Middlebury readies for water main replacement

In situations like this, work is more efficient when you work at night because you don’t have to worry about the traffic-control component.
— Public Works Planning Director Dan Werner

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents this March will be asked to authorize $2.5 million in water main replacement work in the Court Square area during the next few years. The town selectboard on Jan. 28 will finalize a payment plan for those project costs that will have the least impact on property taxpayers and water rates.
The work is slated to start this fall after the new downtown railroad tunnel is installed, and will dovetail with the Vermont Agency of Transportation’s 2021 repaving of Class 1 highways in Middlebury, including Routes 30, 125 and 7, according to Middlebury Public Works Planning Director Dan Werner.
“Our intention is to replace, before that paving process, these water mains where we’ve had some leak issues recently,” Werner said during a recent interview.
Essentially, the work involves replacing the outdated and deteriorating water main — some of it dating back to the 1880s — with new, 12-inch main. Here’s where and when the work would occur, along with the estimated cost:
•  Replacement of 850 feet of main extending from the intersection of Main and Seymour streets (near the Congregational Church), over to the intersection of Merchants Row, Court Square and South Pleasant Street. Also, a segment from the Merchants Row/South Pleasant Street intersection, east onto Court Square, culminating at the intersection of Washington Street and Court Square. Estimated cost: $688,000. Scheduled for August to December 2020.
•  A second phase, slated for the spring of 2021, involves replacement of 860 feet of water main along Court Street (Route 7), from Court Square south to Cross Street. Estimated price: $688,000.
 • A third phase, involving a 1,500-foot stretch of water main along Washington Street, from Court Square east to Seminary Street. Estimated price: $825,000, with the work occurring during the spring of 2022.
Middlebury officials realize those traveling through the downtown will already be very weary of construction inconveniences associated with the Middlebury rail tunnel project, which will result in closure of Main Street and Merchants Row for 10 weeks this summer. But Werner noted the upcoming water main work will be done at night, thus minimizing detour issues for local residents, shoppers and commuters.
It will also make things easier for the people doing the work.
“For contractors, in situations like this, work is more efficient when you work at night because you don’t have to worry about the traffic-control component,” Werner said. “It’s a lot easier for the public and contractor to do this work at night.”
The Middlebury selectboard is exploring two funding options for the water main work:
•  A $2.5 million bond.
•  The use of $1 million in local options tax surplus, spread over four years, along with revenue from municipal water rate increases and potential grant money.
Town officials at this point appear to favor the latter option. Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay on Tuesday presented the selectboard with a chart showing the current balance of the local option tax surplus fund (more than $2.6 million) and how it could be tapped for the water main work and three other major capital improvement projects (see related story). Ramsay has suggested the $1 million in water main money could be extracted from the surplus fund in increments of $340,000 during fiscal year 2021, then $235,000 in FY’22, followed by $265,000 in FY’23 and then $155,000 during FY’24.
Proponents of this funding plan noted it would result in non-residents sharing in the expense of upgrading Middlebury services they enjoy during visits to the county’s shire town. And it would also require those connected to the municipal water system to directly contribute to its upkeep.
Bonding, officials noted, affects municipal budgeting and carries interest payments.
Middlebury has approximately 54 miles of water main with an assumed 80-year lifespan, according to Werner.
The selectboard last summer approved new water and sewer rate increases that resulted in the average consumer paying a combined total of $700 for those services this fiscal year, a bump of more than $43 compared to the previous year.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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