USDA details $17 million sewer grant and loan
VERGENNES — Officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Branch have officially unveiled the $17.5 million package of a grant and long-term loan that Vergennes will receive to help fund the overhaul of $25.5 million from the city’s sewer system.
Speaking at a Thursday afternoon news conference held next to the city’s struggling sewage treatment plant and sludge-filled lagoons, they outlined a federal funding package of a 7.08 million dollars and a loan of 10.5 million dollars, repayable over 30 years with an interest rate of 1.75%.
The announcement and accompanying documents fleshed out details of an award to the city that the USDA RD first made public in an April 15 press release.
That press release simply said the agency would commit $17.5 million to help fix not only the failing treatment plant, but also a collection system that can cause sewage-laden water to overflow. in Otter Creek after heavy rain.
Vergennes officials had expected a grant of at least $6 million from the USDA RD program, but had hoped for more, and they were pleased with the level of support the city ultimately received.
” Thank you to our partners. This is a partnership with the USDA RD,” said Vergennes Mayor Matt Chabot. “Doing this project without crippling rate increases to fix what’s broken at our own expense would have been impossible.”
Vergennes will also receive financial assistance from other sources, including $3 million in congressional-directed spending secured by Senator Patrick Leahy, $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, and $1.45 million. dollars from the Lake Champlain Basin Program.
The US Army Corps of Engineers is also expected to replace some of the city’s aging sewer lines near the end of a project that may not be completed until 2025.
Project engineering firm Hoyle & Tanner Associates is now in a final design phase for a new treatment plant and in the preliminary design phase for a collection system upgrade. This construction, which will be the first, should not begin before the end of next year.
Collection work will include upgrading the critical Macdonough Drive pump station and adding a new main sewer under Otter Creek from this pump station to the treatment plant. The city will also work to remove sump pumps from city buildings.
A series of state and USDA officials praised the project Thursday, and Vergennes leaders and residents were singled out for their foresight in proposing and supporting the system’s overhaul.
Sarah Waring, USDA RD State Director for Vermont and New Hampshire, called it a special project and one of the largest of its kind the agency has ever helped fund, and credited city leadership for seizing the unusual funding opportunities.
“The local champions are there. I’m watching you all right now,” Waring said. “And you all agreed that it was time to fix your broken system, upgrade it to meet your needs, and bring in all that external funding. We’re here because you called us. It’s a historical moment.
In a later interview with the Independent Waring said the support of 84% of city residents at the polls for the project on the day of the town meeting, despite its potential impact on their wallets, helped win the larger-than-expected funding prize.
“We are always looking for the local community to take ownership of the project. We have some communities where 20 people show up to vote,” Waring said. “And this vote was an overwhelming show of support. Rarely do we see such high votes and such engaged communities.
Waring said local support has not increased demand for VT-NH RD officials at higher USDA levels, but has helped them make their case.
“What it does is allow us to defend our project with the national office,” she said. “We can say, look, 84%.”
John Tracy, director of Senator Leahy’s office in Vermont, said at the press conference that one of the reasons the city received the $3 million in Congressional-directed spending was “You’ve come up with a good project recommendation… It’s all about leadership.”
Tracy also touched on a theme echoed by Waring and other speakers, which is that Senator Leahy supported congressional directed spending on this project, not only because a rebuilt municipal sewer system will protect Otter Creek and the Lake Champlain, but also that it allows “the city of Vergennes to continue to grow and prosper. Economic development is entirely consistent with our protection and our environmental concerns.
Vermont Natural Resources Agency Secretary Julie Moore brought into the conversation the proposed alternate route for trucks around downtown.
The Transportation Agency justified the continuation of this truck route in part because it could spur additional economic development. But many also believe that the city’s sewage system, if not repaired, could not support the housing and businesses that are expected to spring up around the new road.
“Residents of the city of Vergennes have made the decision to repair, to reinvest, in this aging and essential infrastructure,” Moore said. “Vergennes is paving the way for growth, housing, business flourishing, and the pursuit of an economic corridor for a vibrant future.
Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, said she believes the award is an example of government working for the people.
“What we’re seeing here is the culmination of trust and working relationships between your federal government, your state government, your agencies, the hard-working agency experts…with the grassroots effort,” Lanpher said. .
DEC’s director of water investments, Neil Kamman, pointed out that the operator of the treatment plant Rick Chaput deserved credit for keeping the treatment plant in working order in a state of deterioration and deterioration. act quickly to avoid further overflows.
“Rick and his team kept this thing together with baling wire, twine, and duct tape,” Kamman said. “It’s just amazing.”
In a separate interview, City Manager Ron Redmond said it’s too early to tell what effect the USDA’s decision will have on future sewer rates.
Prior to the larger price, city officials projected that the annual basis per unit paid by most customers would rise from $500 to $1,040 over the next five years to help pay for the project, and said that this increase would bring city charges in line with average municipal sewer rates. Vermont.
Redmond said he would work with officials from USDA RD and Hoyle Tanner Associates to make recommendations on the sewer user fee schedule for the next five years. He said those recommendations should be ready for consideration by the board at its May 10 meeting.
Redmond said there are a number of factors that could still lead to higher rates. To begin with, he noted, the city expected to pay a 20-year bill on $12 or $13 million, and it was not yet clear what the difference in payments would be.
Redmond added that while he is confident in Hoyle Tanner’s estimates, material and labor costs could rise faster than expected, unforeseen circumstances could still push prices up and, perhaps most importantly, he didn’t want the city to end up failing again. maintain its most expensive asset.
“We got ourselves into this mess by not investing. One of the things I recommend moving forward is that we have a rate that appropriately matches what most Vermonters are paying, and that we use that money to pre-finance, and then in the future if we need to make a substitution, we are capable of doing that,” he said. “Who knows? In 20 or 30 years, subsidies may no longer exist.