On Jan. 3, City officials joined representatives from the USDA, the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and staff for Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Peter Welch at Montpelier’s Wastewater Resource Recovery Facility to discuss a $19.5-million combined grant and loan awarded to the city through United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant program. The grant, totaling about $3.5 million, joins a loan to the city of about $16 million, according to a USDA press release. The funds will be used for two projects, per the release: stormwater updates for East State Street and the so-called Phase II update to the Water Resource Recovery Facility, which will include a new gasification/dryer to reduce the volume of solid waste that leaves the plant. The dryer will be powered by biogas produced on-site, the release noted. Standing under a light rain beside one of the outdoor treatment containers, the facility’s chief operator Chris Cox said “the organics we’re sending to the landfill still has lots of energy in it.” Cox added that the organic material that emerges from current wastewater treatment processes is a sludge that still consists of 80% water. A new dryer for the facility will reduce up to 65% of the solid wastes that must be trucked from the Montpelier plant back to the Coventry landfill, Cox explained.“We want to reduce that just for trucking alone,” Cox noted, “but we also want the energy from it.” Sarah Waring, the USDA’s state director for rural development, noted in a subsequent interview that many factors go into the decision of who is awarded such funding. Applications are scored according to a standard rubric, and decision-makers take into consideration factors such as whether city officials have the technical and engineering understanding to approach the proposed project. Such applications take a great deal of time to prepare, Waring noted, and the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation was also involved. Engineer and Director of Public Works Kurt Motyka pointed to the tremendous degree of collaboration that went into preparing the grant, noting that workers from the city of Montpelier, the USDA, and the Vermont DEC all contributed to the application, and engineering consultants Brown and Caldwell completed the report that determined eligibility for the project. It was USDA workers who suggested combining the State Street and Phase II projects for a single funding application, Motyka said. Work on the application began in March 2022, and the city was notified of its approval in October. Going forward, Motyka said, final design on the Phase II work will take a little under a year according to the schedule of consultant Brown and Caldwell. When this design phase is about 60% completed, the city will begin the bidding process for equipment for the gasification project. Once this phase is finished, construction will last about 18 months, Motyka said, so it will take about two and half years to have the new system operational.