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Bristol, USDA agree on water system loan

BRISTOL — Bristol officials will pursue a deal with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a combined total of $1.1 million in loans to cover a major improvement and expansion of town water system infrastructure in the western part of the village.
Local selectboard members had hoped the USDA would provide 45 percent of the $1.1 million in the form of a grant, but ultimately reasoned that a loan of 2.25 percent — in the absence of a grant — is a better deal than Bristol could have negotiated with a bank.
Area residents on May 10 voted, 209-133, in favor of the project, which calls for replacing the leaky, aging municipal water line on West Street, from Airport Drive to Maple Street; extending the town water system to the Woodland Apartments on Lovers Lane and the new fire station off West Street; and making storm water upgrades to West Street to address drainage problems and bring that area into compliance with the Vermont Clean Water Act.
Extension of the water line is key to future development of a new business park planned for land next to the new fire station.
“The bottom line is this is a great project for Bristol,” said Bristol town Administrator Therese Kirby. “We need a business park and we need to upgrade the water line to help offset costs to the users, because we know right now we are pumping water into the ground. We know we need to upgrade our storm water (infrastructure) along West Street. So as much as it didn’t turn out the way we all hoped, it’s still a good project.”
If there is a silver lining for Bristol in not landing a grant, it’s that the interest rate has dropped by 0.68 percent (to the current 2.25 percent) since project planning began, according to Kirby.
The USDA water system loan of $756,000 will be for a term of 40 years, while the storm water loan of $325,000 will be for 30 years.
Kirby has calculated that owners of property valuated at $200,000 will see a tax increase of around $16.60 per year as a result of the water loan. Additionally, a minimum use water-user (in Bristol’s water service district) is in line for an increase of around $16 per year.
Bristol’s payments will start six months after the loans are signed.
Kirby expects the project will be put out to bid next month, with construction to start either this fall or next spring. Drivers should expect one-lane traffic on West Street during construction, according to Kirby.
Meanwhile, Kirby believes the town and the USDA are now on the same wavelength after some tense moments in June when it was announced Bristol didn’t land a grant to help underwrite a project.
The USDA had a total of $10.2 million for loans and another $3 million for grants to disburse to communities throughout the Green Mountain State in 2016, according to Deborah Maguire, community programs director for USDA’s New Hampshire and Vermont divisions. Ultimately, the USDA determined Bristol’s water district users could reasonably absorb the project costs without the benefit of a grant.
 “Some positive things have come out of this, as far as speaking with the USDA,” Kirby said. “They’re really taking our concerns seriously and they’re moving forward with trying to help their people roll out these programs better.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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