Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo Oren Winters, 4, places his mother's ballot in the ballot box at the Berlin Town Offices on Wednesday during voting on a proposed municipal water system.
BERLIN — A landslide it wasn’t on Wednesday, but voters here narrowly approved plans to invest $5.5 million in a municipal water system.
The result couldn’t have been much closer on a day when 230 of the town’s 1,917 registered voters trickled into the town offices to cast ballots over the span of nine hours and it took less than five minutes to count them.
How close was it?
So close that the chairman of the town’s water supply committee, who watched as the blue ballots were counted, had a sinking feeling the project he and others have been working on since 2007 was going to come up a few votes short.
“It’s not looking good,” Tom Willard said while eyeing a mounting stack of “no” votes.
Willard was smiling moments later when Town Clerk Rosemary Morse announced that the bond issue had been approved, 122-108.
“What’s that tell you?” Morse asked, prompting a rapid response from one of the local justices of the peace.
“That maybe we should count again?” Matt Levin replied.
They didn’t as Select Board Chairman Brad Towne declared victory and board member Pete Kelley did some quick calculating.
“Your motion passes,” Towne told Willard even as Kelley chimed in.
“So eight people have spent $5.5 million,” Kelley said, noting that if eight votes had gone the other way the bond issue would have been dead in the water.
Despite disappointing turnout and dueling letters to the editor between officials in Berlin and Montpelier, Berlin inched ever closer to breaking into the water business.
Towne was quick to note they aren’t there yet, and not just because they have to wait 30 days to see if a petition signed by 5 percent of the town’s electorate — about 96 registered voters — surfaces in an attempt to force a revote.
According to Towne, the Select Board now needs to see if it can arrange for favorable federal financing and lock down customers for the proposed water system.
“I just want people to understand that because the vote passed doesn’t mean we’re actually going to borrow the money,” he said. “We’re going to take and see if we can get the financing to do it.”
The bond issue was approved amid promises that only the users would pay for the system’s construction and that those who own property in the Berlin Four Corners area would not be compelled to hook on to the system. The water is to come from three wells the town drilled, tested and acquired on Scott Hill Road.
In addition to the wells, the plan includes installation of an estimated 31,500 linear feet of water line and a 400,000-gallon water storage tank and pump station. Both the tank and the pump station would be near the wells.
The Select Board decided not to warn the bond vote in conjunction with Berlin’s annual Town Meeting Day elections. But Towne said he would likely ask Mark Youngstrom of Otter Creek Engineering to attend town meeting next month to answer questions about the project. Officials believe the system could create a reliable, cost effective, municipally owned water supply in a strategically selected area of their community.
Berlin Elementary School, the town offices, and the local volunteer fire station are all in the area that would be served by the water system. It would cover portions of Airport, Crosstown, Comstock, Fisher, Granger, Scott Hill and Shed roads, as well as the full length of Industrial Lane and a short section of Paine Turnpike in the vicinity of the Route 62 intersection.
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