Friday, November 05, 2010

TOP STORY > >Cabot won’t join big water works

By joan mccoy
Leader staff writer

Cabot’s participation in the Lonoke-White Water Project to bring water to the area from Greers Ferry Lake is uncertain.

Woody Bryant, the manager for the water project, said Thursday night when he met with the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission that Ricky Carter with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency planning to finance the $55 million project, had said the project needs to move forward now with or without all the members.

If the statement was in-tended to pressure Cabot into a commitment, it didn’t work. Bill Cypert, secretary and spokesman for the commission, told Bryant to move ahead without Cabot if that was what he needed to do.

Contacted Friday morning, Bryant said that is exactly what he is doing.

“We’re moving ahead,” he said.
Cabot is one of 11 members of the project, which has been in the planning and finance stages off and on for more than 15 years. Lonoke, also one of the 11, has pulled out and McRae is uncertain. The other eight have signed contracts committing to the project.

Cabot was one of the original members of the project but pulled out nine years ago and opted to get a long-term supply of lake water from Central Arkansas Water which was formed when the water departments of Little Rock and North Little Rock merged.

J.M. Park, chairman of Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission, told Bryant that he only votes in case of a tie, but if he has to vote on signing a contract with Lonoke White, he will vote “no.”

Cabot doesn’t need the water, Park said.

But the real show-stopper could be state law, according to Tad Bohannon, attorney for the commission. The project is to be funded for 40 years entirely by the USDA. But state law says that no city is allowed to finance a water project for more than 20 years unless the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission is involved and says funding for more that 20 years is necessary, Bohannon said.

Gary Walker, commission vice-chairman, asked Bohannon whether the contracts signed by the other cities—Ward, Austin, Beebe, Jacksonville and Vilonia—were legal. But Bohannon said he couldn’t possibly speak about those cities.

The Lonoke White contract was the only item on the agenda of the special commission meeting Thursday night. From the discussion, it was clear that the commission had many concerns.

For example, Bohannon pointed out that the contract had no provision that says all members must agree on the rate. If in an effort to conserve water the Lonoke White board decided to charge more to customers like Cabot that could potentially need more water than some of the smaller members, the board could simply raise Cabot’s rates.

“You all get just one vote,” Bohannon told the Cabot commission. “All the littler water users could just out vote you.”

The contract also prohibits members from selling water wholesale.

Park said the $21 million project Cabot is now paying for to connect to CAW will supply all the water Cabot will need.

“If we can’t sell some of the water we don’t need, I don’t know,” Park said.

Bohannon also pointed out that the contract has no “dry hole clause” which would ensure that Cabot doesn’t have to keep paying for a project that is not completed.

“They have the right to terminate water if you fail to pay. But you don’t have the right to terminate pay if they don’t provide water,” he told the commission.

Bryant, who said his job was to get all 11 project members to sign the contracts, told the commission that they should sign because they need the water as a backup and because having another water source will give them leverage with their water rates with CAW.

The commission will take up the discussion again when it meets in regular session.

Bryant said the project could be downsized and built even without participation from Cabot, Lonoke and McRae.