Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

TOP STORY >> Beebe will join water group, see price hike

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

After more than an hour of explaining Monday night why it would be a good thing, the commission that runs the Beebe Water Department got the unanimous vote of confidence from the city council it needed before signing a contract to become part of the Lonoke- White Water Project that will bring water from Greers Ferry Lake to central Arkansas.

By its vote, the council assured the commission that the city will soon pass an ordinance increasing water and sewer bills by 6 percent a year for the next three years, an 18 percent increase overall. When all the increases are in place, the average bill for a family will be about $15 more a month than it is now.

The rate increase will raise about $182,000 a year to pay for the city’s connection to the system and the city’s part of the construction of the water intake structure and water treatment plant at the lake and the 30-inch water main to bring water to the area.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $40 million to $50 million. The money will come from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which funnels federal money to state projects.

The interest rate for the money that will be borrowed for 20 years is 1 percent.

John Hayes, chairman of the water commission, said by connecting to the Lonoke-White Project and buying a minimum of 7.52 percent of the water Beebe uses from the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority, which will oversee the project, the city won’t have to drill another water well by 2017 as planned and it won’t have to make upgrades to its water-treatment plant.

Hayes said no increase in water rates will be needed to pay for the minimum 75,000 gallons of water a day the city will be obligated to purchase from LWPWA when the project is completed in about three years. The Beebe Water Department can absorb that cost, he said.

Hayes corrected a mistake in the cost of water from the Lonoke- White Project. Instead of $2.50 per thousand gallons, the water would cost less than 80 cents per thousand gallons.

Don Beavers, the engineer who works on all water and sewer projects in Beebe, told the city council that although Beebe’s wells are stable and that the water level in the part of the Alluvial aquifer where the wells are located has actually risen in recent years, it could drop at any time the way it has in Lonoke, Prairie and Arkansas counties. Cities in those counties have been ordered by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission to find other water sources.

“It should last 30 years,” Beavers said of the city’s well water supply. “But it could last only 10.”

The city needs another source, and the Lonoke-White Project looks like the best one, he said.

Beebe was part of the project when it started about 15 years ago but pulled out because of the cost and lack of control over the water. Lawsuits have taken control of the project away from Community Water Systems, which started it, and it is now controlled by project members.

Currently, there are 11 participants: Beebe, Cabot, Jacksonville, Vilonia, Grand Prairie Water, North Pulaski Water, Ward, Lonoke, McRae, Furlow and Austin.

Each participant has an equal vote on the board of directors.