Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

TOP STORY >> Bringing water to area will be costly

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The cost of getting water under the I-430 bridge in North Little Rock to supply Cabot, Jacksonville and North Pulaski Water Association will cost twice as much as anticipated.

The three water providers are under contract to share the cost of upgrades to the Central Arkansas Water system (formerly the water departments of Little Rock and North Little Rock) to bring water north to their systems. When the project first started three years ago, Cabot and Jacksonville expected to pay about $7 million each and North Pulaski expected to pay $800,000 for their part of upgrades to a CAW pumping station and to lay water lines under I-430.

Now, all three will have to pay twice that amount, if the project is to move forward. None say they are willing to pull out of the project, because they have no other good option for water for the future. And so far, none are talking about rate increases for their customers.

“The prices have pretty much doubled across the board,” said Steve Fikes, general manager of North Pulaski Water Association. “But we feel like the prices are legitimate, and we’ll keep going because we don’t have any option at this time. We need water.”

Cabot needs water, too, probably more than either of the other cities because of its tremendous growth. But the planned 30-inch line from Gravel Ridge to Cabot that was supposed to be under construction this summer could be postponed, possibly for many years if the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission can convince the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission to increase its draw from the well field that began operation about six years ago.

The only item on the agenda when the Cabot Water and Waste-water Commission met Thursday night was the bids totaling $44 million for the pumping station and two, 30-inch steel lines under the bridge. If the bids are accepted, CAW would pay $13.5 million and Cabot, Jacksonville and North Pulaski would pay $30.5 million.

The Cabot commission decided that turning down the bid on the pumping station was not really an option, since Cabot needs CAW water, but commissioners said the pipes probably should be re-bid later in the year. The cost of the steel might go down, they said. Or they could ask CAW to reconsider their requirements for the work.

“Everything CAW does is Cadillac-style,” said Commissioner Bill Cypert. “We don’t need that. We need a Chevrolet.”
The commissioners took over water and wastewater at the first of the year and are still familiarizing themselves with the plans for connecting to CAW. But even though Tim Joyner, the general manager they hired for Cabot WaterWorks as it is now called, says the contracts are difficult to understand, one thing is clear:

At the rate the costs of construction are increasing, the $21 million the city intended to borrow from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commisson (formerly Soil and Water) will have to be increased to $31 million. And when the connection is made, Cabot WaterWorks will have to pay CAW $1.14 per thousand gallons of water instead of producing water from its own wells at a cost of 37 cents per thousand gallons.

The Arkansas Natural Resouces Commission allowed Cabot to draw 3 million gallons a day from the well fields between Beebe and Lonoke over the objections of area farmers and Grand Prairie Water Association which has wells in the same area.
Although Cabot has a sort of gentlemen’s agreement with Grand Prairie and the farmers in the area of the well field that it will pull out of the well field by 2011 to keep from further depleting the Alluvial Aquifer, where the well field is located, David Fenter with Natural Resources said Friday that he has nothing in writing that says Cabot’s right to draw from the field ends then.

“They’ve listed in our water plan and they’re got 3 million gallons a day allotted for their use,” he said.

But the new commissioners know that getting more than that, which they need, will require the goodwill of their neighbors, especially Grand Prairie.

J.M. Park, chairman of Cabot Water and Wastewater, said he doesn’t think Grand Prairie would support their request to Natural Resources.

“I’m not sure that’s going to be received well,” he warned. “They feel like they’ve been lied to. This was going to be a temporary thing…I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see a lawsuit. I guess I have a vision,” he said.