By Amy Kolb Noyes
Berlin voters will soon weigh in on whether the town should borrow money to create a municipal water system to serve the Four Corners area of town. A vote on the proposed $5.5 million bond is scheduled for Feb. 13. The bond will be repaid through system user fees, as is the case with Berlin’s existing sewer system, according to Town Administrator Jeff Schulz.
When asked why the town-wide vote was being held just weeks prior to town meeting, Schulz said the feeling among town officials was that the bond vote is such a big issue it needed to be separated out from Town Meeting Day business.
City officials in Montpelier were hoping to strike a deal to provide water service to Berlin, but the Berlin Select Board decided to move forward with creating its own municipal system, instead. In a letter to the Berlin board last month, Montpelier City Manager William Fraser said, “We believe that an agreement which is financially advantageous to both communities is within reach. Additionally, the Montpelier water system, served by Berlin Pond, has a much larger service capacity and more advanced treatment capability than the potential Berlin wells.”
But the Berlin select board decided it’s in the town’s best interest to build its own system. Berlin’s plan calls for three bedrock wells, each providing 50 gallons of water per minute feeding into a 400,000 gallon storage tank. The water will be distributed through 31,500 feet of water mains. The new infrastructure would connect to that of the Berlin Water Company, which the town plans to purchase. The Berlin Water Company currently serves an area of town adjacent to the planned Four Corners district, between the Berlin Health & Rehab Center and the Barre-Montpelier Road.
Berlin Administrator Schulz said, even if the town decided to purchase water from Montpelier, Berlin would need to lay the pipes to distribute the water.
“Regardless of where the water comes from, the town of Berlin is going to have to own that infrastructure,” Schultz said in an interview.
Montpelier made a formal proposal to Berlin back in July and Berlin officials responded in September, stating concerns about Montpelier’s proposal. That’s when talks between the municipalities were dropped, to Montpelier’s dismay. Schulz said Berlin officials think they can serve the town’s needs for less than it would cost to purchase water from Montpelier. The town estimates a single family home on the system would pay about $1.50 per day for water. Hooking onto the system will be voluntary.
While the service area is primarily commercial, Schulz said there is the potential for 80 to 90 residential users. The water system would provide potable water and fire protection to the plateau that encompasses the fire department, the elementary school, Berlin Mall, a shopping plaza, Carroll Concrete, and the new state hospital proposed for the corner of Fisher Road and Paine Turnpike. Central Vermont Medical Center purchases its water from the city of Montpelier and would not be a customer of the new water system.
The second of two public informational meetings of the bond vote will be held at 6:30 Wednesday, at the Berlin Elementary School. The bond vote will be held by secret ballot on Feb. 13. Polls will be open at the Berlin Town Office from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m.