Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

TOP STORY >> Go-ahead seen for big water project

Leader staff writer

The Lonoke-White Water Project to bring water from Greers Ferry Lake to the central part of the state that has been in the planning stages for about 15 years could be funded from President Obama’s $800 billion economic-stimulus package approved earlier this month and be under construction by June.

The project is “shovel ready,” said project engineer Tommy Bond of Bond Consulting Engineers in Jacksonville. That will likely make it eligible for about $30 million in low-interest loans and possibly make it eligible for up to $5 million in grants to build the 24-inch transmission line from the lake.

Only projects that are ready for construction are eligible for economic-stimulus money because the purpose of the stimulus package is to put people to work now.

Partners in the total $62 million water project still hope that Congress will give the Corps of Engineers the $6 million approved in 2002 to build the intake site at Cove Creek. And although officials with the project are talking to Community Water Systems about temporarily using its water-treatment plant, eventually $30 million would be needed to build a treatment plant for Lonoke White.

Bond has been working with an alphabet soup of government agencies trying to find money for the long-awaited water project even before Congress approved the stimulus package: the ANRC (Arkansas Natural Resources Commission) ADEQ (Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality) and the USDARD (United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development).

Although it has become clear that Jacksonville and Cabot, which have a population greater than 10,000, are ineligible for grant money from the USDARD, the other 12 project members might be eligible for grants.

In addition to Cabot and Jacksonville, the members of the project are Grand Prairie, Beebe, Lonoke, Ward, McRae, Vilonia, North Pulaski, Furlow, Southwest White County Water Association (SOWCO) and Austin.

Bond said the ANRC, which volunteered about eight years ago to provide loan money for the project, is looking now at all the available pockets of money that could make the project affordable.

The challenge over the next 30 to 45 days, he said, is to get signed contracts from the 12 members which will include how much water they will pay for from the transmission line whether they use it or not. If the members as a group sign contracts to pay for 4 million gallons a day, the water will cost $2.64 per thousand gallons.

The problem, Bond said, is that right now several of the partners, like Cabot, Beebe, Jacksonville and Grand Prairie, have wells and don’t need water from Greers Ferry Lake at this time. Additionally, Cabot, Jacksonville and North Pulaski Water are under contract to buy ground water from Central Arkansas Water and are working toward building a transmission line from the Little Rock area.

“We have to get a commitment of at least 3 million gallons a day from the 12 members,” Bond said.

“What it all boils down to is the future of your water system. You pay a little now so you don’t have to pay outrageously in the future. Water won’t get any cheaper.

“If we use stimulus money, we would have to start (the project) in June and be finished in 21 months,” he said. “It’s doable. We can meet the challenge if we’re just turned loose.”