If you weren't able to make it to the 9/13 informational meeting at the Westford School, there is now a recording available for viewing, courtesy of LCATV: https://lcatv.org/westford-wastewater-information-2023-09-13
Also, here's the slide deck that was used during the presentation: https://www.westfordsfuture.com/uploads/1/3/8/4/138498261/_vermont_westford_community_presentation_for_presentation_9-13-23__3_.pdf
There will be another informational meeting on October 18th from 6:30-8:30pm at Westford School, containing the same presentation and another opportunity to ask questions ahead of the November bond vote. More event info can be found here: www.westfordsfuture.com/events.html.
The moment we all have been patiently waiting for! The final project design was completed in August, and this allowed for project costs to come into focus. The selectboard also recently settled on a maximum bond amount of up to $400,000, which allowed the calculation of costs for users connected to the system, and taxpayers. Here are the costs, and the funds received from grants:
Estimated Total Project Cost: $3,867,000
Maximum Bonded Debt: $400,000
Town’s Annual Bond Cost: $17,860 (Starts in 2027)
Town's Estimated Annual Total Obligation After User Fees:
$64,000 in 2027 (Town Share of Bond Repayment + O&M)
Estimated Monthly Fee per Typical User in System Area:
Single family - $89.74/month or $1,077/year in 2027 (Bond + O&M)
One bedroom apartment - $38.46/month or $462/year (Bond + O&M)
Estimated Taxpayer impact:
$24 per year per $100,000 property value in 2027 = $2/month
$72 per year per $300,000 property value in 2027 = $6/month
Awarded Grant/Subsidy Funding:
VT Clean Water State Revolving Fund: $269,525
Northern Borders Regional Commission/Economic Development Administration: $466,194
State American Rescue Plan Act Funding: $2,377,136
Local American Rescue Plan Act Funding: $150,000
Community Recovery & Revitalization Program: $757,472
Total - $4,020,327
Ledge probing was successfully conducted the week of June 19th and the engineering team at Stone Environmental will be analyzing the data to refine the layout and path of the underground piping in the proposed service area as it leads from the Common area to the in-ground drip dispersal field in the North East Corner of Maple Shade Town Forest (see Google Earth Image below, showing the general area of the disposal field, indicated by arrow pointing to the mowed outline in the field). This information is key to estimating the cost to construct and long-term operation and maintenance cost estimates. Due to Statutory requirements, to enable a November 7, 2023 vote; time for formulating bond language and providing the required time of Public Warning and public meetings and hearings will require this information by mid-August. The Planning Commission and the Selectboard will be monitoring progress through July, aiming to achieve the goal.
Stone Environmental Inc will begin processing the information collected in May and June with ongoing follow-up with potential users.
The Planning Commission and the Selectboard are working collaboratively on creating language for a proposed bond, creating language for a proposed ordinance, and refining cost and funding estimates, all with the hope of being able to have a bond vote in November. Additional information will be forthcoming in the next couple of months as it develops. The Wastewater Outreach Committee has proposed a communication schedule for a number of public engagement opportunities that align with the time-frame of the anticipated design and cost information taking shape in Mid-August and holding a vote in November. More information to come.
Ledge investigations within the potential wastewater system service area are tentatively scheduled for the week of June 19th.
Why is this happening?
This work is being conducted to determine the depth of bedrock in specific areas.
How do ledge investigations work?
This work involves using a mini drill rig called a Geoprobe, which is mounted on a rubber tracked ATV unit. The Geoprobe will push a two-inch diameter probe into the ground until it reaches “refusal,” or the point where the probe hits a material that it cannot go through - bedrock.
Where will this work happen?
The bedrock probes will be advanced within the right of way along roads where the collection system is proposed to run.
Will any work be done on private property?
If site specific information outside of the right of way is required, Stone Environmental Inc. will contact the individual property owners in advance to request permission to use the geoprobe on their properties.
Is there any noise, traffic, or earth disturbance?
The bedrock probes create minimal earth disturbance but do create noise. For this reason, ledge probes are scheduled for later in June to avoid creating noise during school times, and to prevent creating delays around Westford School drop-off and pick-up times.
Where can I get information?
For information regarding the Community Wastewater Project, please refer to the FAQs at westfordsfuture.com. This website has answers to commonly asked questions about the Community Wastewater Project and is updated as information becomes available.
Residents may submit questions by attending a Planning Commission meeting or emailing the Commission at email@example.com. You may also contact Melissa Manka, Town Planner, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (802) 878.4587 for accurate information on what is happening, when, and how questions will be addressed.
Engineering and studies for the Community Wastewater Project will be re-starting this April. The Town has executed contracts with Stone Environmental, Inc. and Birchline Planning LLC to resume the study and design work necessary to present a plan and costs to the community. Ultimately, public information meetings and hearings will be held, leading up to a bond vote, once the design and project costs are more defined.
The first steps the community can expect to see happening starting in April are:
As engineering progresses this spring, the Wastewater Outreach Advisory Committee will implement a communications plan to ensure there are effective, appropriate opportunities to ask questions in a forum where information can be exchanged. In the meantime, we ask residents for their patience as we gather information. We would like to remind everyone that this project is at the beginning of the design phase. Please be assured that well in advance of a town-wide vote (late summer/ early fall), additional information and hearings will be provided in order to answer questions and allow for an informed bond vote.
The next phase of the community wastewater project is about to begin! The Selectboard has approved the contracts with Stone Environmental, Inc., and Birchline Planning, LLC. Outreach to property owners in the service territory for potential connection will begin early this Spring. This next phase is to conduct further analysis, refine and update the cost estimate, and develop final designs.
This will enable the Town to answer specific questions such as:
• What are the anticipated costs;
• How will ledge along Brookside Road be handled;
• What will the final design look like;
• How does drip dispersal work?
The Town will also be able to begin developing a sewer ordinance that would be adopted by the Select Board after a successful bond vote. The ordinance will establish how capacity is allocated, how connection and user fees are calculated, and the process for property owners in the service territory to connect to the system.
The Wastewater Outreach Advisory Committee will be working in March with the Town’s Consultants and the Planning Commission on a Communication Plan to provide timely information and further promote community engagement and discussion, with the goal of having a well-informed electorate. Information about the project can be found at https://www.westfordsfuture.com. An anticipated bond vote will occur no sooner than November of 2023.
The consultants of Stone Environmental, Inc., and Birchline Planning LLC have been working with the Town for many years, exploring solutions for our highly constrained soils in the center of Town and we’re very fortunate to have such expertise and guidance. We’re pleased to introduce our consulting team members:
Amy Macrellis and Peter Lazorchak of Stone Environmental, Inc.
Stone Environmental is a 100% employee-owned environmental science, engineering, and field services firm located in Montpelier, Vermont. Stone’s capabilities include environmental assessment and remediation, water resources management, natural resources engineering and design, environmental modeling, agrochemical fate and exposure, data quality assessments, and geospatial analysis, data visualization, and application development.
Amy is a Senior Water Quality Specialist at Stone Environmental, where she has over two decades of experience with wastewater and stormwater management projects, policy development, community wastewater needs assessments and feasibility studies, and applied water quality research projects. She “grew up” on decentralized wastewater feasibility and demonstration projects and remains committed to providing safe, sanitary wastewater treatment for Vermont’s unsewered villages. In addition to managing wastewater needs and feasibility studies, Amy provides permitting and regulatory compliance support for villages both devoted and lucky enough to have soil-based wastewater treatment systems in operation. Since the early 2000s, she has led or supported hydrogeologic investigations for the design, permitting, and construction of a wide variety of soil-based treatment practices for stormwater and wastewater systems. Amy has been working with the Westford Planning Commission, residents, and a variety of consultants on various wastewater treatment-related efforts for our Town Center since 2007.
Peter is the leader of Stone’s Water Resources Management Group, and a civil and environmental engineer with over 20 years’ experience in the consulting industry. His areas of expertise include wastewater treatment and disposal, stormwater management, land use planning, and navigating local, state, and federal permitting processes. Peter has designed hundreds of soil-based wastewater systems, ranging from single-family systems to large community and commercial systems. Through innovative thinking, perseverance, and solid interpersonal skills, he has a track record of advancing challenging projects. He recently served on the Indirect Discharge Technical Advisory Committee assisting the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation with their regulation update. Peter is a licensed Professional Engineer in Vermont, a Vermont Class B Licensed Designer, and a LEED Accredited Professional.
Juli Beth (JB) Hinds of Birchline Planning LLC.
JB is the principal of Birchline Planning LLC, a sole proprietorship based in one of her two hometowns, Waterbury, VT. She has been around Vermont her whole life, growing up partly in Waterbury and partly in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. How long, you ask? Well, she remembers well when Sears first opened on Shelburne Road. JB is a planner by training with a bachelor’s in Economics from Hollins College, Virginia’s first chartered college for women, and a Master of City and Regional Planning from Rutgers University. JB was the Executive Director of the Mad River Valley Planning District from 1997 through 2000. In January 2001 she became Director of Planning and Zoning for the City of South Burlington, Vermont, where her responsibilities also included developing and managing Vermont's first storm water utility. Birchline Planning LLC was founded in 2012 to support “Great Waters and Great Communities.” JB is proud to work with cities and towns throughout Vermont on wastewater, stormwater, land use, zoning, and strategic planning. She has notably supported the Valley towns and Sugarbush as a consultant, working for many years with the Stone Environmental team on the successful construction of wastewater systems to serve Warren Village and Irasville (that’s where Lawson’s Finest Liquids Brewery is). JB is honored to be working on Westford’s Future, supporting the team on the financial projections, grants management, ordinance development, and public communications tasks.
Within the last few weeks, several positive developments have occurred to move the community wastewater project forward and closer to a bond vote, which is anticipated to occur in November 2023, at the earliest. In a nutshell, engineering design of the system and detailed cost estimation is expected to begin in earnest this February and continue through the spring and summer, so the community will have the information needed to make an informed decision on the proposed system.
On January 13, 2023, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) issued the long awaited Finding of No Significant (Environmental) Impact and Facilities Plan Approval letter (https://www.westfordsfuture.com/uploads/1/3/8/4/138498261/ww_facility_plan_letter_1.13.23.pdf). The Facilities Plan letter states the ANR Water Investment Division has reviewed the Preliminary Engineering Report, Supplemental Preliminary Engineering Report, Environmental Information Document, Environmental Report and other related documents (https://www.westfordsfuture.com/resources.html) and they agree, following review and consultation with other Vermont agencies, that (1) The project qualifies for a Finding of No Significant Impact, and (2) Environmental conditions in the project area have been identified and acceptable mitigation measures have been proposed. These findings enable the project to move forward to engineering design and cost estimation.
The Facilities Plan represents a foundational ‘check’ on the assumptions around population, non-residential activity to be served, projected design flows, and robustness of the technologies Westford has proposed. The Facilities Plan Approval letter represents a fundamental endorsement by ANR that the basic engineering and planning assumptions are sound, allowing a system to be designed using these assumptions, and that the project is ready to proceed with design. Importantly, this also confirms and continues the Town’s eligibility for CWSRF and other federal and state funding. ANR also reviewed and approved an Amended Step 2 Engineering Services Agreement (ESA) between the Town and Stone Environmental, Inc., and a Professional Services Agreement between the Town and Birchline Planning. Upon execution of the above agreements and an amended Step 2 Clean Water State Revolving Fund application by the Selectboard and ANR, the Town’s consultants will be able to conduct further analysis, refine and update the cost estimate, and develop final designs for the community wastewater system.
This will enable the Town to answer specific questions people have been asking, such as:
• What are the anticipated costs;
• How will ledge along Brookside Road be handled;
• What will the final design look like;
• How does drip dispersal work; and
• When will additional outreach to property owners occur;
The Town will also be able to discuss and develop a sewer ordinance that would take effect once a system is approved for construction through the Bond Vote. The ordinance determines how capacity would be allocated, outlines how connection and user fees would be calculated, and provides information about connecting to the system.
The Planning Commission anticipates contracts with Stone Environmental, Inc., and Birchline Planning will be approved and executed by mid to late February. The Planning Commission will provide regular updates as they become available.
It’s been quite a while since we’ve delivered an update on the Community Wastewater Project. Several months ago, we told you about the closure of Green Mountain Engineering, and the Town’s need to secure a new engineering team to carry the project forward. We are happy to report that we have a commitment from Stone Environmental, Inc. of Montpelier to lead the engineering work and continue their other critical work on the project. Stone’s Engineering Services Agreement (ESA) is not yet fully executed, but the Town is working to achieve that goal by January of 2023.
Here are some updates on where the project stands and the new timeline that is in place.
Finding of No Significant Impact:
As part of the October 17th Planning Commission meeting, Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (VT DEC) held a public hearing on the Notice of Intent to Issue a Finding of No Significant Impact (NOI-FONSI) for the Westford wastewater system. This positive and crucial environmental review step, which is required for all projects that use Clean Water State Revolving Funds, means that the state has determined that the planned project has minimal impact on the natural environment in the proposed project/service area. Here’s an excerpt from the first page of the FONSI:
“The project has positive environmental impacts including the decommissioning of individual onsite residential septic systems in proximity to private and public drinking water wells in the Westford Village area, some of which have historically failed, or are currently failing, or are past useful life.
This project will create a new discharge to groundwater. Appropriate design, construction, and operation of the community wastewater indirect discharge disposal system will mitigate potential impacts to groundwater. The proposed disposal system will be subject to the Indirect Discharge Rules in effect at the time an application for an indirect discharge permit is submitted.”
To read the full report, click this link: https://anrweb.vt.gov/DEC/IronPIG/DownloadFile.aspx?DID=196908&DVID=0
VT DEC will respond to comments received on the FONSI; make a final determination; and issue the finalized FONSI formally no earlier than the end of the 30 day public comment period (which ended on November 13). Once the FONSI is formally issued, VT DEC will combine the Environmental Information Document (EID) and Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) and issue a Facility Plan Approval. This will officially close the Step I project phase and allow the Town to be reimbursed by the state for all eligible costs incurred to date.
Once these crucial phases are complete, and the State and Selectboard approve and execute the ESA, Stone Environmental, Inc. can begin Step II engineering and design. Step II design will provide the detailed engineering and cost estimates needed for the wastewater system, along with allied services including property owner outreach, detailed bedrock depth evaluations, and development of a wastewater ordinance to govern a system if and when it is constructed. To put it simply, Step II design is how we get closer to understanding project components, costs, the specific layout of the system, situations for individual property owners, and town policies. This information will inform the language of the bond vote to be presented to taxpayers and voters in 2023.
A Bond Vote:
A bond vote is anticipated in the fall of 2023 at the earliest. We understand that this is quite a ways away, and that this project has taken much longer than anticipated to get to this point. But in order to properly estimate the costs and understand the system’s details, we needed to get over many hurdles including pandemic delays, our original engineering team closing up shop, and backlogs with the State. Additionally, under Vermont law, there is a period of a minimum 10 weeks from the Selectboard’s first receipt of the proposed amount of the bond vote until the actual vote occurs, during which there are several public meetings and hearings. It’s vital that we understand the costs and implications before bringing to a vote - the town needs the facts and details in order to make an informed decision together.
As always, the best way to get up to date information and project details is to visit the Wastewater project website www.westfordsfuture.com. The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page has just been updated with the latest info about the project: http://www.westfordsfuture.com/faq.html
The Planning Commission thought it would be helpful to detail everything that's been done and spent on the project to date:
Westford Community Wastewater Project
Planning Grants, Construction Grants, and Town Expenditures:
January 1, 2007 - February 14, 2022
Planning Grants and Town Expenditures:
• 2007-2008 Planning Advance: The Town received a “planning advance” from the State of Vermont to fund the first Feasibility Study. This Feasibility Study determined the status of existing wastewater systems and completed a desktop identification of suitable soils for a community wastewater system in the Town Center Area. The Feasibility Study also included
recommendations for securing and utilizing grandfathered systems in the Town Center Area. The planning advance consisted of $15,000 in State funds which is normally repaid by inclusion in the bond amount if the system is constructed. However, the State recently proposed zeroing out this loan with a Pollution Control Grant if the system is constructed. There is no payback requirement if a community system is not constructed.
• 2012-2013: Town General Fund: The Town spent $673 to investigate the soils and existing wastewater system at the Spiller property. This data was critical during discussions with the Agency of Natural Resources to secure the “grandfathered” system capacity that now serves the Westford Country Store and Café.
• 2013-2014 Municipal Planning Grant & Planning Commission Special Project Funds: The Town received a $10,715 municipal planning grant. The majority of this grant was used to update the zoning bylaws for the Town Center Area, specifically developing the Form Based Code. A small portion ($1,999) was used for soil testing of municipal and community owned properties identified in 2007-2008 to investigate possible suitability for onsite wastewater. The local match requirement was $120 paid from Planning Commission Special Project Funds. The Town’s knowledge of soil conditions at the Town Office, Town Common, Brick Meeting House, and Common Hall is a result of this investigation.
• 2015-2016 Municipal Planning Grant& Planning Commission Special Project Funds: The Town secured an additional Municipal Planning Grant to investigate the soils at the Jackson Property, now known as the Maple Shade Town Forest. This involved a $15, 826 grant with $2,608 a local match requirement paid from Planning Commission Special Project Funds.
• 2017-2018 General Fund: The Town purchased a legal easement to place a proposed valve vault and dosing station on private property across the road from the proposed future wastewater area. The total cost was $5,893.
• 2018-2019 Planning Commission Special Project Funds: The Town spent $7,105 to further investigate suitable soils at the Jackson Property and develop conceptual wastewater plans. This investigation was funded from Planning Commission Special Projects Funds.
• 2020-2021 Step 1 Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund: The Town received “Step 1” approval to fund a Preliminary Engineering Report and Environmental Information Document which are required to receive additional State and Federal funding. The total cost was $39,050, with 50% ($19,525) funded by the State. The remaining $19,525 has been rolled into the Step 2 Clean Water Revolving Loan (see below) and will be rolled into the total bond/grant amount if the system is constructed. If the system is not constructed this amount will be repaid per the amortization schedule from Planning Commission Special Project Funds.
• 2021-2022 Step 2 Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund: The Town received “Step 2” approval to fund final design, permitting, and other engineering necessary for an informed bond vote. The total project cost $250,531. The first $125,000 is structured as a fully “forgivable loan” with no payback requirements regardless of whether or not the system is constructed. At the recommendation of the Planning Commission, the Selectboard specifically directed that no part of the remaining cost be incurred prior to receiving additional funding or a positive bond vote.
Construction Grant Funding:
• 2021 Northern Borders Regional Commission/Economic Development Administration: The Town has been awarded a $466,194 grant from the Northern Borders Regional Commission/Economic Development Administration for construction of the system.
• 2022 State of Vermont Pollution Control Grant: The Town has informally been offered a $15,000 Pollution Control Grant in order to zero out the Planning Advance received in 2007- 2008. Confirmation of said award would occur upon submission of a Step 3 Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund application for construction.
• 2022 State of Vermont American Recuse Plan Act: The State of Vermont has notified the Town that the State will award up to $2,377,136 in American Recuse Plan Act funds dedicated to village wastewater solutions. The details of this grant are still being worked out at the State level and additional information will be provided when available.
Since 2007, the Town has spent $16,399 in town funds in order to leverage $174,622 in state grants. The grant money was used to investigate potential solutions to long standing wastewater challenges in the Town Center Area. The Town has recently secured over $2.4 million in construction grants.
The Planning Commission is happy to report that the State of Vermont has committed funding of no less than $2,377,136 for the Westford Community Wastewater Project. This is the largest grant the Town has ever been awarded and is more than we had expected - even Governor Scott mentioned this commitment to Westford in his State of the State Address! (https://governor.vermont.gov/press-release/governor-phil-scott-delivers-2022-state-state-address)
This significant State investment will greatly improve affordability for the Town and system users. And this funding is on top of Northern Borders Regional Commission grant already awarded in the fall of 2021. Congratulations to our Town!
Stay tuned for more updates through the coming weeks and months.
header photo by Amber Haller
News and updates about the Wasterwater Project from the Planning Commission and Outreach team.