotten another seven years,” he said. “They’ve already gotten their money out of the original facility.”
Now, DeGraff said, it’s time to take care of the facility for another three or four decades, something he believes this project would accomplish.
“Bottom line, the facility needs work,” DeGraff said. “Ultimately, this is the most cost-effective approach.”
DeGraff and water commissioners considered other alternatives: expanding the plant with an addition, or building a new, separate treatment facility and using the old plant just as a pumping station. They also looked at dealing with individual upgrades separately over the years, what he called “selective spot improvements.”
When they ran the numbers, DeGraff said the other choices came up between $500,000 to $1.25 million more expensive than staying within the confines of the four-story, concrete structure already in place.
“All of those proved less cost-effective than just working within the existing footprint,” he said.
That approach involved a challenge, however.
“We need to replace existing equipment at the same time we’re keeping the plant operational, keeping it producing water, because there’s not an alternative source,” DeGraff said.
Currently, three pumps on the lowest level send water from Lake Champlain to two filters, each with two large sections, on the plant’s third level. The filtered water flows back down to another set of pumps on the second level, where it is disinfected and sent outside the plant to the “chlorine contact” storage tank. From there, the finished product is sent to a final storage tank, from which three more pumps send it out to the distribution system.
DeGraff said the plant’s new filters will be installed on the plant’s fourth level, which now houses the control room and storage. Once those are installed, pumps will be replaced in phases, allowing the plant to continue to produce up to 990,000 gallons a day of drinkable water.
At the same time, a mezzanine level will be added in the third level, which has 30-foot ceilings. That mezzanine will house new control, chemical storage, and electrical rooms. Plans also call for a new standby generator as well as the replacement of the aging mechanical and electrical systems.
Ultimately, DeGraff and the commissioners agreed after more than a year of study that it was time to act.
“They’ve had 37 years of use out of the facility. And it’s basically reached the end, if not beyond the end of its designed life, its useful life. It’s got 37-year-old electrical equipment, 37-year-old filters that are starting to rust out,” DeGraff said. “The water district board has made the decision that rather than trying to continue to patch and piece together a 37-year-old facility, it’s time to go through it and prepare it for the next 30 or 40 years of operation.” 
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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