Op/Ed

Editorial: The only vote for Little City’s $25M sewer bond is ‘yes’

ANGELO LYNN

Vergennes residents have known for a long time they need to replace their city’s antiquated wastewater treatment facility. They know it’s six decades old, and parts of it much older. They know when there are heavy rains it dumps untreated sewage from the Macdonough Drive pump station directly into the Otter Creek, which flows directly into Lake Champlain. Residents know they are one of the main offenders of such water pollution into Otter Creek and into the lake. They also know they’re number’s up: the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a strict order in April 2018 to have a Long-Term Control Plan by October 2019 — a deadline the city missed for the past two years, but lenience within the DEC will only last so long. The problem must be fixed.

To that end, a $25.5 million bond vote is before Vergennes residents for a March 1, Town Meeting Day vote.

Amazingly, half of that cost — a full $12.25 million — will be covered by federal and state grants and loan funds. Part of those funds are the one-time extra revitalization funds from the American Rescue Plan Act passed under President Biden to stimulate the economy after the first year of the pandemic.

Furthermore, if the bond vote passes, that sets up Vergennes to be in line for more federal and state aid from matching grants that could add even more money from outside coffers. So the projected $12.25 million that will be paid by local residents through annual sewer rates, might well be reduced even more.

What’s unique about this bond vote is the opportunity to have such a high percentage of a large project paid for with state and federal money. Let this opportunity pass them by, and Vergennes residents would almost certainly pay a far greater percentage of any solution down the road — and, residents might face fines from the DEC, along with many other headaches, as well as continue to pollute the Otter Creek and Lake Champlain.

It is, in short, a no-brainer for city residents.

A vote to pass the bond is the only option that makes sense.

But let’s go a step further: if city residents pass it with a resounding “YES,” that sends a great message about a city on the upswing.

It says the residents of this community are willing to do the right things to clean up an age-old problem with a city facility that is causing unwanted pollution. It says the city wants to provide up-to-date facilities for their residents and all newcomers — whether residential or commercial. Couple this move with the momentum to reduce truck traffic in the downtown, and you have a city poised for resurgence and increased vitality for years to come.

The goal, then, is not just to say yes to the bond vote, but to pass it in overwhelming numbers.

And city residents should.

The city council, mayor and city manager have worked overtime to make the public aware of all the ins and outs of this project. They’ve explained thoroughly why the plant needs such an extensive overhaul; they engaged top-notch professionals to engineer solutions that will work well into the future; and they’ve done it in a transparent way by putting volumes of information up on the city’s website for all to see, study and discuss.

Is there more to be done? Surely. Mayor Mathew Chabot told us the other day that given another $10 million to $20 million, they would have proposed a system that separated the storm water from the wastewater treatment system — but, in reality, that wasn’t going to happen and the system proposed will solve the problem and be adequate for decades, all while keeping sewer rates reasonable.

The sewer rate increases, by the way, if the bond is passed, will be phased in over four years so residents can adjust to the higher rates gradually. And, as has been said numerous times, city residents have been paying among the lowest rates in the state for decades, and even after the projected increases Vergennes ratepayers still be paying the average sewer fees seen throughout Vermont.

If you’re a Vergennes resident, you know a vote for the bond is the right thing to do to stop unwanted pollution. You know this is a price (because of the federal aid) that will never be more reasonable. You know that if it’s passed now, the city may be in line for more grants toward the project. And, you know it sends a powerful message of resurgence and optimism about The Little City’s future.

Vote “yes” for the $25.5 million bond this coming Tuesday, March 1.

Angelo Lynn

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