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City hopes to map sewer system

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Dec. 20 agreed to apply for a $50,000 grant to help map the city’s aging sewer and stormwater system, a task that City Manager Mel Hawley said is important to help the city fix the system’s overflow problems.
Vergennes has been operating for years under “Combined Sewer Overflow” (or CSO) orders from Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to stop its sewer system from overflowing into Otter Creek.
City officials have said the core of the problem is groundwater infiltration into the sewer system during major storms. That problem is made worse by older, deteriorating clay pipes that allow extra water into the system. As a result, during heavy rain overall system flow can exceed the capacity of the main pump station on the east side of Otter Creek, and the overflows occur.
CSO orders have given Vergennes time to create a plan and take actions, and over the years the city has replaced pumps and upgraded the pump station, and made upgrades to some lines.
Those actions have been enough to satisfy regulators that Vergennes is making progress, but at last week’s meeting Hawley said a firmer deadline is looming.
“We have to get rid of our CSOs in 20 years,” Hawley said, “and the clock is ticking on that.”
Mapping the lines and getting a handle on the scope of the problem will be a critical part of creating a permanent solution by allowing engineers to identify what needs to be replaced and determine the overall scope of the project, Hawley said.
The grant the city is seeking comes from the Lake Champlain Basin Program, and the maximum award is $50,000. In asking for the council’s approval for seeking the grant, Hawley said it did not require a local match but that a local commitment could enhance the city’s chances of earning one.
The council approved spending $5,000 each from the public works and sewer budgets to provide a $10,000 local share to include in the grant proposal.
Officials said even $60,000 might not complete the work, and that the council might have to commit more funds in the future.
“The scope of work would be as much as $60,000 would buy,” said Mayor Bill Benton said, adding that if less than $50,000 were awarded, “We’d just have to limit the scope of the project.”
Hawley — who turned 63 this summer and dropped a couple hints about retirement at the meeting — said he and public works head Jim Larrow know a lot of the information, but that a study would add to their knowledge and put it all in place for their successors to complete a project to solve the overflow problem.
“We need to get this stuff digitized and get it out of Jim’s and my heads,” Hawley said, adding, “I can tell you this really has to be done.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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