Flushing out the details: Selectboard moves closer to wastewater decision

The Town of Charlotte, VT

This decision will affect the future of Charlotte Children’s Center and Charlotte Family Health Center

The Selectboard is working its way toward a decision about wastewater and septic usage in the West Village; as the process moves closer to resolution, however, the issue is still misunderstood by many in the community. The board plans on two more public discussions of the matter before voting on the municipal septic system’s future and, by default, on the future of the Charlotte Children’s Center and the Charlotte Family Health Center.

The crux of the issue comes down to this: The town uses a certain amount of its currently available septic capacity for the Town Hall, the Charlotte Public Library, the Charlotte Senior Center and the Charlotte Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services. There is extra capacity available in the current structure, and in addition there exists on the property the ability to approximately double the current capacity of the system as a whole.

The Health Center, which is an independently owned, general practice family care office, and the Children’s Center, which is a nonprofit daycare and preschool, have requested that the town allow them to lease septic usage from the current system. In the CCC’s case, the building is already in place; they need more septic capacity in order to increase enrollment. The Health Center has plans to construct a new building on Ferry Road in the West Village commercial district, between the CCC and the fire department. In order for the project to be financially viable, the Health Center asked to lease from the town instead of creating its own system, which they say would be cost-prohibitive.

The wastewater and septic discussion is years long, but this current decision-making process began in July when Dr. Andrea Regan, one of the physicians at Charlotte Family Health, made a request to lease some municipal septic. Discussion ensued, both for and against. The “for” argument is that the septic is currently unused, there are no plans for using it in the near future, and the town would be recouping costs from its construction by leasing it out. Opponents of allowing septic leasing argue that, should the town have future needs, they wouldn’t be met because there will be no available space in the system, that private companies shouldn’t be allowed to tap into a town-owned resource and that once those businesses are allowed to use it, it could be opening a Pandora’s box of septic-use requests from both commercial and residential property owners.
Though it seems like the decision is taking a long time, Selectboard chair Matt Krasnow and West Village Wastewater Committee chair Dave Marshall agree that the process, while lengthy, is following correct procedures.

“The two ordinance documents just came back from legal review.” Krasnow said. “We wanted to make sure we dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s on the ordinance, and that it was a standard and consistent ordinance with state statutes and any precedents from other wastewater ordinances in Vermont.” He said it took four to five weeks for the town attorney to review because of other town issues that had a higher priority.

“In looking back, the [wastewater] committee has indeed spent a long time, but in a thoughtful way,” Marshall said. “I would not place this on the Selectboard at all. I believe that they have acted promptly on what has been provided to them by the Wastewater Committee.”

Septic capacity is measured in gallons per day (GPD). The capacity of the existing system is 6,499 GPD. There is potential on the property to increase this usage to 15,000 GPD, though there is no need to do so currently; between the fire department, town offices, Senior Center and Library, the current usage is 3,102 GPD. With the completion of the library addition, the amount is anticipated to increase to 3,587 GPD. This leaves 2,912 free at the moment, with the potential to add 8,501 for any future town needs.
Should the Health Center and the Children’s Center lease septic from the town, Marshall said, “The Children’s Center is looking to add 428 GPD of wastewater disposal capacity, while the proposed Health Center is looking to utilize 556 GPD. This would leave 1,928 GPD of unallocated capacity. For reference, a three-bedroom home has a wastewater design flow of 420 GPD.”

Marshall said that leasing the septic will add no cost for taxpayers and would, in fact, save money. “All of this excess capacity was developed using taxpayer money in 2001 and with the recommended sharing of the excess capacity to eligible parties within the West Village,” he wrote in an email. “The town has the opportunity to recoup a prorated portion of those costs. In addition, the existing operating costs for the system, which are totally being borne by the town, could now be shared with the new system users, further reducing the costs to the town.”

Krasnow said that the original intent of the excess capacity was to potentially alleviate complications for property owners in the West Village commercial district, several of which, though on paper are commercially viable, run into problems when owners, such as the recently closed Little Garden Market, are limited in their expansion capacity because of septic issues.

The wastewater usage debate is at the forefront of Selectboard discussion again because of the Charlotte Family Health Center’s request, Krasnow said, but it has actually been going on for years.

“People are saying, ‘Well, this is new,’ but it really isn’t,” he said, “because Charlotte Fire and Rescue is an independent nonprofit organization that has no affiliation with the town except the town decides to fund the majority of their operating costs every year. But they’re currently using the town septic system for free as a private corporation. Right now there’s an inequity where you have a private corporation, in the village commercial district, using the town septic for free, and that needs to be addressed.”

The Nov. 25 Selectboard meeting will be the next opportunity for discussion; Krasnow said he anticipates that another, more in-depth public discussion meeting will take place before the end of the year. Whatever the Selectboard decides, there remains an opportunity to make the decision that of the people: After the Selectboard votes, there is a 45-day period in which a resident can create a petition to appeal the decision, which would move the question to Australian ballot at Town Meeting in March.