Water main breaks affect industrial park; Middlebury eyes potential $1 million fix

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters next fall could be asked to approve a bond issue of more than $1 million to replace a deteriorating water main that serves several of the community’s largest water users in the community’s industrial park.
At issue is an 8-inch ductile iron water main pipe that feeds multiple connections off Exchange Street, including the Agri-Mark/Cabot cheese plant, Vermont Hard Cider, Otter Creek Brewing and the many health care providers within Catamount Park.
The pipe was installed during the 1970s and is deteriorating sooner than it should, according to Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner. That’s because the contractor included stone in the backfill for the project, which has been triggering leaks and breaks in the now corroding water main, according to town officials.
Exchange Street water main breaks have been on the rise during the past two-and-a-half years, according to Werner, and affected business leaders have been clamoring for a fix. Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay shared a string of email complaints that followed the most recent interruption of water flow earlier this month.
“The problems over the last year have been disruptive and costly, this last instance required us to keep the doors closed that day,” reads an email from eDOC Innovations President/CEO Bret Weekes. “Businesses choose to be in Middlebury for many reasons, but keeping business in Middlebury rests on the town’s ability to meet the infrastructure and community development needs in the future.”
Dr. Peter J. Hopper of Middlebury Dental Group at 1330 Exchange St. said the practice has had to reschedule “at least” 100 patient appointments so far this year due to water outages.
“The selectboard needs to focus on a solution to these interruptions as soon as possible,” he said.
Paul Ralston owns Vermont Coffee Co. at 1197 Exchange St. He’s asked town officials to consider rebating the company’s municipal property taxes on a per-diem basis when it has to shut down due to a water line break.
“When a business has to change its schedule or shut down production (which is what the beverage companies have to do) because the town’s water main has failed again, it costs us lost sales and payroll expenses with no production to show for it,” he wrote in his email to Ramsay.
The Middlebury Infrastructure Committee has ranked replacement of the Exchange Street water main as a top priority. But committee Chairperson Susan Shashok said it will take some time to do the project right — and that means adding some redundancy — or back up — to a water line that currently dead-ends. Town officials want to loop the new line — perhaps at nearby Happy Valley Road — to make sure water will continue to flow to Exchange Street customers when a break occurs in the future.
Infrastructure committee members want to tap a state revolving loan fund for drinking water projects that would cover engineering and other planning costs for the project, Shashok explained. But the revolving loan fund guidelines require the community to first undertake a hydrology study of the entire municipal water system, Shashok noted. That study could help inform planning for the Exchange Street project, officials said.
“We want to fix (the water main) in a way that will make it work better in the future,” Shashok said. “This is a huge project.”
A huge project that won’t come cheaply. Werner gave the $1 million cost estimate. Engineers will come up with a specific price tag in the coming months. Town officials are tentatively targeting general election day next November for the water main replacement vote.
 In the meantime, affected merchants will have to hope the current line can hold up.
But patience is wearing thin.
“We have been frustrated with the (water) outages,” Bill Townsend, real estate division manager for J.P. Carrara & Sons, told selectboard members at their most recent, Nov. 14 meeting. Carrara is a major landlord in the town’s industrial park.
Townsend said the water main breaks are “creating financial hardships for businesses in the area. There’s a growing impatience with the situation out there.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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