Chester residents seek answers on proposed water project

Engineer Naomi Johnson explains the proposed water project. All photos by Cynthia Prairie. Click a photo to launch gallery.

Engineer Naomi Johnson explains the proposed water project. All photos by Cynthia Prairie. Click a photo to launch gallery.

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2015 Telegraph Publishing, LLC

It was a respectful but question-filled turnout at Chester Town Hall last night, Monday May 18, for an informational meeting regarding a $4 million water project proposed by the Town of Chester that is being voted on from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today. Town Moderator Bill Dakin read the warning to an audience of about 36, not including press and town officials.

Town Manager David Pisha  began with a “housekeeping matter,” telling the group that the vote had not been properly noticed by running for three consecutive weeks in the paper of record designated by the town. Pisha said that according to Paul Giuliani,  the town’s bond attorney, if the town votes in favor of the proposal, the vote will need to be ratified in the future with another, properly warned, vote to correct the error.

Paul Dexter questions what will happen if the Act 250 process fails.

Paul Dexter questions what will happen if the Act 250 process fails to allow gravel extraction.

Project engineer Naomi Johnson of Dufresne Group gave an overview of the project including a look at the water system and its deficiencies, the proposed project in two phases and the budget and financing.  Although Johnson had said that the meeting was to discuss the water project and not questions on gravel extraction, questions were raised nevertheless.

Chester resident Joe Brent, among others, asked how the board had arrived at the decision to have only users pay for water improvements. Select Board member Heather Chase said that having the whole town pay for the water project would involve creating a fire district, which would be a legal process.

Noting that the vote would authorize the town to take out “general obligation” rather than “revenue”  bonds, Tony Weinberger asked for reassurance that payment for the project would be made by the users rather than the town at-large. A general obligation bond is a promise by the town to pay the debt from any sources including taxes, while a revenue bond guarantees repayment solely from revenues  associated with the purpose of the bond. 

Arne Jonynas addresses an audience member

Board member Arne Jonynas tells one audience member that the board’s intent that users pay for the upgrade.

Board member Arne Jonynas told Weinberger that it was his impression that strictly users would pay for the improvements.  “That’s the tradition in Chester,” said board member Tom Bock, noting that the water budget is separate from others. 

“Our intention was for water users to pay,” said board chair John DeBenedetti. Weinberger then asked if the credit from gravel sales would be used to benefit the users. DeBenedetti noted that the purchase of the land may be made by the town as a whole. Pisha said this could be done with a separate bond from the Vermont Municipal Bond Bank.

Pisha told the group that the initial approach was to buy enough land to site the tank and have a road. The ONeils refused and Pisha said he negotiated the price down to $399,000.  He said that putting the water tank there would save the water users money, and the town would keep the deer wintering area, work on a forestry plan to reduce invasive species and promote native species while putting in a hiking trail for recreation. “Plus gravel,” Pisha added.

Referring to the Act 250 status of the property, resident Paul Dexter pointed to “significant regulatory hurdles” to gravel extraction on the site and expressed concern that the “price reflects an asset that you may never be able to get.”

Pisha noted that he has had conversations with the Act 250 office regarding the project and was told by regional coordinator April Hensel that “you and the board are doing some very intelligent planning.”

In response to questions about the interest rate charged for the loan by the state Drinking Water Fund, Pisha said that the maximum is 3 percent, but that that is flexible, and depends on the median household income. The state has a calculation that seems high to the town and so a study is being undertaken to establish that number. If the  MHI is lower, the cost of borrowing will drop.  Pisha encouraged everyone in the water district to answer the survey when they receive it.

Addressing a question on the construction schedule, Johnson said that it would be ideal to happen in the summer when school is out and disconnection and reconnection of water would be less disruptive, but between bidding and state review, it might be next summer.

Once under way, Johnson estimated that the work along Route 103 from the Sunoco station to Green Mountain High School would take one and two months. For New 12-inch pipe would be laid, while the existing asbestos/concrete pipe would be abandoned in place.  Siting and piping the tank would take less time than that since there would be no road traffic on the hillside to slow down the work.

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  1. jo richardson says:

    I totally agree with Ms. Miles. I too live on a dirt road, Popple Dungeon to be exact. My property taxes appear to be going up every year and my property is not worth what it has been assessed at. I too pay for road repair taxes. How many of you Chesterites have been up this road lately? Wasn’t that fun? The winter months were even worse. The town continues to patch, patch, patch the paved parts and within a few days, the holes are back. The dirt part of the road has been maintained wonderfully…honestly. The town crew did an amazing job this winter and is continuing to keep it graded and nice. But the tar part of this road is a mess! There is one area in particular where, several people including me, drive on the wrong side of the road just to prevent damage to our vehicles. There are several other sections that have needed attention for many years such as the area just past Milanese’s house. The whole paved part of Popple Dungeon needs to be dug up and re-paved. Our vehicles should not have to be subjected to this abuse. I had abdominal surgery late last winter and I can not express the pain I felt riding down this road with all the holes, frost heaves and dips. There was no missing most of them and it hurt! That was ridiculous. I would appreciate something being done with this road before another winter hits. Thank you.

  2. Mary Jane Miles says:

    I pay for road repair taxes because I use and live on a dirt road, because the town uses and operates dirt roads for all to use. If we just had citizens living on paved roads then this town would be a blip on the map. Chester’s sewer and water will never be available for my use nor will there ever be fire hydrants available for my use near my home. The 20 minute response time in town for fire becomes nearly 3 fold for my home. I pay more for homeowners insurance because of this. It appears there isn’t much of a plan to be able to expand the sewer and water system so it will have a larger user base. The other item that seems to go under the radar is that the town does not subsidize my septic and water systems build, upkeep, or replacement. I am sorry that we feel that the investment in that property is our best option. I do not feel that the potential for gravel should justify paying more for a property than it is valued either. This bothers me significanltly. It also bothers me that there are clear conflicts of interest that we simply do not address properly to have a fair evaluation of the situation.

  3. Charlea Baker says:

    So, as I understand it 507 of us “water users” will be responsible for paying over 4 million dollars for this project. Was the vote to go ahead with this expense open to everyone in the town or just the 507 of us who will be stuck with an astronomical bill for a Deluxe Mercedes Benz plan?