On Monday May 12, there will be an informal hearing with the Agency of Natural Resources at the Park House at the Rec Park regarding the project's indirect discharge permit application. Bryan Harrington, an environmental analyst with the ANR, said this hearing will allow members of the public to express their comments or concerns, as well as have some of their questions answered. Before the meeting, there will be a quick site visit at 6 p.m. at the location on Route 7A across the street from Town Hall.
"This hearing is the result of comments and interest ... we'll solicit additional comments at the hearing," he said.
The project was originally proposed and presented in front of the planning commission and development review board in 2012. The proposal by Vermont Turquoise Hospitality LLC, owned by Alp Basdogan and Suzanne Tremblay features an 80 room hotel, with a traditional Turkish spa, as well as a 160 seat restaurant. There will also be art galleries and a rug making workshop. Previous public forums saw concerns about the project, due to parking issues and the potential for noise levels.
Many of the comments Harrington has received so far and what prompted the hearing stem from concerns surrounding the west branch of the Batten Kill River. Others focus on impacts to wetlands and private wells in the area.
Warren Foster, coordinator of the natural resources board in Bennington County, said that all buildings in this area indirectly discharge waste water to the Batten Kill. Indirect discharge works by the water flowing from the hotel and spa, separating from solid waste which is held in a separate tank. The water then filters through the ground, before eventually making its way to the Batten Kill.
In a letter to the editor published in the May 2 edition of The Journal, Dick Smith from Manchester wrote "let's all work together and not let the Batten Kill be degraded." He wrote that this project will indirectly flow 20,000 gallons of treated waste water a day into the Batten Kill, threatening the river and wells in the area.
"Treatment is not 100 percent effective and chemicals will flow to the Batten Kill," he wrote.
When asked about the 20,000 galleons, Foster said that amount would flow into a leach field only if the hotel and spa were working at full capacity. He said other large projects that were built in the area, specifically the Bromley Brook School, would have had a similar indirect discharge permit. Frank Parent, the engineer for the project, agreed with Foster, saying the 20,000 gallons a day would be the absolute maximum. Most hotels in the Manchester area operate with about 67 percent occupancy and Parent said he would expect similar occupancy with this development. Parent said the regulations surrounding water and waste water are conservative and strict for a reason, but that this project should do no harm to the Batten Kill. "In my experience, the actual flow is - regardless of the project - 75 percent [of the estimate] or less," he said.
Parent said some of the concerns he has heard deal with pool water potentially flowing in the waste water or commercial laundry treatment. He said both are false. Any water, should the pool be drained, will be pumped out. There will not be a commercial laundry on site, he added.
Any chemicals that are used will be basic bathroom or kitchen cleaners, similar to the ones used in homes, he said. However, homes do not have as many regulations in place as a large project like the hotel and spa. Parent said they will not just receive the permit and never have to be accountable again. The opposite is true.
"What we're adding to the system [the water headed to the Batten Kill] will not add any degradation to the river, like phosphorus and nitrogen," he said. "When you get an indirect discharge permit, a comprehensive quality control plan has to be submitted...we have to monitor it always."
Parent said if the permit is granted, there will be monitoring wells on the property, as well as quarterly summaries surrounding water quality. The Batten Kill will also be tested and monitored.
Robert Jones, project manager, said the comments and concerns stemming from the indirect discharge permit application and public forum are fiction.
"I've never seen so much uninformed, ridiculous commentary in my life," he said. "There's no way you can give credibility and at the public hearing this is going to be realized."