The Bennington Select Board is weighing a half-million-dollar plan to upgrade the underground pipes in the town’s drinking water system.
The vote comes at a time when there’s less federal and state money to upgrade water and sewer systems. Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation says its budget for helping towns pay for the repairs has also shrunk.
Now Bennington officials say they can no longer wait for federal or state aid. Town Manager Stuart Hurd says some of the pipes in Bennington’s water and sewer system are more than 85-years-old.
"When you look at the urban core and how it’s been developed, a major break could be very, very difficult to repair," Hurd said. "It wouldn’t be catastrophic, but just getting in there and repairing it would be very difficult."
Hurd says that’s because much of the system is buried beneath electric and other cables, and is also under the surface of the roadway. Also, Bennington sits in a valley – between the Taconic Mountains and the western slope of the Green Mountains – which Hurd says contributes to extremely low water pressure.
If the Select Board approves the $500,000 budget to maintain and begin overhauling the system next year, rates for Bennington residents will rise an estimated 15 percent – from $78 quarterly to $86. But officials say Bennington currently enjoys some of the lowest rates in the state, and it now needs to replace the aging pipes.
"We’re cash-strapped, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do business," Hurd says.