On Tuesday, Burlington voters will decide whether to approve nearly $30 million in bonds to improve the city’s wastewater and stormwater systems.
Over the summer, Burlington experienced a number of stormwater discharges into Lake Champlain, most following storms that overburdened system capacity, causing the closure of several popular beaches. In September Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger announced the city had accelerated a proposed Clean Water Resiliency Plan and wanted to place it on this year’s ballot. “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. In short, this $30 million plan will ensure that we do not go backwards with respect to lake protection and it will make unpermitted discharges into the lake even more rare than they have ever been since the 1800’s when our water systems were built.”
The city council subsequently approved placing the proposal on the November 6th ballot. The question asks residents if the city should be authorized to issue revenue bonds or notes not to exceed $29,958,000 to pay for the improvements. City Council President Kurt Wright believes it’s extremely important to pass the bond. “For improvements to our infrastructure and so that we minimize the risk to our lake to Lake Champlain. You know as we know there were quite a number of discharges into the lake and the lake is so vital to us in terms of family recreation, in terms of our drinking supply and in terms of the actual economy of Burlington and the region in that we get a lot of tourist dollars that come here for you know for the bike path and for beautiful Lake Champlain. We have to protect and nurture the lake. And so this is a necessary improvement in our infrastructure, in the pipes, in the pump systems and I believe it’s going to pass by a wide wide margin.”
Burlington’s Department of Public Works held a citywide town hall to discuss the plan. Public Information Manager Rob Goulding says they also attended all Neighborhood Planning Assembly meetings in October to answer questions. “We did put forward the Clean Water Resiliency Plan because we feel like it is the city’s best effort which is built on about three years of really intense capital planning to fix our wastewater and stormwater system. As city officials we don’t advocate for folks to vote one way or another. But we do simply think it’s important for our residents to know that you know the best possible science, design and engineering has gone into this plan and we think that this really can get our infrastructure back to a place where it is reliable, dependable and serves modern standards for old infrastructure to be renewed.”
Councilor Wright has found most of his constituents are aware of the ballot question. “I haven’t talked to anybody that’s not going to vote for it. You know some people are not happy about another five, $5 plus on their water bill. But they know how important it is to again to protect Lake Champlain one of the crown jewels of the city of Burlington.”
Goulding says if voters approve the bond question, DPW plans to move quickly to implement the plan. “We’re going to be as aggressive as possible and we’d like to begin the design, the implementation, the engineering and the installation of this as soon as possible. And I think what we need to do is make sure we have the right design work done before we commit to a specific date.”