Middlebury to consider $5M in capital projects
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury residents on Town Meeting Day will be asked to bond for up to $5.35 million to bankroll three projects: replacing aging water mains in the Court Square area, fortifying the banks of the Middlebury River to prevent future flooding in East Middlebury, and renovating former sewer plant buildings into storage space for the town police department.
The three separate requests add up to $5.35 million, but Middlebury residents won’t be on the hook for nearly that much because the selectboard has put together a financing plan that includes a large federal grant and surplus revenues from the Middlebury’s local option tax fund.
In 2008 residents endorsed a special tax of 1% assessment on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol as a means of covering the community’s annual share of $600,000 in debt service (over 30 years) for the $16 million Cross Street Bridge project. The fund — which now stands at $2.5 million — has been raising considerably more than is needed to cover debt and maintenance of the Cross Street Bridge.
And the selectboard, in its annual report, said any bonding would be limited to a seven-year period, as opposed to the customary 20, in order to save “tens-of-thousands of dollars in interest.”
The three projects, which will appear as articles 8, 9 and 10 on Middlebury’s March 3 warning and will be voted by Australian ballot, are as follows:
COURT SQUARE PROJECT
The selectboard seeks voter approval — on paper, at least — for a bond of up to $2.5 million to finance water main improvements to Court Square, including the intersection of Main and North Pleasant streets; Court Street, from Court Square to Cross Street; and Washington Street, from Court Square to Seminary Street. The public works department has dealt with many costly water breaks in the area, according to town officials.
The project means replacing 3,210 feet of outdated and deteriorating water main — some of it dating back to the 1880s — with new, 12-inch main.
If approved by voters, the work would begin this fall after the new downtown tunnel is installed. It would 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.
The selectboard proposes to pay for the project by tapping the Cross Street Bridge fund for $1 million, and covering the remaining $1.5 million through potential grants and phased-in rate increases for water system users.
Then why ask for a bond?
“The board has identified potential grant funding, low-interest-rate financing and/or loan forgiveness programs that could potentially offset or eliminate the need to bond for the water system projects,” the selectboard writes in its report appearing in Middlebury’s 2020 annual report.
“These programs, however, require evidence of a successful bond vote in order for the town to qualify. So, while the Board had not planned to borrow for these projects initially, it made sense to present a bond vote to the voters for consideration in order to leverage state and federal funding and reduce the impact on our water system users.”
Next up is a request for up to $2 million to make flood-prevention upgrades to the Middlebury River near East Middlebury Village. The proposed improvements include reinforcing the river berm along Ossie Road with riprap, removing of sediment from the river, and repairing and reinforcing the floodwall at the Gristmill Bridge.
Here’s the breakdown of the project: Repair the existing flood wall, and extend it 150 feet downstream ($1 million); armor sections of the Ossie Road berm ($800,000); and remove sediment from chute entrances and the top of large sandbars ($200,000).
The “East Middlebury Flood Resiliency Project” has been in the planning stages for several years. The river has jumped its banks in East Middlebury at least three times during the past 11 years, including in 2008, in 2011 (with Tropical Storm Irene) and most recently in July 2017. While none of those floods claimed lives, they left property damage in their wake.
Irene in 2011 deposited several feet of sediment upstream of the Grist Mill Road Bridge, and more than six feet of scour took place along the retaining wall just downstream of the span. Crews at the time conducted emergency repairs that included sediment removal from the channel and concrete grouting under the exposed base of the retaining wall.
Officials estimate the 2017 flood shaved up to 50 feet off the riverbank.
While voters are being asked to support up to $2 million in bond financing, the town’s financial exposure will likely be limited to $500,000 because the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to pick up $1.5 million of the tab.
“The town is actively investigating potential sources of matching funds, such as state clean water grant funds, to further reduce the cost of the project to the town,” the selectboard wrote in its annual report.
Finally, the selectboard is seeking $850,000 to rehab portions of the town’s former sewer treatment plant off Lucius Shaw Lane to use as storage space for the nearby Middlebury Police Department.
About 20 years ago Middlebury decommissioned its former sewer treatment plant off Lucius Shaw Lane and transferred those operations to a new plant on Industrial Ave. The community then built a new police station at the former sewer plant site property. Police have been using some of those former sewer plant buildings for storage, but they need work, officials said.
Police Chief Tom Hanley described the situation in an email.
“When the current police building was designed, the size and scope was scaled back with the intent of re-using existing on-site buildings, such as the control and sand filter buildings and another structure for temporary storage of hazardous materials,” Hanley said.
“I had submitted a program for those structures back in 2002. In the meantime, those buildings have deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and funding. Both buildings are structurally sound, though the roof has failed on the control building, doors can’t shut, and the power and heat has long since been removed.”
The $850,000 request would improve the control building for storage, the sand filter building for cruiser parking, and provide a small “hazardous material storage” building.
The appropriation would also fund energy upgrades to the police station.
Officials are pledging to look for “alternate sources of funding” to drive down the bond costs for local taxpayers.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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