FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
ABOUT THE WATER LINE EXTENSION
of the waterline extension bond issue)
(submitted by Zelda Stern; principal author Ralph Bradburd)
At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, December 2nd, there will be a special town meeting held in the Mt. Greylock Regional High School gymnasium. Only one issue will be considered at this meeting – but there has been some confusion and misunderstanding of what is at stake when the town votes on the warrant to authorize an $875,000 bond to contribute to the cost of building a water line that will extend to Mt. Greylock High School.
What are we REALLY voting on at the Special Town Meeting?
Q: Are we being asked to vote on December 2nd on a measure that will ADD to either our tax burden or our water bill burden?
A: No. Quite the contrary. Because the Clark Art Institute, Northern Berkshire Health Systems (NBHS) and an anonymous donor are willing to contribute funds for the project, and because the high school has received a $286,000 grant from the state for the purpose of connecting the school to a town water line, the total annual cost of the bond will be fully covered by the revenues from providing water to the high school, the Art Conservation Lab, and the Northern Berkshire Health Systems facility. There will be virtually no net increase in expenditures at the high school because, prior to the perchlorate problem, the school was already incurring costs for testing and maintaining its wells: the estimate for the increase in our costs over our current costs is $800 to $1400 per year.
Q: Are we voting on whether to preserve or not preserve Phelps Knoll?
A: No, we are not. If the Art Conservation Center is not built on that location, NBHS has stated clearly that it will build more than 68 homes on that site. The disruption of the natural beauty of the site, the extent of public access, and the extent of interference with the high school’s cross-country running and ski trails will ALL be far greater with the 68+ homes than with the Center.
We may not want Phelps Knoll to be developed, but voting down the water line will NOT accomplish that goal. It WILL only make it more difficult for our children to have clean, safe drinking water at their school.
Q: Can we just go on as we have been at our high school?
A: No. First, our high school has a water contamination problem that is costing it money and administrative time. At present, the high school is incurring costs both for extensive testing and for bottled water. Second, our high school's current wells, even if they can be decontaminated, are not in compliance with current DEP requirements. Both wells are too close to the building and one is too close to our underground fuel oil tank. Currently, the wells are "grandfathered," but if we make renovations to the school that change the footprint of the building, the wells will have to be brought into conformity with new regulations. In the absence of the town water line, this will require drilling new wells and, of course, engaging in ongoing testing. Third, our high school is not in compliance with current fire suppression codes. When the high school undertakes renovations of its physical plant, it will be required to install a sprinkler system. The high school wells do not provide sufficient water volume and pressure for a sprinkler system. If there is no town water line, it will be necessary to install a pumping station and approximately 300,000 gallons of water storage, either above or below ground, at a cost that is unlikely to be less than $750,000 and could be more than $1,000,000.
Q: What kinds of renovations would trigger the need for a fire suppression system?
A: According to communications with Michael Card, Williamstown’s Building Inspector, the “triggering” renovations for new wells could include any of the following: replacing the ventilation and heating units in the classrooms, renovating the auditorium, or refurbishing the science laboratories, and depending on cost, replacing the boilers for the heating system. In some cases, such as the ventilation system, these are renovations that we may not long be able to postpone. (In 2002 the school was cited for having inadequate classroom air flow; the school did whatever remediation it could in the short run, but problems with the ventilation system remain. )
Q: Has the need for new wells and a sprinkler system suddenly been “discovered” at a time when the town is considering a water line?
A: No. Although the perchlorate contamination problem is newly discovered, the high school has known that its wells are non-conforming for several years. The need to install a fire-suppression sprinkler system was also identified several years ago. The high school engaged a consulting firm in August 2002 to help with a facilities audit, and this information has been known at least since that time.
Q: Are we perhaps passing up a cheaper, or better, alternative to the water line extension?
A: The answer at the present time appears to be “No.” The Waubeeka Springs line that extends to Five Corners is a six-inch line (and a very old one) and is not adequate for the purposes of a fire suppression system at the school. Therefore, to use Waubeeka Springs water, a new line would have to be built to the spring itself, along with one or more pumping stations, and given the distance to the spring--over 10,000 feet--the cost of that option would be more than $1.5 million, and likely closer to $2 million, not including the $750,000 to $1 million cost of the required water storage capacity and pumping facility for the fire suppression system. Further, the Weatherbee offer does not extend to the Clark or to NBHS, and therefore the entire cost would have to be carried by the high school district. In addition, it is not clear that the offer from Pam Weatherbee to provide water to the high school from Waubeeka Springs is one that she has the authority to honor: it appears that there are 26 families with deeded water rights to the water from that same source, and although Pam Weatherbee owns the land on which the spring is located, there is some dispute as to whether she can provide any water at all to the high school without permission from a majority of those 26 families. In the case of water from the Sabot family, the current proposed site for a well is roughly 9000 feet from the high school, and therefore the cost of the water line and the underground water storage capacity necessary for fire suppression purposes would not be likely to be much different from the cost of the Waubeeka Springs option. It has also been suggested that the school district try to obtain water from Northern Berkshire Health Systems (NBHS). There are two problems with this “solution.” First, as Town Manager Peter Fohlin stated at the November 17th Selectmen Meeting, NBHS has stated that it is not willing to take on the responsibility of providing water to the high school on a permanent basis; and second, NBHS provision of potable water to the high school does not offer a solution to the need for water to meet the needs of a fire suppression system. Digging a pond is another suggested alternative to installing underground or aboveground water tanks. There are several serious problems with this idea, including the necessity of having clean and clear water to run through the sprinkler system (implying need to filter and de-weed the pond water and therefore to have tanks to store the de-weeded and filtered water), that make this option infeasible to implement.
Q: Are there any other sources of water that will meet the school’s needs for potable water and water for fire suppression purposes?
A: The high school could attempt to dig new wells elsewhere on its grounds, but this is not an inexpensive proposition. First, the cost of digging and installing new, conforming wells capable of providing sufficient water for the high school’s peak daily use has been estimated to be between $75,000 and $100,000 per well. Second, there is some risk that the new wells could suffer from perchlorate contamination. Third, because current state regulations require that new wells be surrounded by a buffer area in which no activities other than water resource management are permitted, it is likely that digging new wells would require that the school’s playing fields be relocated. Fourth, assuming that the wells are free from perchlorate contamination, the school would have to incur the $3,200 annual costs for upkeep and testing that it had to incur prior to the perchlorate problem. And finally, installing new wells would still leave the school with the cost of installing the water tanks and pumping station necessary to provide the volume of pressurized water required for a fire suppression system. It is important to note that these same costs, plus problems relating to liability, would exist in the case of every possible source of well water located near the school but not on school property.
Q: If the town water line is not extended to the high school at the present time, wouldn’t the state government and Lanesboro pick up some of the costs of the new wells and the fire suppression system when the time comes to do the renovations at MGRHS, and therefore aren’t the costs to the town of the new wells, water tanks and pumping station being exaggerated?
A: Lanesboro will indeed have to fund one third of the cost not covered by the state when any renovations are done. It is possible, but it is not guaranteed, that the state will pick up part of the cost. But even if the state does fund part of the cost, where will the balance of the money come from? Lanesboro is at its Prop 2 ½ levy limit and cannot raise taxes above current levels without an override vote. Absent an extraordinary amount of new growth over the next few years, Williamstown also would require an override vote to fund its part of the cost. If either one of these votes fails to pass, the high school would be required to make still further cuts in faculty and programming in order to meet its water needs.
Q: Will construction of the new water line, which is a 16 inch line, overload the current sewer line or somehow cause it to fail?
A: Construction of a 16-inch waterline will not cause the sewer line to fail.
According to the report by environmental and engineering firm Camp Dresser and Mckee (CDM), which was sent to Tim Kaiser, Williamstown’s Director of Public Works, and reviewed by engineer Vincent Guntlow of Guntlow and Associates, extending the water line would neither strain the capacity of the existing sewer nor overwhelm it. This conclusion is based on the following facts and projections:
Of all the parts of the system, only the pumps that pump sewage into the force main come close to operating near capacity. Those pumps can convey 164 GPM into the force main, or roughly 25% more sewage into the force main than they do at current peak use, which occurs at midday.
At the hours of the night that the 55 GPM Sweetwood and Conservation Lab sewage will be flowing through the line, the current average flow is only 20 GPM, or less than one-sixth of the peak flow. This means that during the period in which the sewage from the Conservation Lab and the Sweetwood expansion will be flowing through the line, the pumps that feed the force main will be pumping 75 GPM, only 46% of the pumps’ capacity and well below the 79% of capacity at which the pumps have operated during peak hours every day ever since the sewer line was built.
The LINKED GRAPH shows the sewage flow analysis performed by CDM as a series of hourly readings connected by a solid line. It also shows, by the heavy line, (drawn by Ralph Bradburd), the flow rate by hour if 55 GPM of sewage were to be added to the normal hourly flow rate between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. It is clear from the graph that the additional sewage will not strain the system or cause the current system to fail.
Q: Why not build a smaller water line out to the high school? Why build a 16” water line?
A: We will have to install a fire suppression system at the high school when we undertake significant renovations there. That fire suppression system must be able to provide large volumes of water per minute under pressure. The 16” water line will provide a sufficient volume of water under pressure to eliminate the need for underground water tanks and a pumping station at the high school. The next smallest size water line capable of providing the required volume of water per minute is not a standard size and would actually cost more than the 16” water line in the current plan.
Q: Will constructing a new water line lead to substantial new development on the beautiful Route 7 corridor?
A: This is clearly a critical question. Answering it requires that we make a careful distinction between potential new development along Route 7 and any EXTRA development that will be made possible by the water line extension. A close examination of the lots along Route 7 from the Captain's Table to the high school reveals that, as long as current zoning is not invalidated by the addition of the new water line, an issue to which we return below, there are few lots that are not now developable that will become so with the addition to the water line.
The water line currently extends to The Captain's Table, and the proposed water line only extends to the high school; therefore no lots north of The Captain's Table or south of the high school are affected by the new water line and should not be counted as part of any impact of the new water line. (The sewer line already extends to the high school.) Zoning along the part of Route 7 affected by the water line requires 200' of frontage and 2.5 acre lots. This by itself limits the number of lots. Furthermore, many parcels or parts of parcels that appear developable along Route 7 are not in fact developable for practical purposes either because they are wetlands, steep ridges or cliffs, or because they require a bridge over Hemlock Brook the stream (requiring special DEP permission and very substantial cost), because they do not meet setback requirements or because they are conservation lands or have already been placed in a status that precludes development.
To be sure, there are some lots that are developable. However, these lots are developable right now using wells as a water source. Given the relatively modest cost of putting in a well for household use, there is almost no extra development that will be made possible by the water line extension unless the addition of the town water line invalidates the current zoning requirements of 2 ½ acres and 200 feet road frontage.
For a discussion of the water line extension and zoning in the Route 7 Corridor, see separate document entitled “Would a new water line, by itself, threaten 2 ½ acre zoning in the Route 7 Corridor?”