Bernardston seeks to understand changing water table

  • A view looking east on Church Street in Bernardston. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Large amounts of rain or melted snow tend to leave Cushman Park flooded due to an undersized culvert, the 2016 Bernardston Master Plan states. —Contributed photo/John Lepore

Recorder Staff
Saturday, December 30, 2017

BERNARDSTON — Failing septic systems and flooding in the town center are two topics the Bernardston Master Plan Implementation Committee hopes to combat, but first it needs funding to support a hydrology study.

Committee Chairman John Lepore said the committee, which is underneath the Planning Board, will need about $16,000 to hire a hydrogeologist to interpret data and to hire The Conway School to find solutions to the flooding and septic problems.

“The economic health of Bernardston depends on a vibrant Center Village,” Lepore said. “We want to see Bernardston become more vibrant in the future.”

The effects of the changing water table have been on Lepore’s mind since the creation of the 2016 Master Plan, a collective vision for the town. The plan, compiled by The Conway School, outlined changing water dynamics in the Fox Hill watershed, increased flooding in Cushman Park, increased erosion and septic failures.

The septic problems, Lepore explained, are related to the changing water table. When the water table rises, he said, it suffocates the bacteria that digest waste, and in turn, the septic system fails. In 2014, 16 septic systems in Bernardston failed to pass inspection, and one house was condemned partially because of a damaged system.

Meanwhile, Lepore reports, residents are not educated about proper septic system maintenance, and are unprepared to spend anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 for a replacement.

“You can’t have economic development if people’s septic systems fail,” he said. “That’s just not something people can (financially) handle, so we’re looking at ways to prevent that from continuing, that people can live with.”

The question, Lepore said, is how to slow the water down so septic systems will remain healthy and home values won’t decrease.

Lepore said the Franklin Regional Council of Governments will gather information on the septic systems that failed and map them, discern the history of cleaning storm drains in Center Village, and collect existing data from the Conservation Commission, Board of Health and individual landowners.

Then, should voters allocate funding to move forward during spring’s annual town meeting, Lepore said a hydrogeologist will use FRCOG’s data to ascertain the causes of the flooding and septic issues. The Conway School students will then develop conceptual designs to remediate the problems. Examples include rain gardens or strategically placed detention basins, Lepore said.

Lepore and Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Dutcher suspect the proposal might involve two separate articles at annual town meeting: one to authorize funding for the hydrogeologist and the other to fund work by The Conway School. Implementing solutions once the study is complete could require additional grant or town funding.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

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