The planning commission sought to educate residents on the ins and outs of community septic systems last week during a workshop exploring possible answers to the town’s wastewater woes.
The July 2 meeting came as part of the commission’s summer-long search for wastewater solutions, which has already generated many questions from the public, said Sarah Hadd, Director of Planning and Zoning. That includes concerns about “development, rules and regulations, and what kinds of side effects these options might have,” she said.
Hence the push for more interactive meetings. Last week’s workshop ended with septic trivia; correct answers received a t-shirt or a chocolate bar—mostly melted.
But the workshop also featured in-depth presentations on community septic systems, soil and water treatment, and decentralized sewage solutions from Graham Bradley and Mary Clark with the Vt. Department of Environmental Conservation.
Clark described decentralized sewage systems as flexible, meaning one could employ multiple different systems, even alternating between systems, in order to preserve longevity and prevent build-up within systems.
“They’re more common than you think,” she said, citing multiple examples of indirect systems in the area, including Smuggler’s Notch, Sand Bar State Park, and Porters Point School. She then brought up an image of recirculating sand filters, one type of decentralized system, but couldn’t remember where she took the picture.
“That’s Marble Island; that’s my backyard,” one resident spoke up, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “I had no idea that was under there, doesn’t smell bad at all.”
According to Clark, who has worked in the wastewater world for forty years, half of Vermont’s villages lack sewage treatment facilities, with 7 percent of total indirect discharge systems in the state located in Colchester.
“You’re not alone,” Clark emphasized to the room. “We’re gonna jump in together and try to solve this.”
In addition to these creative approaches, Hadd says that the message she took away from Tuesday is that “it’s all about soil.”
The planning commission is also exploring the viability of soil at the Bayside/Hazelett property, which the town purchased in 2004 and since designated as a possible park location. If tests come back indicating that the soil is a good environment for septic, the planning commission will explore the possibility of a community septic living in harmony with the developing park plans.
One system Clark described in her discussion of decentralized sewage systems was a strip irrigation method. The minimally invasive technique uses a hose-like system with small holes, buried not far beneath the ground, to distribute wastewater to the soil where microorganisms and good bacteria break it down.
This makes it possible for the tubing to go around trees while treating water underground, allowing the system to live harmoniously in the park, Clark said.
So far, the planning commission is considering four main options: community septic, sewer, land conservation, and a “do nothing” approach. While the first three have been discussed in workshops and public forums, with a sewer workshop planned for the end of this month, the “do nothing” option remains shapeless.
Hadd described it in the context of a science project where you have all of the experiments and one control to which you compare the data. “The ‘do nothing’ option would be the control,” she said.
The option was suggested at a public forum in May, the first in a long string of forums after the failed sewer line vote earlier this year.
Many residents requested more data on wastewater systems and more testing on water quality. But Hadd said the town has been unable to get the information due to a short timeframe and a lack of funding.
She also pointed out data collection is not in the planning commission’s scope. “Their charge is to explore solutions,” she said.
A couple more workshops are planned before the summer ends, one on July 30, which will cover the ins and outs of a sewer line, and one in August focused on development impacts of both community septic and sewer. According to Hadd, results from soil testing at the Bayside Hazelett property should be ready by August.
The planning commission plans to wrap their heads around these four options and present a wastewater solution to the selectboard come September.