Traffic and parking in Montpelier is about to get more challenging. Workers broke ground Wednesday on the long awaited cooperative effort between the state and the city to provide wood chip-generated heat to a portion of the downtown.
"It's been touch and go a number of times and the fact that we're really building it is a great feeling," said Bill Fraser, the Montpelier city manager.
To make it work, the city is tapping into the state's existing plant in back of the DMV. The city will convert steam that's used to heat many state buildings into hot water.
It will travel in a series of new 8-inch pipes under State Street, eventually winding its way to Main Street, City Hall, the police station, Union Elementary School and some 16 private landlords, with the potential for more in the future. And although it's only one of a handful of municipally run systems like it in the country, city officials say it's no different from other city services.
"Some towns and cities in Vermont provide electricity and many others don't. Some provide water and sewer-- this is a utility service with lines in the ground and meters. It's not that different from some of the services we provide, it's just new," Fraser said.
By converting to biomass, the city expects to save nearly a quarter million dollars in their annual fuel bill. For its part, the state will double the size of its heating plant. The 1940-era boilers will be replaced with boilers that run on wood chips. And all of it will be flood-proofed.
"The boilers are below grade and the 100-year flood is foot and a half to 2 feet above the existing grade out there. So certainly raising those above their 100-year flood would be a great thing," said Joe Aja, of the Vt. Department of Buildings and General Services.
The project has not been without its hiccups along the way.
"First meeting I ever attended in Montpelier city government was 18 years ago and they were talking about district heat," Fraser said.
More recently-- last August-- a split City Council initially voted it down because of financial concerns. Montpelier High School was also dropped because of excessive costs. And this winter state officials scrambled to cover $2.5 million in cost overruns.
City officials say the underground pipe-laying this spring and summer will be in phases to help ease congestion.
"We aren't closing down the whole downtown at once-- that's the good part. But in those sections there is going to be stop and go traffic, there's going to be loss of parking and we're just trying to manage that as best we can," Fraser said.
Big changes underway to help heat the Capital City.