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Sewer Upgrade Project

Warning Document 
Notice to Voters 
Sample Ballot 
Informational Meeting Recording 
Frequently Asked Questions in PDF form (see attached)
Comparison of Sewer Fees in Vermont
                                                                               
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS ABOUT ARTICLE # 2 (Sewer Bond)

On March 1, 2022 Ballot
The City of Vergennes will have a special March 1 ballot asking residents to approve a bond for a complete renovation of the city's decades-old sewer collection system and wastewater treatment facility (WWTF). If approved, this bond vote will allow the City to pursue additional grant funding but does not commit the community to move forward with any project.

Why is this project needed?
Our City’s sanitary sewer collection system and wastewater treatment facility are managing a long list of deficiencies related to outdated technologies and materials, deferred maintenance, and changes in environmental regulations.  In order to best address the need to treat the City’s wastewater in a cost-efficient manner, and to avoid the continued discharge of untreated sewage to the Otter Creek, the extraneous flows entering the sewer collection system through infiltration and inflow (cracked pipes and disallowed connections) must be mitigated, the WWTF must be renovated to modern and more efficient technologies, and the Macdonough Drive pump station must be rebuilt to address operational and health and safety deficiencies. 

Why address this now?
Age – The WWTF, Macdonough Drive pump station and much of the collection system are beyond their useful life.  The equipment at both the WWTF and pump station is old, and parts are no longer available from some equipment manufacturers.                                                                                                                                                                   

CITY FACILITY

CONDITION

Macdonough Drive Pump Station

Built in 1962.  Handles 75% of the sewer flows and discharges untreated sewage to Otter Creek during heavy rain events.

Sewer Main Running Under Otter Creek

Built in 1962.

Sanitary Sewer Collection System

Built pre-1910 with significant sewer line replacement in 1978-1979.

Wastewater Treatment Facility and Head Works

Built in 1962 with significant upgrades in 1978-1979 and 2000.

 

Stop polluting Otter Creek and Lake Champlain.  The City currently discharges untreated sewage from the Macdonough Drive pump station during heavy rain events.   The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued a 1272 order in April of 2018 requiring that the City submit a Long-Term Control Plan (LTCP) by October 2019.  The City did not meet this deadline.  Although DEC has exercised considerable enforcement discretion, the City must comply with this order, as the continuance of enforcement discretion is not guaranteed.  The discharge of untreated sewage to waters of the State is in violation of 10 V.S.A. chapter 47, the VWQS, and Discharge Permit No. 3-0368.                    

Technological limitations and obsolescence– The existing super primary lagoon and cloth filter system is an obsolete WWTF configuration that doesn’t perform efficiently and is increasingly challenged to meet current discharge permit limits for phosphorus at the full design flow.  Upgrading the technology will improve energy efficiency, greatly reduce the possibility of equipment failures and allow the City to meet more stringent effluent limits anticipated in the future.  The current Total Phosphorus mass limit is based upon an average monthly concentration of 0.8 mg/l for the Vergennes WWTF.  Other facilities that drain to Lake Champlain have their mass limits based upon 0.2 mg/l.  The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is up for review and reevaluation, and it is possible that the amount of Total Phosphorus that wastewater plants are allowed to discharge could be reduced in the future.  The current WWTF is not capable of treating wastewater to 0.8 mg/l for Total Phosphorous when operating at full design flow and would not be capable of meeting a lower limit if imposed.                                                       

Favorable climate for State and Federal Funding for municipal sewer projects– These projects will be expensive, but there are currently many sources of funding available in the form of grants and loans.  The City has received funding from the ARPA program, directed Congressional funds for renovating the pump station and is participating the in Section 542 funding program with the Army Corps of Engineers.  To be eligible for additional grants and loans, the City needs to be able to demonstrate the availability of matching funds.  Passing a bond will demonstrate that commitment.                                                                                                                                               

Health and Safety– Equipment at the Macdonough Drive pump station periodically clogs with rags (fibrous materials that don't break down when flushed down the toilet) and debris. To clear equipment, City staff must enter the confined wet well as it fills with sewage, and manually remove the blockage.  The pumps also clog on occasion and the operators must descend a narrow spiral staircase two stories below the ground and disassemble, clear, and reassemble the pumps.  The valves in line with the pumps are inoperable, so this work must be done quickly before the room fills with sewage.                                                                                                                                                                   

Improved financial efficiency– Making necessary upgrades and repairs will reduce the amount of time and money needed to repair broken equipment.  Reducing the amount of clean ground and stormwater pumped through the pump station and treated at the WWTF will reduce the amount of energy and treatment chemicals used.  Upgrading pump and compressor controllers with Variable Frequency Drives will reduce energy use, and new technology to replace the cloth filter disks will reduce staff time needed to manually clean the filters.

What improvements will be made?

  • Add storage, screening, and pumping capacity to the Macdonough Drive pump station. This will help to abate sewer overflows at the pump station and improve the reliability of the pumps.  It will also improve energy efficiency and worker safety while reducing maintenance needs.  Storage will allow for flow equalization during wet weather events and keep sewage out of Otter Creek.  The addition of more advance screening equipment will allow for the removal of rags (fibrous materials that don't break down after being flushed down your plumbing)and other debris which can damage or clog pumps.  The disposal of rags in the sewer system is prohibited by the City’s sewer ordinance.  Currently, City operators at the Wastewater Treatment Facility must clear rags by hand regularly from the pumps. This pump station is not safe for the operators to conduct repairs when there is an issue with rags, as the operators needs to manually go in and unclog pumps in the wet well, a confined space, to fix the problem.  Clearing rags from the pumps is also a labor intensive and somewhat dangerous task.
  • Rehabilitate the existing 60-year-old cast-iron sewer main running under Otter Creek that links the Macdonough Drive pump station with the treatment plant. Also, add a second sewer main under Otter Creek to increase the capacity and reliability of the pump station’s ability to convey wastewater to the WWTF. The failure of a sewer main under the Otter Creek would result in a large-scale release of sewage, an environmental and public relations disaster.  With only a single sewage main, there would be no way to get sewage to the plant in the event of a failure.   After 60 years of service, the inside of the cast iron is rougher than when it was new (which reduces pumping efficiency) and may have thin spots due to corrosion and wear.  Rehabilitating the existing pipe will both improve pumping efficiency and reduce the likelihood of a leak.  Adding a second force main provides redundancy, allowing the one line to be inspected or repaired while sewage is still transported to the WWTF.                                                                                                                      
  • Upgrade the treatment plant’s intake capacity (called the Headworks) to be more efficient. The current headworks building is not configured well, partly due to the addition of new process equipment during a retrofit in 2000.  There are hydraulic limitations that make flow measurement difficult and some of the influent process equipment is not in the correct configuration.  The building that houses this equipment needs repair and ventilation improvements.  The headworks building is subject to corrosive gasses and moisture and equipment degrades quickly. Refurbishing the headworks will improve the accuracy of flow measurements, provide more efficient grit and rag removal, help protect the plant equipment’s longevity and reduce the amount of effort required by the operators.                                                                                       
  • Replace the City’s Aging Wastewater Treatment Facility. The wastewater treatment facility was built in 1978 and is at the end of its useful life.  Much of the equipment has been repeatedly repaired, and some replacement parts are no longer available. The combination of the super primary lagoon design and cloth filters does not work well because of the algae from the lagoons.  The lack of a secondary clarifier results in sludge being settled in the chlorine contact tanks, which requires the operators to clean them on a weekly basis and can also contribute to e coli violations from rising sludge.  Additional solids in the chlorine contact chamber may also increase the amount of chlorine used to disinfect the effluent which means more money spent on chemicals.  The aim of this project is to replace the current lagoon system with a new space saving, cost effective, and efficient sequencing batch reactor system.                                                                                                                                    
  • Replace or rehabilitate leaky sewer mains that allow high levels of infiltration(groundwater entering the sewer system) which contribute to persistent sanitary sewer overflows into Otter Creek, and also transport clean groundwater to the WWTF to be unnecessarily treated at considerable expense. The draft Long-Term Control Plan identifies 5 sections (5,000 linear feet) of sewer pipe that require repair or replacement. These pipes need to be fixed. Additional investigation will indicate the location and scope of other necessary repairs in the collection system, which consists of approximately 100,000 linear feet of sewer pipe.  Leaking pipes can also cause sinkholes which can damage property and endanger the public.

How much will this cost and how will it be funded?
The estimated total project cost is $25.5 million.  We anticipate the City will receiving a total of $12.5 million in grants, which would reduce the cost to $12.5 million.  The proposed project will be funded with a combination of federal and state grant and loan funds through a variety of programs and an increase in sewer rates.  A bond vote is required for the City to have funds available to match the grant and loan requirements.

 

 

 

BEST CASE

 

WORST CASE

 

 

If Vergennes Receives all Federal & State Funding identified

 

If Vergennes receives least possible amount of Federal and State funding

TOTAL COST OF PROJECT

 

$25,500,000.00

 

$25,500,000.00

Less State/Federal Funding

 

      -$12,822,200.00)

 

-$8,060,000.00

TOTAL Bond Needed

 

$12,677,800.00

 

$17,440,000.00

 

 

 

 

 

Annual Sewer Bill

 

$860.00

 

$1,040.00

% increase

 

72% increase

 

108% increase

 Dollar Increase

 

$360.00

 

$540.00

 

This is the best time in decades for both federal and state funding of sewer projects, especially those that would help control the sanitary sewer overflows to Otter Creek.  The City of Vergennes has already secured $6 million in federal and state grant funding.    It is likely the City will receive additional state and federal grants for this project. 

Why bond now?
Before federal and state agencies award funding for sewer projects, look for a commitment from a local community in the form of available matching funds.  These funds are usually obtained by passing a bond vote.  The USDA Rural Development, the funder for treatment facilities, looks to communities to first make a commitment to a project without knowing how much money that community is going to receive in grants.  The bond vote, however, doesn’t commit the community to move forward with any project. Vergennes City Council will still need to approve each stage of the project

How much will sewer rates increase? 
Rates Will Increase Gradually:   Because the City will not begin paying down the bond until construction is complete, we would raise rates gradually over the next three years.  We anticipate the construction will be complete in 2025.  Here are some examples of what sewer rates would look like at that time:

BEST CASE:  Projected Sewer Bill

 

WORST CASE:  Projected Sewer Bill

Year

Annual Bill

Quarterly Bill

 

Year

Annual Bill

Quarterly Bill

2021 - 2022

$500

$125

 

2021 - 2022

$500

$125

2022 - 2023

$600

$150

 

2022 - 2023

$640

$160

2023 - 2024

$720

$180

 

2023 - 2024

$815

$204

2024 - 2025

$860

$215

 

2024 - 2025

$1,040

$260

 

How do Vergennes’ rates compare with other Vermont towns & cities?
Vergennes’ current sewer rates are lower than what is typical in Vermont. These low rates have contributed to deferred maintenance and insufficient reserves.  The average sewer rate in Vermont is between $700 - $800 per year.*  About 95% of Vergennes sewer users are not metered and pay $500 a year per unit. 

* VT Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard, Rates as of July 1, 2021, Dashboard updated: August 26, 2021. Produced by UNC School of Government, Environmental Finance Center and Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.  https://dashboards.efc.sog.unc.edu/vt

Why does the Treatment Facility’s lagoon system need to be replaced?
The 1978 construction of our current treatment facility included two lagoons where wastewater is biologically treated.  There are multiple reasons to replace our two lagoons.

  • Vergennes does not have a traditional lagoon system. We have the last system of its type in the state. Our lagoons have the lowest “detention time” of any in the state – meaning the amount of time wastewater sits in the lagoon before it is filtered.  Most lagoons detain wastewater for 30 days.  Our system detains wastewater for 10 days and depends on filtration to meet effluent limits. This is not working sufficiently.                        
  • The filtration system installed at this plant isn’t working well with the lagoon effluent. Lagoon wastewater contains suspended algae which is hard to settle out and which can clog the filters easily.  The current layout of the plant doesn’t allow for the placement of a secondary clarifier which could help remove the algae prior to filtration.                                                                                                                                                   
  • Total Phosphorus and emerging contaminants. While the WWTF currently meets the total phosphorus limits most of the time, it doesn’t always and is incapable of meeting the lower limits that will likely be imposed in the near future.  The current plant also isn’t designed to treat PFAS chemicals or other pollutants of emerging concern.  A newly designed plant will consider treatment for these contaminants.                                   
  • Storm Flows. The current lagoon system operates with approximately 1 foot of freeboard between the lagoon surface and the overflow pipes meant to protect the lagoon banks.  This means that during a storm the surface level may very quickly rise and discharge untreated sewage to Otter Creek.  Staff currently needs to pay close attention to the weather forecast and pump down the lagoons prior to storms.

How do sump pumps impact our wastewater treatment facility and what will be done about them?
Sump pumps and other drainage pipes that are connected to the sewer collection system add groundwater and stormwater to our treatment facility and contribute to the overflows at the Macdonough Drive pump station. This water does not need to be treated in the same way as wastewater and it costs money to treat it at the WWTF.  

There is a City ordinance that prohibits sump pumps from being connected to the sewer system and the City will be asking residents to ensure compliance with this ordinance.  Many communities with this problem also have started a similar sump pump elimination program with good success. Since it will take a while to disconnect every sump pump in Vergennes, it will still be necessary to take other measures to prevent overflows.

I have more questions about this project.  How can I ask them?
If you have questions about this project, there will be numerous informational meetings via Zoom, presented before March 1.  Also, a series of videos are being recorded and produced, that will be posted at www.vergennes.org.  If you are unable to attend meetings or have more questions, please contact Ron Redmond, City Manager, at 802-877-0041, cell (802) 238-5598 or (email) manager@vergennes.org.  We will arrange time to answer your questions, and any follow up questions.