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Colchester voters to consider extending town sewage system to Malletts Bay

Published: Feb. 23, 2022 at 4:15 PM EST
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - A Town Meeting Day divide in the town of Colchester over whether to extend the town sewage system to 289 homes and businesses in Malletts Bay. The goal is to reduce pollution in Lake Champlain.

This is not the first time the town has voted on the issue. The measure was brought to voters in 1999 and 2019. Both times it was shot down.

This year’s ballot item is a repeat of 2019, except this time the $17 million project would be paid for with pandemic relief funds, not local taxes.

That’s still not enough to sell opponents on the idea.

Colchester is a lake town. Malletts Bay is a summer playground for residents and seasonal visitors.

But town officials say 8%-9% of water quality samples collected in Malletts Bay contain human waste. The town says a four-year, $2 million water quality study indicated the pollution is coming from failing septic systems on properties near the lakeshore.

“To address this problem and address environmental impact and public health, they recommended Malletts Bay be sewered,” said Bryan Osborne, the director of Colchester Public Works.

Osborne says the goal is to hook up 289 properties on West Lakeshore Drive from Prim Road to Bayside, East Lakeshore Drive and Goodsell Point.

“This sewer system would deal with 100% of that human waste would no longer be in the bay. It would be taken care of,” said Charlie Papillo the Colchester Selectboard.

But the nearly $17 million proposal is not met without opposition. The Friends of Malletts Bay, a community organization against the proposal, says it’s an inefficient use of funding because it won’t clean up other pollution running into the lake.

“Over 90% is from birds, wild animals and pets, so addressing the smallest portion of it will not have a measurable impact on water quality,” said Marilyn Sowels of the Friends of Malletts Bay.

The group says they think the priority should be focusing on mitigating bacteria from animals, boats and stream runoff.

The group has taken a seven-point plan to the town with alternative ideas, including cleaning up Bayside Beach and creating a small-scale community septic system for high-risk properties along the shore.

“Let’s spend it on camps and dwellings that are at risk nearer the bay once you can’t get a good septic system in place,” said Jack Scully of the Friends of Malletts Bay.

The town says they’ve looked into alternatives but still find human waste bacteria to be the first concern and a sewer system to be the best option.

“The Malletts Bay sewer project is one of many projects that we’re advancing to address the complete spectrum of pollutants that are stressing Malletts Bay. It is not our intent or our belief that constructing the Malletts Bay sewer project deals with every single water quality problem in the bay,” Osborne said.

Another concern for opponents is that the new sewer line will allow for additional development in Malletts Bay.

“You can’t put a major infrastructure project along the lakeshore and not think it will have impacts on the character of the town,” Sowels said.

But the town says they only project two or three new homes a year with or without municipal sewers.

If this ballot item passes, members of the 289 homes and businesses will have to pay for user fees.

The town says in 2019 the ballot item failed by around 100 votes.

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