ARLINGTON — Town Administrator Nick Zaiac speaks with a steady stream of enthusiasm, which is a good skill if you have a Select Board, several committees and a lot of town business to keep track of.
“We have a lot of exciting projects,” he said.
At the top of the list is to see a completed study of an approach to wastewater treatment for central Arlington by next fall. Zaiac acknowledged that the wastewater issue has been identified as a priority for Arlington for decades, but added, “We are looking at it with renewed focus.”
The urgency of the wastewater project has to do with the long-term goals of increasing available housing and making the town more attractive to small businesses. In particular, this would help food-related services, such as new restaurants and bakeries, and even breweries and cideries, which might need better solid waste disposal than currently available, especially if they hope to expand.
Even critical services such as the Battenkill Valley Health Center, to expand further, would be able to tie in to a town wastewater treatment system.
“That’s correct. It would be a tremendous advantage to us if we want to expand,” said Dr. Anje Van Berckelaer, co-executive director of the Arlington medical center. There is certainly enough demand from potential patients to warrant expansion, she said.
Additionally, the treatment facility’s ripple effects include growth and development, which makes the town more attractive to new residents from outside the area, Zaiac said; all walks of life are welcome, he noted.
Already, a substantial number of commuters come to Arlington daily, and they might not be able to relocate closer to work without more available housing made possible by a town sewage system.
A wastewater treatment system could potentially allow for construction of new housing units, including the renovation and repurposing of existing structures in central Arlington, for use as expanded residential housing and small businesses, said Zaiac.
Zooming since COVID, good for participation
Zaiac (the “c” sounds like “s”) started as Arlington’s town administrator on June 1, 2020, just as the COVID crisis was accelerating, and before the release of vaccines. In the two and a half years since Zaiac started, all the board meetings have been hybrid, with a few people attending in person and the rest on the phone or Zoom.
Zaiac would like to keep the meetings hybrid, as a way to encourage community participation. Instead of seeing Zoom as an obstacle, he sees it as a way to enable more people to contribute to the meetings. So far, this has been working out, he said.
The day-in, day-out responsibilities of the town have been rolling along successfully during the pandemic, as Zaiac tells it. At the same time, Arlington has been able to make improvements on the roads, at the Fire Department, and at the recreation park. All along, the town has been eyeing significant challenges, such as sewage treatment.
200-plus Vt. towns lack wastewater treatment
Arlington is far from unique in Vermont in lacking municipal wastewater treatment.
“More than 200 villages lack community wastewater disposal systems, hampering revitalization,” according to Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources. And of course, there are stories in the news every day of housing shortages in many places across the U.S.
“It’s one of the fundamental problems in Vermont,” said Zaiac.
Meanwhile, in this corner of Vermont, Arlington has hired Otter Creek Engineering to do a wastewater treatment study for all of central Arlington east of the Battenkill. The hope is to have a workable wastewater study completed before the end of 2023, Zaiac said.
Then, the Select Board can move on to the next stage of the process of developing a viable wastewater treatment plan for the town, while offering a “reasonable deal” to the residents, Zaiac said.