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Vergennes to upgrade wastewater treatment facility

Getting rid of lake overflows and no-swim signs -- Vergennes is upgrading its wastewater treatment facility.
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 8:57 AM EDT
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VERGENNES, Vt. (WCAX) - The outdated wastewater treatment facility in Vergennes will get a major upgrade.

As the infrastructure ages, Rick Chaput, the chief operator for the city, says he’s excited for what’s to come. Chaput says old pumps and pipes cause overflows, dumping wastewater into Otter Creek and, in turn, Lake Champlain.

Over time, patchwork has helped, but even moderate rainstorms can trigger the facilities to overflow.

Now, $25 million will overhaul the system.

“We’ll wrap it all into a big package and present it to the voters as a holistic approach to the problem,” said Chaput.

The vote to use city funding passed with 85% of voters in favor, according to the city.

The project’s price tag is $25 million. The USDA Rural Development Office offers $17.5 million in loan and grant funding. The state will provide $3 million, and $3 million will come from congressionally directed spending.

Along with other smaller grants, the city picks up the rest.

“We’ve got a reputation for causing overflows. We are going to tighten up our system there will be no more overflows,” said Chaput.

The project is planned for three phases, which include upgrading the main pipe that brings wastewater to the facility, upgrading the pump system and upgrading the collection site.

“What this really does is it is a big step in protecting Lake Champlain,” said Chaput.

Chaput says if all things go according to plan, caution signs to stay out of the water could be a thing of the past. The USDA says that now is the time to be thinking about investments.

“There is both this environmental benefit and then for us, part of the reason we are excited to be in the mix is there is this economic benefit,” said Sarah Waring, with the USDA Rural Development Division.

Waring says often wastewater capacity limits growth in communities.

“Wastewater facilities are, believe it or not, one of the things most often that limit growth in a community. So unless you are planning for how you are going to take the wastewater, the stormwater, the greywater from any future development, and unless you think ahead for that flow, you are going to get stuck. So, that’s why we are in the mix,” said Waring.

Upgrades like this allow investments in schools or housing.

“Unless you think about that flow, a community is going to get stuck with an old system,” said Waring.

Though a specific number was not available, Waring says the flow capacity of this new system will handle Vergennes and then some.

But this isn’t a typical opportunity. This is the time to be considering projects because of access to dollars from the infrastructure act.

“This is an unprecedented time in terms of federal funding,” said Waring.

Chaput says a few overflows last year risked hundreds of thousands of gallons to Otter Creek. But with the coming project set to be completed around 2027, the goal is zero.

“We really want to put Vergennes on the course for the future,” said Chaput.

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