ST. ALBANS CITY: Sewer plant upgrade cost about $14M

Council dips into fund for streetscape costs

Michelle Monroe

By Michelle Monroe

Staff Writer

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ST. ALBANS CITY — St. Albans City is on track to borrow $13.7 million to conduct needed maintenance on the wastewater treatment facility. Wastewater user fees, not property taxes, would be used to pay off a loan for the project

At Monday night’s meeting the city council approved proceeding to final design for upgrades to aging equipment and systems at the plant. Some of those are close to 10 years past their projected useful life, according to Wayne Aldrich of the engineering firm Aldrich + Elliott.

The council also approved using funds from water and wastewater reserves to pay for work done on water and sewer infrastructure during the city’s streetscape project.

The treatment facility upgrades are part of a state-required evaluation to determine what improvements are needed to extend the useful life of the plant for another 20 years.

Not included in the $13.7 million cost estimate is improvements to the plant’s phosphorous removal equipment.

Permit limits for phosphorous emissions from the state’s wastewater treatment plants will remain an open question until the final approval of a new total maximum daily load (TMDL) for phosphorous in Lake Champlain by the Environmental Protection Agency later this year. For that reason, the state has asked St. Albans City to delay the engineering on upgrades related to reducing phosphorous, such as replacing filters at the plant, explained Aldrich.

Instead, the state has entered into preliminary discussion with the city about using the plant to test a variety of phosphorous removal technologies, said Aldrich.

By moving to final design now on the rest of the plant, the city will retain a chance to secure funding for the upgrades through the state’s revolving loan fund. Competition for loans through the fund is likely to increase in the next few years as communities seek funding for phosphorous reduction projects, explained Aldrich.

“Everybody in the state is looking at this same funding,” said city manager Dominic Cloud.

A $13.7 million loan from the revolving fund would result in annual payments of $826,000 for 20 years, while issuing a bond through the Vermont bond bank for the same period would require payments of $956,000, according to Aldrich.

“We’ve got to face this sooner or later,” said Mayor Liz Gamache. “Sooner gives us the opportunity to get money on favorable terms.”

Completing final design and permitting in 2014 would allow the city to hold a bond vote on the improvements in March 2015. The city will not have to pay for the design and permitting until after that vote.

Streetscape

While sidewalks, streets and curbs were dug up last year as part of a multi-million dollar streetscape project, the city also made improvements to underground water and sewer lines, some of which were a century old.

Prior to the work last summer, city voters approved the use of $500,000 for water and sewer line improvements. However, the work done exceeded the cost projected.

“We discovered all kinds of new sewer lines we didn’t even know existed,” said Chip Sawyer, the city’s director of planning and development.

During the streetscape project, the city spent $398,000 upgrading and repairing water lines and $339,000 on sewer lines.

After the $500,000 originally approved is applied to the expenditures, there is $148,000 in water costs remaining and $88,700 in sewer costs.

The city council voted Monday night to remove funds from the water and wastewater reserves to cover those expenditures.

City finance manager Peg Strait assured the board that both the water and wastewater capital reserve funds have ample funds to pay for the improvements carried out during the streetscape project.

All allocation fees paid by those seeking to connect to the city’s water and wastewater systems are placed in the reserve funds along with any end of year surpluses, explained Cloud.

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