Thursday November 22, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Town meeting representatives might be asked to approve another $1.1 million toward the town's massive wastewater treatment plant project.

The plant's completion date has been pushed out a little, and Town Manager Barbara Sondag told the Selectboard Tuesday that it will probably not be completely up and running until February 2013.

But engineers are also trying to determine if it is worthwhile to invest in a gravity-fed line to replace the Black Mountain pumping station.

The gravity-fed line was not included in the original project and the town's attorney and its bond consultant are trying to determine if a special vote will be needed to authorize borrowing for the project.

Town meeting representatives have already approved $32.8 million for the upgrades to the wastewater project.

Even with the gravity-fed line, the entire project might still come in under budget because current estimates put spending at about $32.5 million.

Still, if engineers decide to go with the gravity fed line, and that question is still undetermined, Brattleboro Finance Director John O'Connor said Town Meeting reps might have to approve the spending.

"We are not asking for more money," O'Connor said during an interview Wednesday. "The lawyers have not made the determination yet, but if we need to, we will have to bring the business before the voters."

The vote will likely happen at the 2013 Town Meeting.

Engineers will be doing exploratory borings at the Black Mountain pump station this month to see if it is feasible to run a gravity-fed line under Interstate 91.

If the town can run a line under the highway it will be able to eliminate the pump station.

And even though the gravity-fed line will cost the town more upfront, it could mean significant savings in energy and maintenance costs over the long run, O'Connor said, though engineers are still getting those numbers together.

Sondag gave the board an update at Tuesday night's meeting and she said the news is generally good.

The main part of the work, the almost $23 million in upgrades to the waste water treatment plant, is actually expected to come in $163,000 under budget, even with the worst case scenarios considered.

Work on the rotating biological contactors is complete and that project also came in under the estimate.

Engineers originally pegged that project at $3.6 million and all of the work was done for almost $3.4 million.

The town has only borrowed $31.4 million to date, well under the $32.8 million which town meeting reps authorized, but the representatives still might have to approve the additional spending if the gravity line option is authorized, and if lawyers say a separate vote is needed.

Sondag did report that work is going to extend beyond the contracted completion date.

The town could receive up to $1,500 per day in damages for every day work extends beyond the set date, though Sondag cautioned the board that negotiations between the town and Hoyle, Tanner and Associates will have to be held before any money changes hands.

The damages will be paid to the town to cover energy, chemical, engineering, and other costs associated with the later completion date, and will kick in after Dec. 27.

The board will continue to receive updates and additional information in the coming weeks.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.