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Town may match state’s stormwater loan terms

By Jess Wisloski

Observer staff

Following an inquiry into a state program that could issue low-interest loans to cover the full construction cost of stormwater improvements in Williston housing developments, the town is now looking at an option that could lessen the burdens placed on neighborhoods and homeowners.

Terisa Thomas, an environmental coordinator for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, told members of the community’s 18 affected homeowners’ associations (HOAs) and the Selectboard on Sept. 20 that participation in the state-run fund would likely cause their projects to cost more in the end, but added that the fund could possibly help them pay for high price-tag stormwater projects.  

However, over the course of her nearly hour-long explanation, it became clear to many in attendance that the fund, which uses federal dollars, might require applicant neighborhoods to jump through even more hoops than they already had in getting their stormwater plans approved by the town of Williston. The town approval process was completed in August.

In the wake of Thomas’s presentation, however, the town is hoping to make some of the same deals available to homeowners that the state fund would have offered.

“Town staff have been analyzing the potential for a 100 percent loan for these improvements through the stormwater budget.  While this remains an option…the Selectboard has yet to make a determination on this matter,” said James Sherrard, the town’s stormwater coordinator. That is compared to a previously offered 80 percent loan to cover the cost of construction, according to earlier reports by Town Manager Rick McGuire.

Community members urged the town to look into the state program in July, after one HOA member discovered that the state program offered a 50 percent subsidy to help cover the costs of planning and final design of stormwater projects, and a 100 percent loan for construction costs, which town leaders said would likely extend over a 20-year term.  The town-issued loan would come from the local Stormwater Fund, which is accumulated using fees levied on property owners, like a water bill.

Among other points, Thomas raised concerns that many of the Williston developments had already completed their planning and design processes, and that the program couldn’t retroactively offer that partial subsidy.

Further, only with the state’s stamp of approval, and the filing of new design paperwork, could any of the neighborhoods get the loan — which would be issued by the state to the town of Williston, and then doled out to participants. Sherrard said the town had not yet contracted with any HOAs to apply for the loan.

Thomas said the effort of becoming state-approved might be a more costly effort to many neighborhoods than the net benefit a 100 percent loan for construction would provide.  

“I think without question it can and likely will increase those costs,” she said, speaking of both design and construction phases of the projects. “I can’t speak to what the difference of costs would be between a potential loan through the town fund, or [a loan] through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program. You guys have an additional hurdle in that some work has already been done. So there is that additional cost in making it sort of fit, or a retrofit into our program’s format…. without question it will cost more money,” she said.  

Sherrard said the Selectboard had not yet determined if the town would try to obtain funds from the state for the work, but noted, “This will require a town vote and, as such, a decision must be made this calendar year to facilitate this potential funding avenue.” He added that no projects had been submitted to the state for review.

The issue came about when the state directed Williston to implement costly stormwater improvements in 2013, after Williston was named as one of 13 municipalities in Vermont that would be required under the federal Clean Water Act to improve its stormwater controls. Since then, the town has tried to curb the runoff of falling rain or melting snow from impervious surfaces, which transports harmful pollutants to streams and rivers that flow into lakes and oceans, through a variety of public works projects and funding measures. The town fee went into effect in 2015, and currently the fund has more than $500,000.