By Amy Ash Nixon, as seen in the Caledonian Record:

BURKE — Hoped-for infrastructure improvements to East and West Burke Villages took a recent step forward.

Town officials were recently informed by representatives of the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development that Burke will receive a part of a nearly $250,000 grant to plan water and wastewater upgrades for East and West Burke Villages.

Three state officials from those two agencies, Lynette Claudon and Mary Clark from the DEC and Faith Ingulsrud from the housing/community development program, attended the most recent Burke Select Board meeting, the minutes show, to discuss the grant opportunity and an upcoming workshop where officials from both Burke and Wolcott, which also received funding, are being asked to attend to learn more about next steps for the funding award.

That meeting is set for Nov. 13 at the Highland Center For The Arts in Greensboro, from 5-7 p.m., and will be a combined meeting with the town of Wolcott to learn more about what officials in both towns will need to do in the coming months, according to information about the Northern Borders Regional Commission (NBRC) Grant Kickoff Event.

According to the discussion at the recent selectboard meeting, a grant of $250,000 was sought, and $219,000 was awarded, plus $112,000 in regional planning money for the project, so there is a total of $313,000 for the planning for the projects.

Under the grant, the DEC “will help three pilot villages, Wolcott, East Burke and West Burke that have no municipal sewers arrive at a financially viable approaches to wastewater treatment that can be replicated throughout Vermont, facilitating job creation by making redevelopment of vacant buildings possible and priming villages for business investment,” according to information about the projects posted on the Northern Borders Regional Commission website recently.

The town is asked to help form a community volunteer committee as part of the process, the Burke Select Board was told.

Christine Emmons, a member of the Burke Select Board, said trustees and directors of the West Burke Village need to be involved in the planning and meetings for the project.

State officials also noted at the meeting that they will want to schedule monthly meetings with the select board and members of the One Burke task force present.

The infrastructure task force is one of three volunteer-led committees which came from last year’s Vermont Council on Rural Development Community Visit process during which about 100 community members turned out to brainstorm the most pressing needs in town, and to work together on ways to realize improvements to better the quality of life in Burke.

Joe Allard, chairman of the Burke Select Board, said on Monday that the local One Burke Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Tammy Wagner, has been working hard on the hoped-for project to try to revitalize economic opportunities in West Burke Village.

“The VT DEC has secured a grant from NBRC to help with planning and developing a waste water or fresh water system in villages of West Burke, East Burke and the Town of Wolcott,” said Allard. “I’m not sure if any of this will go anywhere or not but the first thing to do is to find out if any of this is feasible.”

“The Town of Burke has secured a $30,000 grant from USDA to do a feasibility study to determine if a waste water system or a water system for either village would be possible or affordable,” said Allard of earlier funding that was awarded before the larger grant came through. “This was applied for by the One Burke Infrastructure Task Force.”

Wagner on Monday said local officials don’t have much more information and are looking forward to learning more at the meeting in Greensboro on Nov. 13. “At this point I do not know how or how much the money and split will be,” she said.

The earlier grant funding through the USDA Rural Development was aimed at looking at creating wastewater systems in both East and West Burke, and noted that West Burke does not have a community water system.

In the USDA project sheet for the earlier grant that has now led to the higher amount of funding, USDA noted, “This significantly limits opportunities for development in each of the villages, especially commercial and multi-family housing development opportunities. Community wastewater systems could also benefit residents who may have failed septic systems or will likely need to replace their systems in the near future.”

The USDA project sheet noted that the Community Visit process last year identified “infrastructure analysis as one of the top priorities,” and also noted that Burke is within the Northeast Kingdom REAP (Rural Economic Area Partnership) Zone, which qualifies for higher federal funding for needed projects such as infrastructure investments.

In an email about the grant award, Des Hertz, chair of One Burke, stated, “I am thrilled that Burke will be working with the DEC on this study and that the grant funding was approved.”