Vergennes schedules infrastructure efforts

VERGENNES — Vergennes workers and private contractors will undertake at least five significant projects between June and August, including paving two streets, improving two stretches of Main Street sidewalk, and making progress to solve the city’s longstanding sewer-system overflow problem.
In the long run, that latter effort could be the most significant. Vergennes has been operating its city sewer system for years under an Agency of Natural Resources order to solve what City Manager Mel Hawley called an “infiltration” problem — during heavy rains, the system cannot handle all the water that drains into it, and the runoff flows inevitably into Otter Creek.
Specifically, Hawley said the major pump station at MacDonough Drive, through which all effluent from the city on the east side of Otter Creek runs, cannot handle the flow “three or four times a year … under certain conditions,” specifically heavy rain.
Contributing to the problem are roof drains and basement sump pumps that empty directly, and essentially illegally, into the sewer system, and older, deteriorating clay sewer mains that allow groundwater to join the flow, Hawley said.
Previously, runoff from the state-owned Northlands Job Corps campus was a major contributor to the problem, but work done there a couple years back essentially solved the issue, Hawley said.
“They’ve tightened up that system,” he said.
To be done later this summer when Otter Creek is at its lowest is installation of a meter on MacDonough Drive to measure the overflow when it occurs. Champlain Construction will install that meter in a manhole near the pump station, and Hawley said it is the first step toward a final solution to the overflow problem.
“You have to determine the size of the problem before you solve it,” he said.
Once city and state officials know the extent of the overflow, Hawley said, they can agree on an approach to fix the problem. Hawley said there are basically three choices: tightening up the system by clamping down on roof drains and sump pumps and replacing old pipes, almost certainly the least expensive options; replacing or upgrading the MacDonough Drive pump station; or increasing the treatment plant capacity.
Other planned work will happen sooner and be more apparent. Two paving projects to be funded by a $75,000 line item in the current budget are set for June: Residents can expect the full length of Monkton Road and the portion of Short Street between East and Green streets to be resurfaced that month, Hawley said.
Also coming up soon are two $30,000 Main Street sidewalk projects that will be 50 percent funded by state grants. They will occur in front of Vergennes City Hall and across the street in front of the United Methodist Church and 135 Main St. Work will include granite curbing as well as the new sidewalks, Hawley said.
The grants were awarded to Vergennes because it has a Designated Downtown, a status it retains at least in part because it has an organization, the Vergennes Partnership, charged with maintaining the health of the city’s center. Partnership officials also helped write the grants.
The city is also participating in another prominent project. The Vergennes Opera House marquee is not being restored and should be returned to its place in front of city hall by late June or early July, according to Friends of the Vergennes Opera House president Gerianne Smart. Smart said weather damage to the marquee proved to be more extensive than expected, meaning the restoration is taking longer than expected.
Aldermen voted to contribute $1,600 to pay for the lights in the marquee, an amount that Hawley described as the “lion’s share” of the lighting portion of the marquee’s costs.
Smart said lights in the marquee will brighten not only the courtyard in front of city hall, but also the building’s façade. The marquee will also include a new, working clock.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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