BENNINGTON -- The town has plenty of time to mull a new water project proposal before the state mandates solving water pressure issues on the south end of town.
On Tuesday, voters said "no" to a $3.3 million water bond with only 914 voters supporting it and 1,269 opposed. The project included a 750,000-gallon water tower, and a pump station on Southern Vermont College's campus. The tank would solve water pressure issues in two neighborhoods, plus Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, meanwhile the college would have paid a portion of the bond and allowed the town access to lower interest rates through a state loan program.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said the town has until 2018 before the Agency of Natural Resources Water Quality Division will begin urging the town to solve the water pressure problems. The state will not shut down the system, but it is within its power to impose fines and prevent new hook-ups.
Hurd said he and Bennington Water Resources Superintendent Terry Morse plan to meet with engineers fairly soon to begin finding other solutions. He said whatever project they come up with will likely involve a water tower and a pump station. Bennington is in a valley and gets an excess of water pressure from one end of town, but keeping the pressure up on the other side has been challenging because there is no water tower there.
The only real cost variable is in the amount of water pipe being laid, so the ultimate price depends on what site the town can secure for the project.
Hurd said he does not think the project will be cheaper than the one proposed to voters Tuesday, nor will the interest rate on a bond be as attractive.
"The bond vote doesn't mean we just stop," he said. "We have to do this and I think the sooner we do it the better."
In any event, the town will once again have to make its case before voters. Hurd said he feels the public's perception was that the project mostly benefited Southern Vermont College. The town has not ruled out working with the college again on this project, but the college has its own water issues to deal with and must move forward sooner.
"Southern Vermont College thanks the voters who supported the Town Water Project. We still believe that partnering would have benefited the Town of Bennington, its citizens, and the college, and we regret that the project did not go further," wrote SVC President Karen Gross in an email. "The college has access to priority funding and has begun the process of addressing its water issues. I hope that there will be other opportunities for partnering with the town, for the benefit of all. We certainly welcome exploration of such opportunities in the future."
Hurd said in past interviews that the proposed bond would have been repaid at $230,000 per year with the town paying $180,000 of that. Rate payers would have seen an increase of roughly 8 percent on their water bills.
Those arguing against the bond, the most vocal of whom was resident and ratepayer Abby Shapiro, said water rates had already risen about 40 percent in the past three years. She also took issue with any registered voter being able to cast a ballot on the issue and not just ratepayers.
Getting others to pay for it would require a change to the town charter, said Hurd. In the 1980s the town decided that only the ratepayers would pay for the water system. He said Wednesday the charter can be changed back, however that is not a fast process and it requires approval from the state legislature.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.