Town mulls sewer purchase1/8/09

Essex Junction offers to sell capacity

Jan. 8, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Williston has a chance to buy new sewage treatment capacity, an infusion that could attract new businesses and boost tax revenue.

The town has all but run out of sewer — the lifeblood of new development — to serve new homes and businesses. The village of Essex Junction, which already treats Williston’s sewage at its plant, has for years declined to provide additional capacity.

But last month, village officials notified Williston that they would be willing to sell up to 100,000 gallons of daily sewage treatment capacity.

The town has allocated almost all of its available capacity and has already had to turn away one business.

“It’s not a good position to be in,” Town Manager Rick McGuire said. “You never know what kind of company might be coming. Perhaps it will be a green business. But without the sewer we’re going to have to say no.”

Buying treatment capacity, however, is an expensive proposition. The purchase will likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Williston has long sought to purchase more capacity, but previous requests over the past few years have been rebuffed by Essex Junction, McGuire said. There have been two or three formal inquiries and numerous informal conversations about sewer with village officials.

But in a Dec. 11 letter, Essex Junction Village Manager David A. Crawford said the village would be willing to sell 50,000 gallons to Williston in 2009 and another 50,000 gallons at least two years after the first sale.

The purchase would solve a problem for Williston, which has all but run out of capacity for commercial uses. Town officials last summer told the representative of a hotel chain that they did not have available capacity to serve such a large commercial project, according to Public Works Director Neil Boyden. He could not recall the hotel’s name.

The additional capacity would be enough to serve numerous new businesses or dozens of new homes. For example, a large restaurant can use more than 5,000 gallons per day. A four-bedroom home uses 250 gallons each day.

The town divides its nearly 1 million gallons of capacity between commercial and residential uses. There is also little capacity for new homes, but because the town’s quota on housing starts has already been used up for the next decade, there is little urgency to acquire sewer for that use.

McGuire told the Selectboard on Monday about Essex Junction’s offer to sell sewer. Board member Jeff Fehrs wondered how the town could afford it.

The town now pays Essex Junction between $4 and $5 a gallon for sewer treatment capacity. McGuire said he does not know how much the new sewer will cost, but he said it would likely be considerably more expensive because Essex Junction wants to base the price on replacement cost.

A study now being conducted will be used to set the price, Crawford said. The study will consider the cost of upgrading the existing treatment plant to handle more capacity.

As an example, McGuire told the Selectboard that if the price was $10 a gallon, the initial capacity purchase would cost $500,000. He noted the town does have money set aside for capacity upgrades from fees it charges developers, but there is not enough to pay for such a large purchase.

After the meeting, McGuire said the town could potentially shift money from another part of the water and sewer fund or obtain a loan from Essex Junction to complete the purchase.

Town officials acknowledge that with the economy bleeding jobs it is a tough time to make the case for buying more sewer capacity. But McGuire said a recession may actually be the most vital time to ensure the town can accommodate new businesses that pay property taxes and provide new jobs.

“If anything, this is more important now,” he told the Selectboard.