Sewer Separation Bond Question
On March 4, Rutland City voters will decide whether to bond for the Northwest Neighborhood Sewer Separation Project (NNSSP).
If approved, the City would be able to borrow up to $5.2 million to complete this project, although state grants are expected to reduce the local cost to about $3.9 million.
The NNSSP is the latest in a series of projects designed to address the problem of Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). CSOs are events when the volume of rainfall overwhelms the capacity of our combined storm and sanitary sewers, resulting in the release of both stormwater and untreated raw sewage to either Otter Creek or East Creek.
Prior projects have made a big difference in reducing these events. In 1992-93 the treatment plant was upgraded from 13 to 16 million gallons per day (MGD), and again in 2006 to 22.5 MGD. Other improvements include the installation of huge combined sewer pipes to increase sewer capacities leading to the treatment plant, and neighborhood “sewer separation” projects designed to divert the stormwater away from the combined sewers and transmit it directly to city waterways.
All of these projects have contributed to a reduction in the number of CSOs we experience. But we still see about 30 events a year from four locations. Engineering studies have identified the Northwest Neighborhood Sewer Separation Project as the most cost effective next step.
The project will separate storm and sanitary sewers in a 50 acre neighborhood bounded by Crescent St., Grove St., Library Ave and East Creek. Road and other improvements in this area have been delayed knowing that if the bond is approved, most of the streets will be torn up to install 9,600 feet of new storm sewers, 1,500 feet of new sanitary sewers, 4,500 feet of new curbing, 2,300 feet of new sidewalks and over a half million dollars in new paving. Some areas will only see trench patches but the City will prioritize pavement overlays in the future once ditch settlement has completed.
This will reduce or eliminate raw sewage releases to East Creek from this area, dramatically reduce local street flooding from surface runoff, and reduce the amount of water that must be treated by the sewage treatment plant. In addition, this project will prevent the frequency and magnitude of overloaded sewers which can also lead to sewer backups into homes and businesses. It will also ensure that Rutland taxpayers do not have to pay heavy fines from the State of Vermont or EPA.
This is because, since 2009, the City has been operating our sewer system in violation of state and federal regulations, which only allow one CSO event every two years. In 2009 and again in 2012 the Agency of Natural Resources issued an Enforcement Order, which allows the City to continue these violations without penalty as long as we are making progress toward their elimination. That Order requires the completion of the project by Dec. 31, 2015. To meet that deadline, Rutland voters must approve the bond question on March 4. If the City fails to meet that deadline the state could fine us up to $25,000 per day.
Fortunately we have made steady progress over the years and with voter support that will continue. Paying off a $3.9 million bond over 20 years would increase sewer rates by about $4.45 per quarter for the typical household. But old bonds will decline and be retired over this same period, so the total cost for water and sewer bonds –including the $3.9 million NNSSP bond – will actually be lower than today.
More information about the NNSSP and CSOs is available on the DPW web page at www.rutlandcity.org – go to City Departments > Department of Public Works > DPW News and Misc Information > Northwest Neighborhood Sewer Separation Project.
Jeff Wennberg is the commissioner of the City of Rutland Department of Public Works