Input sought for Malletts Bay projects

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Colchester public works director Bryan Osborne is asking the community to weigh in on a series of projects for the Malletts Bay area. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Colchester public works director Bryan Osborne is asking the community to weigh in on a series of projects for the Malletts Bay area. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Colchester officials are asking for public participation as they begin studying three projects included in the Malletts Bay Initiative, an expansive effort to revamp the lakeshore region.

The trio of subprojects in question includes a stormwater management system for the bay and its upland watersheds, bike and pedestrian improvements along West Lakeshore Drive (between Prim and Blakely roads) and capacity upgrades at the intersection of East and West Lakeshore Drive and Blakely Road.

Public works director Bryan Osborne says his staff, with help from the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, are completing a scoping study to identify multiple approaches to each endeavor.

On Thursday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m., the town is hosting an open house and subsequent presentation to lay out the details of these proposed upgrades and hear feedback from residents.

“These are important issues that everyone has an interest in,” Osborne said. “Everybody cares about the lake. Everybody drives through the bay.”

The multi-step study itself comes with a $188,000 price tag, though Osborne said $100,000 of that total is paid for by a grant from the CCRPC. The remaining cost is covered in the town’s capital budget program.

Osborne estimates the stormwater project will cost $10 million and puts a West Lakeshore Dr. bike path at around $2 million. Upgrades to all intersections specified under the MBI could run up to $5 million, Osborne said.

But a sizeable chunk of that total is already covered by grants in hand, Osborne said. Some projects are already paid in full without a taxpayer penny, and town officials are actively pursuing a “basket” of other funding sources to chip away at the remaining balance, Osborne said.

That’s another benefit of involving the public at the onset, Osborne said: It helps ensure the projects are “generally supported” before they progress too far – thereby convincing grant-givers their funds won’t be squandered on an unpopular plan.

The transportation and stormwater project kicked off last November, shortly before the town hired engineers to collect “existing condition” information in the areas of interest. The selectboard will endorse their preferred alternatives in June, according to the project schedule. A final study report should be available in October.

Polling the public is typical for scoping studies, but Osborne said it’s essential in Colchester, especially when it comes to the bay.

“You have a lot of people in the community that have a really strong knowledge base of water quality, which makes this kind of a process all that more effective,” he said.

Many folks, for example, might have a hard time envisioning the benefits of a new stormwater management system. But bay frequenters, Osborne said, are sure to understand the need.

“Every time it rains, you watch the water go by and it’s kind of out of control,” Osborne said. “It’s not being received by anything. It’s just running off and going wherever it wants to, sometimes without any treatment.”

That runoff collects a slew of things from the land and pavement, Osborne explained. That includes phosphorus, bacteria from pet waste, metals and petroleum products to name a few.

The water can also become heavily laden with sediment if the streams it travels through begin to erode. That’s happening more and more as upland watersheds feed into the bay.

“If you wanted to, you could watch the shorelines of Malletts Bay,” Osborne said. “You could see what’s coming out of these stormwater outfalls.”

That wasn’t always the case.

When the area was undeveloped, Osborne said, stormwater was largely absorbed by the land. As it slowly crept back to the lake, it did not collect pollutants or run rampantly through the streams.

The traditional solution, known as “hard infrastructure,” collects stormwater, pipes it away to a receiving fixture and then channels it through a stream or waterway back into the lake.

But an alternative method the town is exploring aims to get closer to those pre-development conditions.

The practice, known as green stormwater infrastructure, emphasizes infiltration and treatment, and tries to avoid discharging to a waterway. But GSI requires something the bay area is short on – open land.

“We’re not starting with a blank slate,” Osborne said. On highly developed East Lakeshore Drive, for example, it’s hard to see where water could infiltrate.

The town could create some additional infrastructure and pump collected water to an empty parcel of land, where it could then be absorbed. But such a solution is likely to cost more, Osborne said.

Ultimately, he says the town plans to use GSI wherever it’s practical and affordable and will supplement with the traditional infrastructure as needed.

The stormwater and transportation projects are working in conjunction with other town-wide efforts, Osborne said. That includes a planned sanitary sewer system as well as the new community center and park upgrades – estimated to cost $25 million and $40 million respectively, according to Osborne.

Coordinating all the major construction projects is a challenge, but Osborne said he hopes most – if not all – can be completed simultaneously.

“I don’t want Malletts Bay to be under construction for five years,” he said. That might mean holding some smaller ventures, like intersection upgrades, until the bigger ones, like the sewer system, are ready to go.

Some of the projects directly affect each other, like the pedestrian improvements on West Lakeshore Drive and the proposed tunnel connecting upper and lower Bayside Park. Town officials are keeping that overlap in mind during this planning process, Osborne said.

Ideally, Osborne said all MBI projects – with the exception of the community center – will be completed by 2022.

For more information about the stormwater and transportation scoping study included in the Malletts Bay Initiative, and the public meeting on Thursday, Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m., visit www.ccrpcvt.org/malletts-bay-initiative.