City sewer in line for federal funds

VERGENNES — Vergennes officials are optimistic $3 million of federal funding is on the way to help fix a critical component of the upcoming complete overhaul of the city’s wastewater collection and treatment system.

City Manager Ron Redmond told the city council last week that Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is supporting that funding in a Fiscal Year 2022 infrastructure bill, along with other Vermont projects, and that members of Leahy’s office staff were also optimistic the funding would be approved.

The money would be dedicated toward upgrading the city’s Macdonough Drive pump station. That station handles wastewater from all of the city east of Otter Creek and pumps it under the river to the treatment plant on the far side. Historically it can be overwhelmed during heavy rains, often dumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of stormwater — which also includes untreated sewage — into nearby Otter Creek.

Many other components of the city sewer collection and treatment also require work, including upgrades or replacements for aging collection lines, some of which are still clay pipes, and a number of improvements to the treatment plant itself.

Redmond confirmed to the Independent last week the total price tag is expected to be around $25 million, with the exact amount yet to be determined.

The city expects to hold a bond vote in the fall, with the amount from citizens to be determined by how much state and federal funding Vergennes can obtain.

Again, city officials are optimistic more support is on the way that will keep costs to city taxpayers at a reasonable level.

Redmond said he is working with Leahy’s office on two more requests, and the city has applied for Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development branch funding as well as state support.

The fact Vergennes has a plan in hand as well as a demonstrated need — the city has been operating under state and federal orders to fix the overflow problem for almost three decades — works in its favor, Redmond said.

“We’re very hopeful. We have the advantage of having a project that is teed up,” he said, adding that much of the available federal funding is targeted to resolve wastewater issues.

Leahy’s request for funding for the Vergennes sewer project came in a June 24 letter to the leadership of the Senate Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Committee on Appropriations. Leahy requested the $3 million be included as one of a number of Vermont projects in the Fiscal Year 2022 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies bill.

The description of the purpose of the funding read that it “will support a pump station upgrade for the City of Vergennes’ wastewater treatment facility, contributing to a system-wide overhaul that will prevent sanitary sewer overflow discharges during rain and snow melt events. The improvements will support improved water quality, aquatic habitat, and public health in the Otter Creek and Lake Champlain by reducing or eliminating sewage overflows and improving stormwater infrastructure.”

If all goes well, Redmond said, work on the system upgrade could begin next spring at the Macdonough Drive pump station and then move on to other elements. The entire project will take at least two years, he said.

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