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
header photo by Amber Haller
News and updates about the Wasterwater Project from the Planning Commission and Outreach team.