BERLIN — A year after voters approved a strategic extension to Berlin’s sewer system, favorable federal financing for the $2.2 million project has been all but locked up.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has agreed to finance the infrastructure upgrade and the Select Board has authorized Town Administrator Dana Hadley to execute the 30-year note on their behalf.
Board members were told during their Thursday night meeting the loan documents could be ready any day and locking in the 2.75% interest rate the USDA has offered was a priority.
Though construction of the sewer line extension on Paine Turnpike North isn’t expected to begin until sometime next year, lining up the financing and obtaining a required easement from the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce were on a list of things to do before bid documents could be finalized.
The chamber recently agreed to grant the easement and the documents are now being prepared.
Acting on the recommendation of Zoning Administrator Tom Badowski, the board agreed to reimburse the chamber up to $2,000 to cover any out-of-pocket expenses associated with that legal work, though Badowski said he expected the actual costs would be significantly less.
The easement will enable the town to upgrade a lift station located at the end of a proposed sewer line that would run along a largely undeveloped stretch of Paine Turnpike North between the intersections of Route 62 and Fisher Road.
Badowski said that is a key feature of the project because it will allow the town to decommission an aging lift station located behind Shaw’s supermarket and abandon roughly 4,000 feet of inaccessible force main. The existing lift station is more than 30 years old and has occasionally required expensive repairs while the force main isn’t easy to get to when maintenance is required.
The new gravity sewer system wouldn’t have that handicap and, Badowski said, will be the final piece of an infrastructure puzzle designed to facilitate development in an area that has been designated locally as a “town center.”
Some of that area, which is just off Exit 7 of Interstate 89, is already served by sewer and all of it is served by a municipal water system that was constructed in 2016. Extending the sewer system along Paine Turnpike North is expected to expand the tax base by stimulating development.
“I think it adds significant value to the town,” Badowski said.
The project isn’t yet ready to be put out to bid, but should be well under construction by this time next year.
Badowski said there have been “rumors” of projects involving land that could be served by the new sewer line, but no formal applications.
Badowski said there is activity in other portions of the new “town center” district. The Development Review Board has approved plans for a 99-unit senior housing development on property owned by the Berlin Mall. Developers of that project, which would provide a range of housing options for seniors, are now seeking a state land-use permit. Meanwhile, conversations are underway for a second housing project on the mall property, and Badowski said Central Vermont Medical Center is contemplating an expansion.
While newly offered USDA financing would expedite the proposed sewer line extension that was approved by voters last August, Badowski told board members a more more modest bond proposal would likely be on the ballot in March.
Describing the estimates as extremely rough, Badowski said the Public Works Board is expected to ask that a bond issue of $300,000 to $500,000 be placed on the Town Meeting Day ballot next year. The money, he said, would finance the connection of a fourth well to the town’s water system and the acquisition of meters for system customers that can be read remotely, saving both time and money.
The meters are a more pressing need than the well. Only about half of the three wells’ capacity is actually being used. The rest is held by customers that either haven’t yet hooked up, or don’t yet have anything to hook up.
“There was some speculative buying,” Badowski explained.
The the town has since acquired an option on a nearby well site and has drilled and tested a well.
Badowski said the fourth well outperforms the original three. However, unless something radically changes in terms of actual demand on the system, he said he contemplates making the new connection in 2021.
Meanwhile, Badowski said the Public Works Board is exploring taking an option on a fifth well site — not because the water is needed now, or two years from now, but because it might be needed sometime in the future and the drilling, testing and permitting process isn’t an overnight proposition.