At long last, South Burlington can say it’s managing 100 percent of its sewer services itself.
On July 15, city officials celebrated completion of a new wastewater setup with a symbolic “turning of the valve” at a pumping station at Swift and Farrell streets, capping a $2.98 million project that voters approved in 2018.
Now, sewage from the city’s Procter Street/Hadley Road neighborhoods will be treated at South Burlington’s Bartlett Bay wastewater treatment plant. In the past, sewage from those neighborhoods was sent north to a Burlington treatment plant, at a price of about $250,000 a year, Public Works Director Justin Rabidoux said. The city can treat that waste for considerably less: $41.38 per 1,000 cubic feet of water consumption versus Burlington’s $61 per 1,000 cubic feet.
“This was one of those rare cases where you can spend millions of dollars but actually save yourself two, threefold easily,” Rabidoux said.
The debt will be repaid within 10 years. Though the bond was nearly $3 million, South Burlington’s net cost will be roughly $1.7 million. Loan forgiveness, a free stormwater project and tacking on the Champlain Water District’s own Swift-street based project saved the city considerably.
“On day one, we’re spending less money,” Rabidoux said; even on a seven-year repayment schedule, the annual cost is less than Burlington’s treatment charge.
Once the debt is paid, South Burlington can either lower sewer fees or invest in another sewer project, Rabidoux said.
Residents approved the bond 2,723 to 584, a clear reflection of the project’s value, said Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard.
“The long-term savings, by diverting that sewer flow from that part of the city to Bartlett Bay ... is significant,” Hubbard said. “This was an easy decision to make.”
And, “as a community, if you’re generating a waste product, the responsible thing is to treat your own waste,” Rabidoux said. “We felt it was responsible of us to not put that burden on Burlington.”
The Burlington treatment plant, where the Procter Street/Hadley Road sewage formerly went, operates with a combined sewage and stormwater system. Rabidoux said heavy rains can stress the system and cause overflows into the lake. But by diverting 75,000 gallons per day, “now we’re not contributing to that possible problem for them,” Rabidoux said.
The South Burlington plant
The Bartlett Bay sewer plant currently operates at about 60 percent capacity. It’s permitted to treat 2.1 million gallons of sewage per day, and adding the 75,000 gallon from the Procter/Hadley neighborhoods doesn’t “move the needle too much,” Rabidoux said.
Treated wastewater from the Bartlett Bay plant is discharged about 600 feet out into Shelburne Bay. In the last three years, the plant’s phosphorus discharge has been reduced more than 90 percent, Rabidoux said. Phosphorus contributes to water quality problems, such as blue-green algae blooms. The changes allow the plant to treat more sewage without adding to environmental problems.
“A lot of times, if you were looking to redirect or add extra flow into a regulated system, you might run up against hydraulic limits, particulate limits,” Rabidoux said. “We were lucky that, through good management by our wastewater staff, the plant was actually able to take this extra flow.”