Tuesday December 11, 2012

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A complete overhaul of the town's aging wastewater treatment system will cost about $17 million, a consultant told the Select Board Monday. The town is likely to move forward in the coming years with a more modest plan, however.

Wayne Elliott, a vice president with the Essex Junction-based engineering firm Aldrich & Elliott, presented his findings to the board Monday following an in-depth study of the system. His recommendation and implementation plan included needed upgrades of sewer lines, manholes, pump stations and the wastewater treatment plant. The study found several components within the aging system to be in poor condition.

The system was constructed in the 1960s, with an upgrade installed in 1985. A compost facility was added in 1990, and rebuilt in 2004 following a fire.

According to Elliott, the upgrades in 1985 were expected to last for about 20 years. Those previous upgrades are now beyond that. Still, not everything must be replaced immediately, Elliott said.

"When I'm talking about the 20-year kind of cutoff, that's really the equipment," he said. "I've done many of these 20-year evaluations, and at the 20th year, it's not going to quit on you."

In fact, most systems last up to 30 years, Elliott said. However, when components start to break, systems usually experience "very, very quick deterioration," he said.

"Do you really want to pump money into something that's 25 years old and you've gotten its useful life out of it?" Elliott said.

The total cost of all recommended repairs and upgrades is $17.35 million, including $12.75 million in construction, according to Elliott. That price tag includes upgrades to all identified deficiencies. But, the town could opt for a less aggressive plan because it has diligently replaced much of its equipment. Many other towns are facing upgrades costing between $25 and $30 million, he said.

"I can't stress enough that the town has been very good about replacing equipment out there and because of that you're in better shape than you could be," Elliott said.

The less aggressive plan would bring the cost down significantly. That plan would cost the town about $12.9 million, including $10 million in construction. However, that would leave some work still to be completed.

"These other things in the project still need to be done. They don't go away and fall off the radar," he said.

Current ratepayers in Bennington pay about $300 per year for the sewer system. Elliott said the cost of the cheaper upgrade plan would raise rates about $45 to $50 per quarter.

"That's actually very low compared to the statewide average which is about $450," he said of the town's current rate.

The project cost would rise about $500,000 each year after 2014 that the project does not begin because of expected increases in construction costs. If a bond vote was held in March, a final design could be completed a year later, with construction beginning in June 2014, according to Elliott.

Town officials said such an aggressive timeline is unlikely, however. Bennington Town Manager Stuart A. Hurd told the Select Board he was "not prepared tonight to give you a direction."

"I don't think we're prepared to go to a bond vote in March of 2013," Hurd said. "I think, realistically, we probably are looking at March 2014 to put a project before the voters. What the project is at this point I couldn't even tell you."

Select Board Vice Chairwoman Sharyn Brush, filling in for absent Chairman Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr., noted the town still has unanswered financing questions regarding emergency restoration work completed after Tropical Storm Irene. The town is seeking about $4.2 million in reimbursement for that work from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"I certainly would like to see us get past this FEMA thing before we move forward," Brush said.