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Norwich considers seeking money to study sewer extension plans

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/20/2021 10:10:00 PM
Modified: 4/20/2021 10:09:58 PM

NORWICH — The Norwich Planning Commission has endorsed a proposal to seek state funds for a study exploring whether it’s feasible to extend sewer lines into the village.

The study would assess the need, demand and potential costs of building a “wastewater solution for the village center,” according to a resolution adopted by the commission last week.

That charge includes determining whether to build sewer lines from Hartford to the Marion Cross School, which is seeking alternatives to a failed septic system that runs under the Norwich Green.

The study also should “look at alternative wastewater solutions,” survey Norwich residents on their concerns and identify potential solutions, according to the resolution, which was supported by five members of the Planning Commission.

Commission member Jeff Goodrich, a civil engineer who is working with the Norwich school officials to solve the Marion Cross School’s septic issues, abstained.

The Planning Commission vote marks the possible entrance of Norwich into long-running talks to build a roughly 1.3-mile sewer extension from Hartford that would run north along Route 5 from Wilder.

Until now, efforts to further that project were largely undertaken by the Norwich School Board, which was forced to close part of the green in 2019 to prevent further damage to drainage fields.

This winter, the school’s septic tanks were pumped at a cost of about $14,000, according to SAU 70 Business Administrator Jamie Teague.

“It runs beautifully all the rest of the months of the year,” she said on Tuesday. “But those two or three months in the depths of winter, it doesn’t like to behave appropriately.”

The sewer extension is one of three options the school district is looking into to alleviate the Marion Cross School’s septic troubles. Others include replacing the system in-place or relocating the leach field to another property nearby.

Tests are currently underway to determine whether the Dresden School District’s playing fields to Marion Cross’ north could be a potential home for future systems, Teague said.

“We’re still moving forward and having conversations and talking to our neighbors there around the Dresden field property,” she said Tuesday.

However, Teague said, the School Board hasn’t put forward any formal sewer proposals to Norwich municipal officials or the Hartford Selectboard, which declined to endorse a sewer expansion earlier this year.

Hartford Selectboard members said during a February meeting that they would like to see municipal officials take a greater role in the talks because any deal to run sewer north would likely be signed alongside counterparts on the Norwich Selectboard.

Rod Francis, Norwich’s planning and zoning director, said that while the Planning Commission is aware of those school-led discussions, its vote is also meant to advance portions of the town plan.

That document, which was adopted last year, calls on the town to “address barriers to development related to limitations on septic capacity.”

“The proximity of two municipal wastewater treatment systems to Norwich may provide cost-effective opportunities to ensure the ongoing viability of the existing village and possible new development nearby,” the plan said.

Consultants working with the school district estimated in 2019 that it would cost $1.7 million to extend the sewer, but some of that could be covered by low-interest loans and grants. They also argued that the extension could economically benefit the town, and allow King Arthur Flour, The Family Place, White River Subaru and other businesses to hook up to the line.

Francis said the Planning Commission’s resolution will now go on to the Norwich Selectboard, which will decide whether to apply for money from Vermont’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund. Money from that, he said, is reimbursable up to 50% and comes with an interest-free loan for the remaining costs.

Norwich Selectboard Chairman Roger Arnold said Wednesday that he intends to schedule the discussion for a future meeting.

As a “vital community institution,” the school district would be a key stakeholder in the study. However, it’s too early to speculate as to whether the effort would benefit the Marion Cross School, Arnold added.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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