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.
Because of two important developments in December, the Planning Commission has concluded that at this time it is prudent to delay a bond vote on the proposed wastewater project. There will not be a bond vote on the wastewater project at March 2022 Town Meeting, for two reasons.
First, the State of Vermont has yet to make its formal commitment of funding to the Town of Westford. The State has dedicated ARPA and Village Wastewater funding in hand. In the fall, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources stated in its public presentation that Westford would be one of the two communities (along with Montgomery) receiving FY22 funds. Between the pandemic and other delays at the State, the full commitment has not been made. Without the specifics of this commitment, we cannot calculate the cost to taxpayers or system users.
Second, the Town has new – and unexpected - options for the design of the leach field at the Maple Shade Town Forest. In the course of the regular, planned engineering evaluation of soil conditions at the site last November, the engineering team found the soils are significantly better-suited for effective wastewater treatment than we anticipated. This has important implications for design, the need for pre-treatment, and costs. Our engineering team and the Town need time to fully understand and choose the best design option for the community.
The Planning Commission will be moving forward with the community wastewater project in a transparent way, continuing to keep the community informed and engaged as the new engineering options are evaluated. As financial information comes in from the State, we will work with the Selectboard on taxpayer implications and user rates. The public information meeting previously scheduled for February 8th will be rescheduled to a later date when a complete picture of the engineering and financial options can be presented. While we do not yet know when a bond vote will occur, we anticipate the vote will occur on or before election day in November 2022.
November and December have been busy months for the community wastewater project. Project information is always available at www.westfordsfuture.com. Here are some updates on specific aspects of the project:
Funding Commitments: The Town is still waiting to receive word from the State of Vermont on American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to be allocated to the Westford Community Wastewater Project. Things are looking very positive, but the pandemic and other factors have delayed hearing about a finalized award. As soon as we learn more, we will update residents on the results.
Engineering Progress: You may have seen the engineering team from Green Mountain Engineering (Alan Huizenga, Brad Washburn, and Alex Huizenga) visiting property owners in and around the Town Common. They have verified building plumbing and exits, which is essential information for final design engineering for those properties who would choose– voluntarily – to connect to a community system. Based on responses to the service area property owner survey and meetings with the engineering team, 19 of the 34 eligible parcels in the service area plan to connect to the system, and another 7 are considering whether to connect.
Maple Shade Town Forest Leach Field Evaluation: You also may have seen a drill rig on the Jackson Farm property during the week of November 7th. As a normal and required part of the engineering design process, a drill rig took soil borings and conducted large-scale hydraulic tests of the proposed leach field (wastewater disposal) area on the Maple Shade Town Forest property. This involves taking soil borings to establish the depth to clay layers and bedrock underneath the disposal field, pumping water into the ground, and taking readings at a monitoring well to assess how much wastewater can be applied safely. The testing found that the leach field area has very deep, well-drained soils, with 34’ depth to bedrock and no groundwater. This is excellent news for the, effectiveness, and safety of the site’s use as a wastewater disposal site. It means that the area can safely manage projected system effluent in a way that is protective of groundwater, and protective of nearby properties and wells and will have superior resiliency and longevity. It further establishes that securing the property of the Maple Shade Forest in which this site is located provides for many long-term benefits to the Town and its residents. Additional engineering evaluation and design will now be prepared and reviewed with State regulators to determine a final capacity number and site layout.
A public informational meeting on the community wastewater system is scheduled for Tuesday, February 8th, from 6:30-8:30pm at Westford School. Hybrid attendance options will be available. Full information about this event can be found at https://www.westfordsfuture.com/events.html.
During the week of November 14th, additional engineering investigations were conducted on the north-east section of Maple Shade Forest. Previous investigations used an excavator that can only reach approximately 14 feet deep. The new work included installing four new soil borings to further refine subsurface properties such as depth to bedrock and groundwater elevation. New monitoring wells were installed in the borings and further assessment of ground water will be conducted. This investigation work is 100% grant funded.
We asked the Consulting Engineer, Amy Macrellis of Stone Environmental, what she finds interesting about working in this section of Westford. This was her response: “What I love about the Maple Shade site is that it was once lakeshore property! Unfortunately for the Westford Town Common, it was under the lake…~13,500 years ago. The departing glaciers first gave Westford Glacial Lake Vermont, then took it away in stages as the ice sheets retreated north.
The Lake Vermont shores were relatively high-energy - think about the waves you might see on the modern Lake Champlain shoreline on a blustery day. Today, where those shores were, we see sands, gravels, and lots of nice bedding structures, all found during last week’s boring. On the map below, I marked where Westford was relative to the full extents of Lake Vermont, so you can maybe get some sense of how big Lake Vermont was… and for a cool (to me) animation created by Vermont DEC of how the glacial lakes formed and retreated, check out https//www.facebook.com/watch/?v=492996508035516"
On Sunday, November 21st, Westford residents were able to visit an existing in-ground leach field near Hillside Lane, off of North Road in Westford. This system has a similar capacity as the one proposed on Maple Shade. We want to thank the residents of Hillside Lane for allowing us to visit. We also want to thank Marty Scanlon and Terry Bosworth for taking time to share their perspectives of their community system and especially R.J. Moore for providing technical background and expertise to help answer questions from those present. More information about their community system can be found at https://www.wfd1.org/.
In September 2021, the Town of Westford was awarded a $466,194 grant by the Northern Borders Regional Commission (NBRC) and Economic Development Administration to support the Community Wastewater Project. These are competitive grants, and the NBRC grant is particularly competitive as it includes applications from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. This grant is one piece of a funding stack being developed by the town in order to affordably move the community wastewater project to construction, if approved by the voters.
The town was also granted a Step 2 State Clean Water Revolving Fund loan for $250,351 with $125,000 forgiven upon issuance. The remaining $125,351 will not be spent until such time as additional funds become available, such as state or local ARPA funds, or a bond vote occurs. These funds will be used for final design and permitting, which will make Westford the only town in the state with a shovel-ready proposal to develop a new community wastewater system in a village setting.
We owe a lot of gratitude to all those that worked on the grant applications, and especially Liz Curry, our Grant Writer. Great work, Liz! Additional grants are being pursued and we will share information as it becomes available.
In early September, the outreach group sent a questionnaire to 31 households and potential system users and received responses. We are still in the process of receiving responses and, so far, have received responses from half of the potential users. Here are the results of the questionnaire thus far:
● 34 properties are in the proposed sewer service area (PSSA).
● 31 property owners own structures in the PSSA .
● 51.61% of the property owners in the PSSA responded to the survey.
● 62.5% of respondents said they are interested in connecting to the system during construction.
● 18.75% of respondents said they may be interested in connecting to the system during construction.
● 18.75% of respondents said they are not interested in connecting to the system during construction.
Based on received responses, over 80% of respondents are interested or possibly interested in connecting to the proposed community wastewater system.
In November, the Planning Commission will be working with our Consultant, J.B. Hinds, regarding potential bond vote language and to review example sewer ordinances. The goal will be to provide very preliminary bond vote language to share with the Selectboard and the Town's attorney, as well as beginning to frame the principles and policies around the governance of a community wastewater system. Also in November, the Step 2 work described above will ramp up and is expected to continue through the winter and early spring.
Finally, the Community Wastewater Public Engagement Working Group will be coordinating a field trip for all interested residents to at least one existing community wastewater system that is similar to the proposed system for Westford. Please stay tuned for more information on when and where!
Thanks to all who were able to attend the informational meeting on Tuesday evening either in person or via zoom. We had 100 folks attend in total, which was great to see. A big thank you to Westford School folks for setup and tech support, as well as Lake Champlain Access Television for helping us have our very first large public hybrid meeting in town!
If you weren't able to attend, you can watch a recording of the meeting here:
Stay tuned for more announcements regarding further meetings, and please reach out to the Planning Commission with any questions or comments: https://www.westfordsfuture.com/contact.html
In September 2021, the Town of Westford was awarded a $466,194 grant by the Northern Borders Regional Commission (NBRC) and Economic Development Administration. These are competitive grants, and the NBRC grant is particularly competitive as it includes applications from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, and New York. This grant is one piece of a funding stack being developed by the Town in order to affordably move the community wastewater project to construction, if approved by the voters.
In September, we were also granted a Step 2 State Clean Water Revolving Fund loan for $250,351 with $125,000 forgiven upon issuance. The remaining $125,351 will not be spent until such time as additional funds become available, such as state or local ARPA funds, or a bond vote occurs. These funds will be used for final design and permitting, which will make Westford the only town in the state with a shovel-ready proposal to develop a new community wastewater system in a village setting.
-Melissa Manka, Westford Town Planner