Info meeting primes Chester for 3rd water project vote today

By Cynthia Prairie
©2015 – Telegraph Publishing LLC

In a 40-minute informational meeting – the third held since May 18  — about 30 Chester residents Monday night listened as Town Manager David Pisha and engineer Naomi Johnson offered a more focused explanation of the project and its funding than given in earlier meetings.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Town voters will have a chance to weigh in on the project today. Polls will be open at Town Hall, 556 Elm St., from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. to vote the project up or down.

In two previous votes, the project has  been voted for and voted against.

Johnson explained that the project was necessary because the asbestos-cement water mains along Main Street have deteriorated, 17 percent of the pipes are undersized and there is a 38 percent loss of water that is unaccounted for.

She added that since there is only one storage tank for the town, there was no redundancy reliability or maintenance ability since the tank could never be shut down. She added that there is inadequate water pressure during fire incidents.

Town Manager David Pisha, far right, addresses financing issues while Select Board members John DeBenedetti, left, and Tom Bock listen.

Town Manager David Pisha, far right, addresses financing issues while Select Board members John DeBenedetti, left, and Tom Bock listen. Photos by Cynthia Prairie

Pisha told the audience that the $4.05 million project would be paid for by a loan from the Drinking Water Fund for a portion of land for the new water tank, new pipes and construction work and by General Fund expenditures for the remainder of the land.

If approved by voters, the town would be purchasing 139 acres off Route 103 South, just southeast of Green Mountain Union High School.

The Drinking Water Fund will lend at a negative 1.5 percent, which will save the town $800,000 over the 30-year life of the loan. Water rates will rise by $25 each quarter to cover the loan. The Drinking Water Fund loan includes $75,000 toward the purchase of the tank site land. The town will go to the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank for the remaining $324,000.  That loan will be for 20 years at 3.3% and will be repaid through the town’s General Fund.

After viewing a map that included information about fire flow tests (see above), Joe Brent asked about a gap between the new line below the tank and just east of Green Mountain Union High School. The map shows new piping in red and old piping in blue.

At that point, the new line is connected to an older 8-inch line (in blue), which is then connected to new line. Johnson said that particular “old line” is only 10 years old and is a 100-year pipe that can handle what the new 12-inch pipes send its way.

Charlea Baker turns to ask the audience if anyone had ever bought property without a professional assessment of its worth.

Charlea Baker turns to ask the audience if anyone had ever bought property without a professional assessment of its worth.

Paul Dexter asked why the Drinking Water Fund limited its funding of the land purchase to $75,000 when the entire 139 acres cost $399,000. Both Pisha and Select Board member Arne Jonynas said that the Drinking Water Fund targets only what is needed for the water project and no more.

Michael Anderson asked if the town will be able to use the gravel on the property when it wasn’t allowed by the current owners. Pisha replied that that was the plan.

That lead to questions of why the town had not had a professional appraisal done of the land, which is owned by Amy and Mike O’Neil of M&M Excavating. Charlea Baker asked the audience if anyone in town had bought  property without having an appraisal first. Dexter said that a fundamental rule is “knowledge is power. We don’t know what it’s worth.”

Water Superintendent Jeff Holden says the water tank project needs to be done.

Water Superintendent Jeff Holden says the water tank project needs to be done.

The gravel conversation was interrupted by Water and Sewer Superintendent Jeff Holden, who is the first responder whenever there is a water main break and other problems with the system. “We’re missing out on this opportunity. … Fire flow is an issue. Everyone wants to bring business into town. We won’t be able to do that if we don’t upgrade our systems. This is the best deal we’re gonna get. We have incredibly good water in this town. We usually don’t have chlorine. But when we have a problem and I have to put in chlorine to clean it up, boy do we get calls. If we don’t do this we will regret it in the future.”

Steven Davis, telling the audience that he had been a water commissioner for Walpole, Mass., for five years, said, “I would feel really, really uncomfortable relying on a single water tank because there are so many things that can go wrong. I think there is a lot of merit in where it is and in this project.”

The warning reads thus:

Shall general obligation bonds of the Town of Chester in an amount not to exceed Four Million Fifty Thousand Dollars ($4,050,000), subject to reduction from the receipt of available state and federal grants-in-aid, be issued for the purpose of financing the cost of constructing a water storage tank and appurtenant water mains, including the purchase of land located on Route 103 South as a site for said storage tank, the estimated cost of such improvements beings Four Million Fifty Thousand Dollars ($4,050,000.)?

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. John Holme says:

    I agree with Bob on one point: acquisition of all necessary permits should be a condition of the sale. The Town is probably already planning to make it so.

  2. Bob says:

    Except, until there is a permit, there is no gravel available. This property has a history that most should recall. I would very much prefer that my tax dollars are spent with more than a hope that it will work out in the end. Acquisition of permits should be condition of the sale. Thank you Ms Baker for bravely advocating for an appraisal as well – a recent market analysis has shown my Chester property to have depreciated by as much as 20% since the last town-wide assessment. It is called due diligence and these two points are the least that should be taken care of before removing a property from the tax base and placing it on everyone else’s shoulders.

  3. John Holme says:

    Because of the importance of today’s vote, I’m repeating a comment that I made elsewhere on this site:
    Someone expressed a concern that, if the proposal is approved, non-water users (of which I am one) would be on the hook for the cost of the land. I believe that this is as it should be. As proposed the Town would finance the land purchase with bonds at a very good rate. The Town would make payments on the bonds from the General Fund. This expense would be offset, at least in part, by savings the Town would realize on gravel, using gravel from the land to be purchased. Seems like a good deal to me.