After wastewater discharges plagued the City of Burlington all summer, officials on Thursday unveiled a plan intended to stanch the flow of dirty water into Lake Champlain.
It's not without a cost — $30 million. On Monday, the Burlington City Council will consider whether to put a related bond vote on the November ballot.
If Burlingtonians approve it, they can expect to pay $64 more annually for water by the time all the improvements are implemented within the next four or five years, Mayor Miro Weinberger said at a press conference in front of the city's main wastewater treatment plant.
“This is an opportunity for Burlington to take strong, decisive action to keep the lake the economic, cultural and recreational driver of our city and state that it has been since our founding,” said Weinberger, surrounded by city councilors, city workers and advocates for Lake Champlain.
Officials initially planned to come forward with a plan by December 1, in time to get a bond on the March Town Meeting Day ballot, but accelerated the timeline after repeated overflow problems.
So far this year, the city system has discharged 13.2 million gallons of stormwater and wastewater into the lake. At least one of the incidents forced the closure of city beaches because of high E. coli levels.
“This plan is primarily focused on overdue investments in wastewater plants, pump stations and sewer and stormwater pipes that are at a high risk of failure and have a significant consequence if they do fail,” Weinberger said. “In short, we don’t want to see the kind of breakages we’ve seen this summer, leading to large, unplanned discharges.”
The city last overhauled the system in 1994. The new plan, outlined in seven key points by Department of Public Works director Chapin Spencer, is intended “to stabilize, modernize and upgrade” the wastewater infrastructure.
Among the improvements:
More than two dozen upgrades to Burlington’s three wastewater treatment plants, including “systems that will add crucial redundancies and additional layers of alarms to the systems.”
Renovating 11 of the city’s 25 pump stations most in need of repair.
Relining or replacing 13 miles of the city’s highest-risk wastewater and stormwater pipes, some of which are more than 100 years old.
Repairing the top five most damaged stormwater outfalls, of which the city has 101. The systems funnel runoff into Burlington watersheds.
Implementing an industrial wastewater pollution prevention program for the city’s beverage and food industries, which increase the organic matter in the wastewater and disrupt the biological process at the main treatment plant.
Constructing green infrastructure such as rain gardens to retain or slow stormwater flows.
Completing a planning effort to “prioritize the upgrades that deliver the greatest return on investment for Burlington ratepayers.”
City councilors seemed firmly on board with the proposal, and a tripartisan contingent — council President Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4), Joan Shannon (D-South District), Brian Pine (P-Ward 3), Adam Roof (I-Ward 8), Max Tracy (P-Ward 2), and Richard Deane (D-East District) — attended the announcement.
“I strongly believe the public is very, very supportive of this plan,” Wright said. “Of all the issues in Burlington that people disagree about, I think this is a plan that people overwhelmingly are going to support.”
Weinberger, too, expressed optimism that city residents would vote yes in November. If not?
“Right now, we don’t have a Plan B,” the mayor said. “We’ve put a great deal of effort into Plan A and I’m hopeful it’s one that voters will support.”