Board balks at added sewer plant engineering costs

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BENNINGTON — Select Board members are pushing back against the state's requiring additional engineering services for the town-managed portion of the sewer plant project, which is expected to add $100,000.

Voters earlier this month approved borrowing $9.85 million for upgrades to the town's aging wastewater treatment facility. A $4.55 million portion of that work will be managed by town staff and the rest by a general contractor.

State environmental officials have asked for additional engineering oversight on the town's portion of the project, according to Town Manager Stuart Hurd. The state feels that is "an advisable effort," he told board members Monday night.

But members did not authorize an engineering agreement for services and directed Hurd to reach back out to state officials. Select Board Chairman Tom Jacobs remarked the state "is changing the rules on us."

"We thought when we went to the bond it was all inclusive and we had all the approvals from the state," he said. "If we had the approvals, why at the 11th hour are we being held up?"

Members this week did approve an application to the the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) for a $4.55 million loan to replace rotating biological contactor (RBC) units at the aging plant on Harrington Road.

An "assurance of discontinuance" from the state Department of Environmental Conservation requires the town repair 30-year-old RBC units. The legal order came after breakdowns last summer interrupted the treatment process and led to sewage not being aerated, leading to multiple wastewater discharge violations as well as foul odors.

Select Board members on Monday were also asked to authorize an engineering agreement for services with Aldrich & Elliott of Waterbury. The $144,500 agreement for services was up $104,800 from the original $39,700.

"I understand why the state is requiring it. It's state money they are loaning us," Hurd said about the additional services. "They'd like a little more oversight on this part of the project than they originally planned."

Hurd indicated the project is tracking under-budget: Bids for the town's portion of the work came back some $900,000 less than engineers working for the town originally anticipated, he said.

Staff with the town's public works department will replace 30 of the plant's 32 RBC units, along with 18 new drive motors, new fiberglass covers, and associated electrical upgrades, a $4.55 million project. A general contractor would carry out some $5.3 million in various upgrades across the plant.

Members took note of the $900,000 in cost savings that Hurd described, but still expressed concern over the additional $100,000 for engineering services.

"It's the first crossroads here and it's a significant jump," member Carson Thurber said.

Thurber proposed having an engineer conduct a site visit every week versus staying on-site every day. "That cost is a lot," he said.

Reach staff writer Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.


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