Leader Blues

Monday, October 16, 2006

FRONT PAGE STORY>>Cabot is not tapping into new water supply

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

The Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission is not quite ready to follow Jacksonville’s lead and join a project to bring water to the area from Greers Ferry Lake. Commissioners Thursday evening listened to a proposal from the Lonoke/White Public Water Authority to pay a membership fee of $1 for each of its 8,600 water customers to become a part of the project, but said they will wait until their attorney has examined the offer more closely before they decide if they are willing to spend money on it.

LWPWA is a new entity born out of a failed attempt to build a water- intake site and treatment plant on the lake and bring water into Lonoke and White counties. For more than a decade, the project was run by Community Water System, which serves customers around the lake. But the project ran into financial trouble when Cabot pulled out in favor of buying water from Central Arkansas Water and some of the members that were left eventually sued CWS for control of the project.
Now, organized as LWPWA, the members are searching for new members to help pay for the project that would have cost about $30 million two years ago, but could cost considerably more now.

Tad Bohannon, attorney for the commission, said having a backup water supplier as LWPWA could be is always a good idea, but he pointed out that paying the $8,600 wouldn’t give the commission a vote on the LWPWA board.

Don Keesee, vice president of the commission, was the most outspoken about the proposal, saying that Greers Ferry Lake would almost certainly be tapped in the future, but he didn’t think LWPWA would do it. “Do we even have a pie-in-the- sky idea of what it’s going to cost…to run the pipe line here?” he asked.

The commission could buy into the project and get a seat on the board for about $350,000, but Keesee said paying that amount would be only the beginning and wouldn’t guarantee that the project would be completed. Ben Rice, attorney for LWPWA, told the commission that the main purpose in asking Jacksonville and Cabot to join is that their numbers are needed to secure a 6 million gallon a day water allocation in the lake from the U.S. Corps of Engineers.

At present, the lake can supply another 30 million gallons a day for water customers. The Mid Arkansas Water Alliance, led by CAW, has asked for the whole allocation, but will likely be limited to 15 million gallons a day, Rice said. That leaves 15 million gallons a day for everyone else.

“If we don’t get in there and request our fair share (of the allocation) it’s all going to go somewhere else,” Rice said.
The members of LWPWA together have about 10,000 water customers. With Jacksonville and Cabot, the customer base would triple in size and justify the need for 6 million gallons a day.

“The important thing is to help us get into a posture to get this allocation,” Rice said. Ward Mayor Art Brook, president of the LWPWA board also attended the meeting. After he and Rice left the commission discussed the offer briefly. J.M. Park, commission chairman, appeared inclined consider at least a small investment in the project.

“It’s just evidence of interest. That’s how I read it,” Park said. Bill Cypert, commission secretary, agreed. “If we back off and don’t pay that, we’re pretty much saying we’re not interested,” Cypert said. In other business, the board discussed replacing 6,900 feet of water line on Greystone Boulevard, which has broken 11 times in 2006.

Tim Joyner, general manager of Cabot WaterWorks, told the commission that he will need to buy about 2,000 feet of ductile iron pipe to replace the PVC pipe that has been breaking because it was not bedded properly. “In every case it goes back to a bedding issue,” Joyner said. “The original pipe was laid on jagged rock.” The commission approved the work but asked Joyner to provide them with a cost when the work is done.

Joyner also gave the commission a letter from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality concerning the poor performance of the sewer treatment plant. Even though a new plant is under construction, Joyner told the board that he is trying to correct violations at the old plant that could lead to fines.

“You can’t ignore it,” Joyner said. “ADEQ will not allow it. They want to see us take some corrective action.”