Thursday, October 11, 2007

TOP STORY >>Water line to area will be done in three years

Leader staff writer

The $59 million Northbelt Transmission Water Project that will bring water from Lake Maumelle and Lake Winona to Cabot, Jacksonville and North Pulaski Waterworks is on schedule for completion by June 2010. And since Cabot has been granted an increase in the water it can take from its well field, the cost of the 30-inch line that will bring the water from Gravel Ridge, where the Northbelt line ends, to Cabot by the end of 2010 will be paid in cash.

The Northbelt project was proposed by Central Arkansas Water about six years ago after that relatively new entity was formed with the merging of the water departments in Little Rock and North Little Rock.

Bill Cypert, secretary of Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, which runs the city utilities, told city council members during a recent committee meeting that the water department has already saved $8 million toward the cost of the Gravel Ridge line and will be able to save a total of $11.3 million. That’s important, he said, because it means water rates won’t have to be raised to pay for the line. In fact, no rate increase is expected for eight to 10 years.

Jim Ferguson, director of engineering with Central Arkansas Water, said the cost of providing water through a 42-inch line from an upgraded treatment plant at Cantrell Road and I-430 in Little Rock to Gravel Ridge 17.7 miles away is $43,150,000. From there the participants, who share in that cost based upon the amount of water they will buy, will build their own lines to serve their customers. CAW will pay $13.4 million, while Cabot and Jacksonville will pay $14.1 million and North Pulaski Waterworks will pay $1.5 million.

Cabot’s line from Gravel Ridge to its distribution system is estimated at $11.3 million. Gravel Ridge is essentially the beginning of the distribution systems for Jacksonville and north Pulaski, so their large expenditures are over when the 42-inch line is completed.

Until July, the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission (formerly Soil and Water) limited to 3 million gallons the amount of water Cabot could draw daily from its well field. Since Cabot WaterWorks customers often use 4 million gallons a day, the additional water was purchased from Jacksonville. On July 31, the staff at ANRC recommended that Cabot be allowed to draw 6 million gallons a day until the Northbelt project is completed and then 3 million gallons a day until 2023.

That decision was appealed by a farmer in the area of the well field just days after it was announced and Cabot went back to pumping only 3 million gallons a day. Then on Sept. 19, the ANRC upheld the staff’s decision.

Cypert told city council members that those who oppose Cabot pumping the additional water may sue Cabot WaterWorks and the ANRC, but the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission will deal with those problems as they arise.

Cypert also asked the council members to give the commission he represents blanket authority to condemn property for waterline easements.

Aldermen Teri Miessner and Becky Lemaster have been opposed to giving the commission that authority saying it would prevent property owners from speaking out against the easements. But Cypert and Alderman Ed Long, said they would get to speak in court, which is where condemnation issues are usually settled.

Cypert said 60 of the 120 easements are already signed and recorded. Of the 60 still needed, 59 are outside Cabot city limits. A council vote is needed to give the commission authority to condemn property for easements.

Cypert told the council members that the commission has the property appraised then offers 25 percent of the appraised value for the easements.

The property owners retain ownership and the only limitation placed on them is that they can’t build over the 20-foot-wide easement. All the easements are on streets or the edge or back of the property, he said. No permanent structures are affected.

Cypert said some of the 60 property owners are opposed to the easements because they don’t want anyone else using property or they don’t understand that once the line is in place, they won’t be able to tell that it’s there.

Others simply want more than the 25 percent of the value for the use of their property.