By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — Lincoln resident Jen Connel had hoped to open the Green Mountain Pie Company on Main Street in Bristol in the space formerly occupied by Showtime Video, but her plans have hit an unforeseen snag in recent weeks, as the town has reached the limit of the sewage capacity it can assign to new businesses or developments in the downtown area.
“I don’t know what I’m going to be able to do in that space,” said Connel, who had rented the space before the town realized it didn’t have the sewage capacity she needed. “As the flows stand right now, Bristol cannot grow.”
In July, an annual reassessment by the wastewater management division of the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) set the limit of reserve sewage capacity Bristol could allocate at 1,260 gallons per day. However, the selectboard had voted in April to reserve 990 gallons to the Bristol Trading Post, owned by John Moyers, which is expected to open by mid-November.
Town administrator Bill Bryant said that until either sewage usage levels are re-evaluated or the system’s capacity increases, no new customers can be added to the municipal system, which serves about 30 property owners, including most businesses in downtown Bristol.
“For the first time in the 15 years of our sewer system, we are running out of capacity,” Bryant told the selectboard at their meeting Monday night.
He explained that the problem was not apparent until the town received notification of their limit in July. “There was always a sense that there was a limit, but no one knew how close it was,” Bryant said.
There have been three requests in the past month for new or expanded capacity, one of which was made by Connel. The first of the three requests came from Fred Baser, owner of Bristol Financial Services, who requested an allotment for his plan to move his business from its current location on South Street to an office on Main Street.
For Baser, the lack of sewage capacity was an unexpected setback. “I felt very confident that things would work out fine and so did the selectboard,” Baser said.
But he said that even if his request for an allotment of 185 gallons per day is turned down, he will still probably be able to move to the new location because he has alternatives. “I’m likely to continue to use the property because … it also has access to a cesspool.”
The new owners of the Bristol Bakery and Café also hope to expand the store’s maximum occupancy, which would require the allotment of an additional 429 gallons per day on top of their current allotment of roughly 300.
“We definitely would like to have more,” said Jenn Parker, part-owner of the business. If their request is not possible the bakery will have to open with a smaller seating capacity than they would like.
But the Green Mountain Pie Company would have neither option. According to Bryant, they would need to have about 750 gallons per day allotted to them under Connel’s current plans for the business. But her plans could not be cut back enough to fit under the current limit. “It kind of became a restaurant, but even with just a takeout restaurant (similar to the original plans) it would have needed some more capacity,” Connel said.
Connel put a sign up in the vacant storefront last week saying that the town should either require businesses that could have had a septic tank to install one, such as the Bristol Trading Post, or should make changes to its processing capacity. “Either we need to have a wastewater treatment plant put in, or we need to require those businesses that can use septic systems to use septic systems,” she said.
Moyers, however, said that as he researched the needs of the Trading Post, he found he had space for a septic system or a parking lot, but not both.
The municipal sewer system did not include the Trading Post until Moyers requested it. According to Bryant, the decision was related to the town’s efforts to earn “downtown designation” from the Vermont Downtown Development Board. The designation, which the town earned at the end of June, makes it eligible for up to $2 million in grants and tax credits to business owners and property owners in the area.
But only areas on a sewer system are eligible for the program, so extending the system to the Trading Post would let properties and future development in a slightly larger area use it, Bryant said.
Water and sewage needs are reevaluated by the DEC annually, according to Bristol district coordinator Scott Powell. Any new business or significant change to an existing business submits an estimation of their sewage needs based on a detailed formula, which is then subtracted from the amount the town can allocate.
According to Powell, estimations are based on both the volume of wastewater generated and the strength of effluvia. So water conservation by itself would not free up very much capacity, because it would mean less volume going through the system but a higher concentration of waste.
If a property is in use with no changes anticipated, wastewater needs are calculated based on its actual metered use rather than the estimations, which are sometimes much higher. So it is possible that the problem would be solved on its own when the DEC recalculates water usage in mid-2007. “Even though we seem to have only (about) 60 gallons right now, next year they may reevaluate it and allocate 1,000 gallons per day,” Powell said.
However, that kind of relief would come too late for the Green Mountain Pie Company, which has already signed a lease for the space with the Bristol Downtown Development Associates, who own the building. Baser, who is one of the part-owners of the corporation, said the partners would be flexible. “I think we owners want to make it easy for her to back out if … it’s not likely she’ll be able to do what she wants with the space,” he said.
The selectboard is beginning to look at long-term possibilities, like a new leach field or an upgraded effluvia-processing system, but Bryant said the board cannot make any quick fixes. “These are all issues that the selectboard is going to have to discuss,” he said. “But at this point, it’s very tentative to think about what (the solutions) are going to be.”