Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

TOP STORY >>Well water to stabilize city’s rates

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

Water rates doubled in Cabot about four years ago to pay for improvements to the system and lay the 30-inch line to connect to Central Arkansas Water at a cost of about $30 million.

But the commission that now runs the water and sewer systems says customers need not fear another rate hike for eight to 10 years because the state has granted a request to keep using the well field long after it was supposed to close down.
Cabot’s original permit to take water from its wells between Beebe and Lonoke said the wells were to be shut down in 2010 when the city connected to lines that were supposed to come from Greers Ferry Lake through the Lonoke / White Water Project.

That project faltered after Cabot pulled out in favor of CAW, although it has been revamped and could still be completed sometime in the future with Cabot as one of its members.

In the meantime, Cabot asked Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which issued the city’s permit to take water from its wells, to increase the allowable amount from 3 million gallons a day to 6 million gallons through 2030.

That request was denied, but Natural Resources has agreed to allow the city to take up to 6 million gallons a day until the connection to CAW is completed in 2010 and 3 million gallons a day until 2023.

After the cutoff point, the wells can still be used for emergency backup.

The decision from Natural Resources is a favorable one for ratepayers because it means Cabot WaterWorks will be able to supply much of its own water even after the connection is made to CAW.

That means the rates that were increased to pay for the connection to CAW won’t have to go up again to actually pay for the water.

But even though water rates are expected to stay the same for years to come Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission says sewer rates will have to go up in the near future to pay for improvements to the collection system.

City residents voted to extend a one-cent sales tax in great part to pay for a $10 million sewer treatment plant without raising rates.

The new plant, scheduled for completion by the end of the year, should take care of city sewage for the next 20 years. But the sewer collection system is not keeping up with the city’s growth and commission has hired an engineer to develop plans to remedy the situation.

Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission have been in full control of the water and sewer departments, which they named Cabot WaterWorks, for less than two years.

The five-member commission takes pride in the fact that although their discussion is often lively, they have always come together in the end and never had a vote that wasn’t unanimous.

Don Keesee, the banker who often took on the role of devil’s advocate during discussions, was also the member who most frequently talked with pride about the commission’s solidarity.

Interviewed by phone Tuesday, Keesee, who resigned from the commission this month to become president of Regions Bank in Springdale and Fayetteville, said he had never served with a group that he respected more.

“They’re ethical and moral and they are there for the citizens,” Keesee said.

“There were never any personal agendas. It’s unbelievable how far they’ve come and what it’s done.

With its combined experience in business, banking and engineering, Keesee called the commission “a beautiful marriage of abilities.”

Keesee said after he accepted the position with Regions, he had to leave for northwest Arkansas almost immediately.
The commission has decided to advertise to find someone of comparable ability to replace him.