Up for discussion was a $33,000 federal loan which would finance engineering studies and legal help for the next phase of study before a formal proposal could be made. Like a previous $37,000 loan, Albano said the loan would only have to be repaid if the town decided not to pursue a municipal water district.
The proposed water system would come online in three phases. The first phase would include most of the areas closest to Mount Snow, including private homes, lodges, and condominium developments along Handle Road, as well the resort itself. Don Albano, who has championed the effort, said he foresees that property owners and homeowners associations would choose whether or not to join the water district. But he also noted that it could also be a requirement. He also said the district could be governed independently, or in conjunction with an existing municipal district like North Branch Fire District.
Albano compared a public water system to shared wells and springs still in use in some places in Vermont. “If you go back 50 or 100 years, a central water system isn’t unusual,” Albano said. “Farmers used to tap into a spring and two or three homesteads would hook into it.”
Albano also noted that there were several attempts to create public water districts in the past, including one that he was involved with around 1970, the 3,000-unit Dover Hills development. The system proposed at that time included a reservoir and drilled wells to serve all 3,000 homes, as well as a wastewater system. The project was never approved. Other development proposals over the years, and their common water systems, were more successful, including Snowtree, Deer Creek, and others.
Now some of those systems are in trouble, Albano said. One condo development found radon in their water, and had to install an expensive treatment system to eliminate it from their water. Board member Linda Holland noted that there were at least two private wells in the area that also tested positive for radon, leading some to question whether radon may prove to be an ongoing problem.
Albano also said some wells have experienced a significant loss of volume, apparently as a result of newer wells that have been drilled. “Everyone is poking a hole in the ground,” Albano said. “Mount Snow has a small system at the bottom of the mountain for their 1,800 units (proposed in their master plan). Their wells will have a potential effect on other wells.”
A managed system, Albano said, would alleviate current problems and help prevent future problems. It could also solve a potential problem with fire protection. “Condominiums can burn down eight or 12 units at a time,” Albano said. “If you get a small fire in the roof of one condo, it’s going to affect another. Today the major water supply is Snow Lake. But Snow Lake is disappearing. Under state rules, the water at Snow Lake will return to a small stream.”
Albano suggested the choice was between a managed system, and a limited water supply. “We’re requesting support for the engineering and legal services,” he said. “If we decide to go ahead, we’ll need your OK. Or your decision tonight could be ‘No, we’ll buy water at 7-Eleven.’”
But John Ashley, of Phelps Engineering, told board members that Dover’s aquifer has more capacity than the town is projected to use. “According to our previous study, with the snowmaking situation, returns exceed withdrawals – you’re putting more in than is coming out. Availability is not the issue.”
Ashley said the main problem is “interference,” when pumping water out of one well causes a reduced yield at another well. “There are a lot of people trying to take water from the same spot, and it’s available on a first come, first served basis. Long-term decisions are now being made by developers and seasonal residents. Is that a way to manage an aquifer? Whoever already has a well there gets the water?”
But board members wanted answers to specific questions regarding the feasibility of creating a district and a water system. Board member Tom Baltrus asked Albano if any of the homeowners associations had offered any commitment to voluntarily become part of the district.
“The majority of associations were interested in pursuing the idea,” Albano said. “The only negative came from an out-of-state management company that doesn’t want to go along with it. The one definite affirmative was Mount Snow.”
Albano said the rest of the homeowners associations were “open minded,” but wanted to decide based on the information that would be provided by the continued study.
Baltrus asked Ashley to rate the average water performance in the area that would be covered under the first phase. “On a scale of one to 10, with one being any time I want to use water I have it and everything is fine, and 10 being half the time I turn on the tap nothing happens, what’s the average performance?”
Ashley said all of the current water needs were being met. “But Snow Vidda doesn’t have enough water to build out what’s permitted. Trails Edge needs more capacity. So performance is like a two or three.”
“So what’s going to happen when the Mount Snow units get built?” asked Baltrus.
“I don’t know where they’re going to pull their water from,” Ashley said.
Selectboard chair Randy Terk asked how the system would be financed.
“It’s projected that there would be a bond,” Ashley said.
“Why should the taxpayers of Dover pay the bond for a small community of users?” asked Terk. “I understand that there may be economic benefit, but why should I, through my property tax, pay for a loan for which I get no direct benefit?”
Ashley said the bond would be paid by user fees.
“But if the district doesn’t make the payments, it would fall back to taxpayers,” noted Terk. Ashley said he could think of only one instance of a Vermont municipal district failing to pay its loan obligations.
Former selectboard member Adam Levine said he has been following the issue since he was on the board. “I haven’t heard any new information here tonight. I could sum it all up in one sentence: What’s it going to cost?” he said. “The numbers will show whether this is a good investment or not. What’s it going to cost per gallon? The last time we left off, Phelps (Engineering) was going to look, communicate with North Branch Fire District, and figure out what the price per gallon would be. Who’s going to sign on to this without knowing?”
Ashley said the study would provide the answers to Levine’s questions. Former board member William “Buzzy” Buswell agreed. “There are some problems at the mountain,” he said. “Snow Vidda definitely has some problems. Let them form their own water district and get the others together. This is not going to benefit the town of Dover. It’s time to cut our losses.”
Board member Vicki Capitani said she’d like to see a commitment from homeowners associations, as well as an estimate of per-unit cost for the system, before proceeding any further. “It’s all very vague to me, who’s interested and who is not.”
Noting that the town had already spent $37,000 on the proposal, Terk suggested that the homeowners associations should be asked to pay the $33,000.
Capitani made a motion to borrow $33,000 from the drinking water revolving fund. The motion was seconded, but found no supporters.