Last week, Burlington, Vermont’s mayor and Department of Public Works officials announced an accelerated plan to renovate the city’s wastewater and storm water system after chronic problems with overflows this summer. The $30 million plan went before city councilors this week, who have sent it to the November ballot for voter approval.
Burlington’s wastewater and stormwater system was last upgraded in 1994. This summer a series of beach closures followed storms that overburdened system capacity, causing overflows into Lake Champlain. The proposed $30 million Clean Water Resiliency Plan to address the problems was announced last week by Mayor Miro Weinberger. “This plan includes overdue investments in our wastewater and storm water systems that will stabilize the parts of our system that have been breaking or at highest risk of breaking in the near future. It will modernize that system and it will upgrade our system in key areas.”
A resolution to put the plan before voters was on the Burlington City Council’s agenda Monday evening. During the public comment session Lake Champlain Committee Executive Director Lori Fisher noted that they monitor the health of the lake and she urged councilors to put the bond on the November ballot. “We have seen firsthand the impact of the stormwater flows, the nutrient loading that goes into Lake Champlain and we think the proposal that is before you is very well thought out. Our health, our public health, as well as the economy of this region is highly dependent upon a healthy lake and this bond and the actions that will be taken if it’s passed will really make positive steps forward.”
Ward 1 Independent Sharon Foley Bushor says she has not heard opposition from her constituents and moved to adopt the resolution. “It will be paid back from the net revenues of the wastewater system and stormwater system. So this is not going to be on the taxpayer although if you use the wastewater system you will be paying for this. The other piece that I think is really important there will be a relook at what we charge for these services and an attempt to make this more affordable for all of the small rate users.”
Ward 7 Democrat/Progressive Councilor Ali Dieng expressed concerns about the cost of the plan. “I don’t think this plan is very well vetted. I need the numbers. I need the details. And we know that in 1994 there was a bond that was already passed and the city is still paying for it. We should take more time.”
Several councilors rebutted Dieng’s concerns. Ward 5 Democrat Chip Mason noted that detailed numbers had been sent to them. South District Democrat Joan Shannon pointed out that DPW detailed by line item exactly how the $30 million will be spent. “You’ve provided us really thorough information. The input that I’ve been getting from my constituents is that this is their highest priority. There’s nothing more important to the residents of Burlington than minimizing any pollution that we contribute to the lake.”
Mayor Weinberger told councilors the plan is the result of years of work. “This is a chance to be better stewards of Lake Champlain and really ensure that we can all continue to enjoy that wonderful natural resource for all that it is and all that it means to our economy.”
The measure passed 10 to 1 with Councilor Dieng opposing it. The question will appear on Burlington’s November ballot.