Selectboard discusses water line, stormwater funding projects
By Luke Baynes
To invoke poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, water was everywhere at Monday’s Williston Selectboard meeting.
Following a routine annual report by Jim Fay of the Champlain Water District, the board heard a status update from Vermont Agency of Transportation Project Manager Ken Robie on proposed improvements to the intersection of Williston Road (U.S. 2) and Industrial Avenue.
While the intersection isn’t immediately adjacent to any bodies of water, H2O will play a major factor in any improvement measures, due to a town water line that will need to be relocated prior to construction—at an estimated $500,000 town expense.
A previous U.S. 2/Industrial Avenue improvement plan failed to gain traction with a 2007 iteration of the Selectboard. At that time, the board balked at the plan’s hefty price tag and lack of adequate pedestrian facilities. It also questioned whether traffic congestion was sufficient to warrant the project.
Calls for safety improvements were renewed following a Sept. 2009 traffic accident at the intersection that destroyed local eatery Tim’s Snack Shack and resulted in one fatality.
On Monday, Robie provided a summary of the revised project plans, which include a sidewalk on the south side of U.S. 2, two left-hand turning lanes for eastbound traffic on U.S. 2 and a more orthodox intersection layout.
“In general, what the project is made up of is a reconfiguration of that T-intersection with Industrial Ave.,” Robie said. “So Route 2 itself will straighten a bit so you won’t have that ‘sort-of’ right turn … and Industrial Ave. will be turned to be more of a direct T-intersection with Route 2.”
What hasn’t been modified, however, is the requirement for the town to relocate a portion of its water line.
“Because of the age and the type of material of the existing water line, any construction above it will damage it to the point where you’re going to have failures during construction, or you’ll have failures that will follow after the project’s completed,” Robie said.
Selectboard member Chris Roy raised the question of who should pay for the proposed relocation of the water line: all Williston taxpayers or just residents connected to the town’s water system?
Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire responded by suggesting that a hybrid approach might be in order.
“There is very little benefit to the water users of moving that line now. So who gets the benefit? The people who are using the road,” McGuire said. “I’m thinking that maybe some sort of cost-sharing (arrangement) might make sense, because there is some depreciated value there that could be charged to the water users, but maybe a large portion of that could be charged to the town, and then the town might (recoup) some or all of that from impact fees.”
Because of the high cost of potentially moving the water line, the board expressed a desire to revisit the matter during the annual budget season, so that it will be fresh in the minds of voters on Town Meeting Day.
Barring any unforeseen setbacks and contingent upon an affirmative vote by town residents, Robie said project construction is expected to occur in the summer of 2015.
The final water-related item on the Selectboard’s agenda concerned a revisited discussion of a stormwater system funding study presented to the board at its May 21 meeting by consulting firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc.
Besides the option of maintaining the status quo to address stormwater issues, VHB suggested creating a stormwater coordinator position or a more expansive stormwater utility to administer a fee system that would bill property owners for stormwater services based on the amount of impervious surface owned by the resident.
Williston Director of Public Works Bruce Hoar, in a memorandum prepared for the meeting, advocated that the town explore the creation of a fee-based structure through a dedicated stormwater coordinator position.
“My recommendation is to have a second phase of this project look more in depth into the addition of a Stormwater Coordinator and a fee based structure,” Hoar wrote. “The addition of an employee whose sole purpose is to deal with this huge issue would certainly lead to better efficiencies between departments and help ensure that we stay in compliance with the existing (federal MS4) permit and any requirements of the new permit.
“Secondly and probably even more important,” the memo continues, “is making sure that a fee based program will work for the town and is structured correctly.”
Selectboard Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs agreed that the go-slow approach of creating a stormwater coordinator position is more prudent than immediately going whole hog by creating a full-fledged stormwater utility.
“If you start with a coordinator, that position could eventually develop into a multi-person utility, but as sort of a first step, a coordinator position may make more sense,” Fehrs said.
Following Fehrs’ comments, the board unanimously agreed to continue study of a stormwater management fee system using the stormwater coordinator organizational model.