Wednesday, February 14, 2007

TOP STORY >>Utility group touts deeds

Leader staff writer

The turnout wasn’t as good as hoped for, but the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission is satisfied with its marathon Saturday meeting with the mayor and city council that was designed to show them just how far the commission has come in the year it has run the city’s utilities.

The $16 million wastewater treatment plant is on schedule for completion by the beginning of December. The commission has identified the various collection basins for the sewer system, knows the limitations of each and is working on plans for improvements and expansion. The commission is working with Central Arkansas Water, which will supply water for the city in the future, to keep the costs of that multi-million dollar project down. And it is working toward increasing the amount of water that can legally be taken from the city’s well field so more of the cost of connecting to CAW can be paid with cash. “All and all, I was pleased,” said Bill Cypert, commission secretary. “We accomplished what we wanted to. I think the council has a better idea about what we do and they seem content to let us keep doing it. I haven’t heard anyone say anything different.
“I was a little disappointed that four (of eight) council members didn’t show up. But we’ll keep working on the issues and we’ll work with the (public works) committee and we’ll get it done.”

Although the commission has complete authority to run water and wastewater without interference from the mayor and city council which controlled them until the commission took over in January 2006, the council still sets water and sewer rates and it could vote the commission out of existence.

But Mayor Eddie Joe Williams told the commission in January that he didn’t intend to go against the 2-1 vote of city residents that put the commission in control. And he said after the Saturday meeting that the commission is working on existing needs and also planning 15 years ahead, so he sees no reason for them to stop now.

“They truly have the community’s interest at heart,” Williams said. The meeting included breakfast, a history lesson about Cabot’s water woes from Commission Chairman J.M. Park, and a review of some of the problems and projects the commission is working on from Cypert and commission member Gary Walker, who is an engineer. “In my whole 76-year lifetime…we have never had an adequate supply of water,” said Park, a retired banker who has spent most of his life in Cabot.

Park talked about the WPA grant that paid to turn two abandoned oil wells into the first municipal water system. When those wells started going dry, water pipes in houses would fill with gas leading to, he said, “the famous flaming faucets of Cabot” which were written about in the state newspaper. During the 1950s, water from wells on a farm was piped back to town, he said. Those wells lasted about 30 years before the waterline to Jacksonville had to be built.

Twenty years later, the Wattensaw well field between Beebe and Lonoke went into production. And even though the well field and treatment plant is capable of producing 7 million gallons a day, the state allows the city to take only 3 million gallons a day from the ground. A preliminary study shows that the wells are not adversely affecting the aquifer where they are located, so the commission is hopeful that the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which permits city wells, will extend the city’s permit to as much as 6 million gallons a day until 2030.

For the mayor and Alderman Ed Long, there was nothing new to see on the tour of the state-of-the art water treatment plant where workers can keep check on the wells during weekends from secure computers at their homes. Both were on the council when the well system and treatment plant were built. In fact, they were the driving force behind passage of the one-cent sales tax that paid for them.

Neither was on the council when voters approved extending that sales tax in large part to pay for the new wastewater plant. But they are very familiar with the old one that is overloaded and requires constant attention to keep it operating at a level that is acceptable to the state. And it was all new to council members Virgil Teague, Becky Lemaster and Teri Miessner who were among the passengers on the church bus that carried the council and commission from one site to another. Lisa Brickell, Tom Armstrong, Eddie Cook and Ken Williams did not attend the meeting.

Among the issues that the commission hopes to work out in meetings with the public works committee of the city council are the purchase of the city annex and old city shop, raising sewer rates, lowering the high wholesale rates that are making Austin and Highway 19 Water Association look for another supplier and annexation of a commercial area on Highway 5 that is outside the city’s water district.
Since the Saturday meeting, the commission is confident that it will keep going and those issues and others that arise will be worked through, Cypert said.