MANCHESTER -- A meeting for public comment held by the Agency of Natural Resources Monday at the Park House regarding the indirect discharge permit application by the Aeolus Mountain Spa was steeped in detail and contention, and as the meeting progressed, ANR officials seemed frustrated and at times exasperated with the comments and questions being posed.

The spa developers hope to construct an 80-room hotel and spa complex with a 160-seat restaurant to the east of Route 7A north of Manchester. The project is awaiting approval for an Act 250 permit from the ANR.

There was light attendance at a site visit Tuesday evening at the proposed location of the spa on Route 7 across from the town offices. Frank Parent, engineer for the project, explained the indirect discharge process and showed attendees where the leach field would be located.

There are two full systems that will be built for the project and switched every year, he said.

"In a regular system organic material will build up over time," Parent said. "By allowing a year off, the naturally occurring microbes in the soil can eat down anything that builds up. It just keeps the system healthy for a long time."

The public meeting was attended by nearly 40 people. Before comments were taken, Parent gave an overview of the project and addressed the average daily flow.

The system is designed with a sewer line, complete with an 8,000-gallon grease trap from the kitchen, leading away from the hotel to two septic tanks. The first tank is 12,000 gallons and the second is 4,000, Parent said. From there, the waste water will travel through an effluent filter and a recirculating filter that pre-treats the water before it travels to the leach field.

The average daily flow for the project is set at 19,998 gallons per day. Parent said that when the numbers are broken out for how much water will be used by the hotel, restaurant or spa guest, the calculation assumes each entity is at maximum capacity. So instead of one person staying in the hotel and using the amenities, the numbers assume it is three separate people, he said.

"The actual flow we are going to be seeing will be less than these numbers," he said.

After Parent’s explanation, not much support for the project was voiced. Many commenters asked that the permit be denied on the grounds of protecting the Batten Kill.

Dick Smith, a resident of Manchester, wanted to know why the Batten Kill was not being tested and insisted that this project would degrade the river.

"The only way to establish if the waters are being degraded is to have them tested," he said.

Smith said that information he has from the ANR reads that the Batten Kill is being degraded and the only way to solve this is through on-site testing.

John Akielaszek, of the ANR, said that the water tests are based on all streams.

"It’s [water quality tests] linked to the Vermont Statutes ... that will state that you can’t allow a significant alteration to the aquatic biota [basis of the food chain for the animals in the stream]," he said. "The chemistry is a surrogate for looking at the aquatic biota and before you have a discharge you can’t look at the biota, so you have to have a theoretical basis."

"I think you should definitely look into connecting to the public water system especially if it’s less cost," said Jackie Jordan.

Parent and Craig Heindel, the hydrologist on the project, said he didn’t think connecting this project to the town sewer was the best idea.

"That’s a straight shot to the sewer treatment plant, yes there is treatment there but not to the degree that this gravel soil provides in the 1,000 feet of travel from the waste water toward the Batten Kill," he said. "There’s a tremendous amount of polishing, if you might call it that, of nutrient removal and other things that get removed. Both systems discharge to the Batten Kill."

Heindel said this system is indirect, where the water travels eventually to the Batten Kill through the ground, where as the town system is a direct discharge, where the waste water flows from the water treatment plant into the Batten Kill via a pipe. The water, once it has been cleaned through the system before it reaches the ground water, will take another five or six months to reach the Batten Kill, he said. 

This additional time will remove even more effluent.

"I live here, this is just as important to me to maintain the quality of Vermont in general, but my own, selfishly, my neighborhood," said Parent.

Public comment will be accepted for 10 days following the meeting. The ANR will release a document with answers to each question after all the comments have been received. This permit is required before an Act 250 permit can be issued.