East Hardwick, News

Community Steps Up to Address Urgent Water System Issues

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by Cheryl Luther Michaels, Community Journalist

EAST HARDWICK – The 2022 Annual Meeting of the East Hardwick Fire District No. 1 was held on August 9, at 7 p.m., in the Community Room of the First Congregational Church.

The first order of business was to increase the three-member fiduciary committee (the board) to five members, a change unanimously approved. With the death of Ed Keene and the resignation of Doug Casavant, four positions were now open. (Rachel Kane’s term continues.) Four members of the district stepped up, were nominated and appointed. They are John Mandeville, who had served previously as an auditor for the district, Gary Michaels, David O’Brien and Randy Thompson, all who served on the advisory committee appointed at the 2021 annual meeting. Over the last year, the advisory committee met monthly as a group, held special planning and educational sessions with Doug Casavant, toured the water facility, attended the district’s monthly meetings and assisted the board as needed.

This new five-member fiduciary committee will meet for the first time on Thursday, August 25, at 7 p.m., at River House, 30 River St. The posted warning includes discussing and prioritizing tasks to address requirements made by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, pursuant to a recent inspection.

This relates to the trustees’ report given at the annual meeting by Casavant. He reported that the most recent sanitary inspection conducted by the state engineer found tree roots growing through seams in the springs, a potential for bacterial contamination. The state ordered chlorinating the system 24-7 until the root problem could be addressed.

The existing chlorination system is no longer approved by the state and is not suitable for continuous chlorination, and the lack of power at the site currently prohibits the use of a monitored chlorination system. Casavant reported that the trustees have sought extensions and other options from the state.

O’Brien, who was the chair of the advisory committee, noted “We’ve stepped into a crisis management situation. The state is requiring us to solve this problem immediately, yet there are no easy solutions.” In addition to the challenges mentioned above, Michaels noted that “We do not have an up-to-date preliminary engineering report. The last one was conducted 22 years ago. This report is required to make any changes to the system.”

O’Brien added, “We’ve been very pleased with the support of our town manager, David Upson. He’s really stepped up and is helping with the transition of the operator’s responsibilities (previously held by Ed Keene) to Ken LaCasse, one of the operators of the Hardwick Municipal Water System, as an interim solution.”

According to Michaels and O’Brien, work has begun to obtain an updated engineering report which will determine how best to meet the requirement for automatic 24-7 chlorination, and, if warranted, would lead to a contract with a water firm to make recommended repairs to address root incursion.

In the secretary and treasurer reports given by Giovanna Zaccaria, the current computer and software were identified as “woefully out of date.”

A question regarding the increase in water testing costs was answered by Casavant as due to an increase in testing requirements by the state and an increase in costs from the testing company.

With the total amount of cash assets held by the fire district for repairs and operating costs identified in the annual financial report as $162K, a discussion ensued around water rents. The audit showed that last year’s water rents did not meet expenses and will not cover the reasonable anticipation of expense increases in 2023. Being reminded that the rates have not seen an increase in over 20 years, members present at the annual meeting voted unanimously to increase the fee for each water hookup to $200 per year, an increase of $100 per year. It was noted that additional increases may be necessary depending on cost projections and the repairs needed.

The annual meeting was adjourned at 9:20 p.m., after presentation of a plaque to Casavant, acknowledging his many years of dedication and service to the village of East Hardwick.

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