BENNINGTON -- The Select Board voted unanimously Monday to go ahead with a new water project plan that is 10 percent cheaper than the one voters rejected on Town Meeting Day.
Board members Thomas Jacobs and John McFadden were absent.
The new plan is similar to the $3.3 million one defeated in March, only it costs about $320,000 less. The original plan involved a 750,000-gallon water tank being built on the campus of Southern Vermont College. A pump station would be built at the bottom of the hill and connected to the tower. The college would pay for part of the project and go on the town water supply.
After the $3.3 million bond was defeated, the town asked MSK Engineering to come up with new proposals. Engineer Jason Dolmetsch spoke to the board Monday to talk about two new plans.
Option two, the 10 percent cheaper one, involves running the line from the pump station directly to the tower across SVC's campus. In the original scheme it followed a road. He said this option was not taken the first time because accessing the line for future maintenance would be more difficult.
Bennington Water Superintendent Terry Morse said he would not expect major repairs to be needed on the main line for another 40 to 50 years.
The third option, Dolmetsch said, saved the town a small amount of money and shifted more of the cost share to the college. The college rejected this option, he said.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said it is the recommendation of Town Clerk Timothy Corcoran that if the board wishes to go for another bond vote, that it do so in September. At a previous meeting, Hurd said July was a possibility, but the later date gives the board more time to explain its rationale to voters.
Dolmetsch said the water tower is needed at a certain elevation to handle water pressure issues in the south end of town, especially when there are large fires that drain the system. He said the state has mandated this problem be solved, or attempts to solve it be made, by 2018.
The state has also put pressure on the college to switch to town water. SVC currently uses wells, which it has tested. By partnering with the town in a cost share plan, both parties benefit, according to Hurd. The town, by partnering with SVC, gets priority on a state loan program which offers a lower interest rate and does not require payment until the project's completion.
To that end, the board approved borrowing $66,000 from the state for the planning aspect of this project. The board had held off on approving the borrowing, not wanting to make the decision before voters had their say on the bond vote. Hurd said by agreeing to borrow this money, the town stays on the priority list.
He said payments for the engineering have been coming out of the water fund. If the voters approve the bond the next time, the loan will not have to be paid back until the project is completed, same for the bond itself.
Board member Justin Corcoran asked who would pay if the bond fails. Hurd said a conversation would have to be had with the state about that, but those not on the water system would not be obligated.
Critics of the first project said water rates have risen significantly in recent years and that it is not fair to make only rate payers foot the bill. They also took issue with how much SVC agreed to contribute.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.