Town of St. Albans, VT

St. Albans Town and neighboring Swanton could leverage American Rescue Plan Act funding to build new water and sewer services near Interstate 89, a project that officials believe would spur economic development in both communities. 

Leaders from both towns have shared ideas for the area around Exit 20, which straddles both municipalities. Nearby businesses today include a Walmart, Tractor Supply Co. and several car dealerships and restaurants.

Corey Parent, St. Albans Town’s director of operations and a state senator for Franklin County, said a number of fields near Exit 20 could be developed for commercial use if water and sewer services are available there.

“It’s a win-win for both communities,” Parent said. “We’re here to grow our region together, and we understand that we can all win if we all roll in the same direction.”

Officials have discussed building a decentralized sewer system, Parent said, which treats sewage near the source where wastewater is generated, rather than collecting and transporting waste to a centralized treatment plant. Experts say these decentralized systems may have environmental benefits in some cases, as they can recharge groundwater and do not pipe pollutants directly into waterways. 

Parent said the project is “in the early planning stages,” with town officials looking to have a proposal ready within the next month. Officials plan to apply for funding from Vermont’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program, he said, and may use their American Rescue Plan Act funding if they determine it’s an appropriate use.

St. Albans Town received about $2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, and Swanton’s town government received about $1.25 million. 

Swanton Village Manager Reg Beliveau said officials hope the new infrastructure would eventually lead to new local jobs, which is important in a region where many people commute elsewhere for work, often south to Chittenden County.

David Jescavage, the Swanton town administrator, agreed. The village has its own government and is located within the northern part of the town, near Highgate.

“It’s an ideal location for more development,” Jescavage said. He noted the land there has a gentle slope and likely would be fairly easy to build on. 

Multiple businesses near Exit 20 already have water and sewer service provided by the city of St. Albans, said Dominic Cloud, the St. Albans city manager. City service lines extend “right next door,” he said, to where new development is being proposed. 

Swanton Village also has a water and sewer system, and it services part of the town of Swanton.

Parent said he’s aware the St. Albans City system runs nearby. In response to a question, he said the town doesn’t want its new development to hook into that system because the city charges an additional fee to its water and/or sewer users located outside city limits. 

This “affiliation fee,” levied on top of existing water and sewer rates, has long been a source of contention between the two communities. Money from the affiliation fee goes into the city’s general fund, which pays for city services such as fire and police coverage.

In addition, the city’s ordinances list about a dozen criteria for officials to consider when deciding whether to approve a new water and/or sewer allocation outside the city. They include whether the applicant has demonstrated why that project can’t be built in the city, if the project would increase employment opportunities in the city or the region, and if the project could “undermine the city’s own economic development efforts.” 

St. Albans Town officials have long argued that those criteria infringe on their authority to plan new development. Jescavage said Swanton and St. Albans Town were interested in a project they could do without needing the city of St. Albans’ approval. 

“We really haven’t entertained conversations with (the city),” Parent said. “It doesn’t make sense to invest our money into a system that we continue to disagree with.”

Cloud said he thinks that plans to build a new water and sewer system, when the city’s system is already running nearby, would put politics above what’s most practical. Working with an existing provider, he said, would seem to be the cheapest option both for the other communities’ governments and for the new businesses they want to attract one day.

“We remain willing to provide service under the conditions we have outlined in the affiliation fee,” Cloud said. “But if somebody can figure out a way to do it cheaper — whether that’s a septic, or whether that’s partnering with another community — we wish them all the best.”

By Shaun Robinson at VTDigger.  The Link to the original article is here.