Friday, November 12, 2010

TOP STORY > >Cabot won’t take part in water plan

Leader staff writer

The board of the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority voted during a three-hour meeting on Tuesday to move ahead with a $55 million project to bring water from Greers Ferry Lake to the central part of the state without Cabot, one of the largest of its 11 members.
Woody Bryant, project manager, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is providing most of the funding, wants to move ahead with the project with the eight members that have signed contracts: Jacksonville, North Pulaski, Vilonia, Grand Prairie, Beebe, Ward, Austin and Furlow. Cabot, Lonoke and McRae have not signed.

The motion to proceed included the stipulation that Cabot could still participate at no extra cost if the Cabot Water and Wastewater Commission votes to stay in when it meets in regular session on Nov. 18.

The project will cost everyone a little more without Cabot, Bryant said, but everyone is aware of that and Vilonia, Austin and Beebe have already agreed to pay a little more to get the project under way.

Bryant is reluctant to say when the project will start, but he said it is possible that it will be under way by summer.

Bryant said without Cabot, the project will have to be scaled back. But the line, the most expensive part, will remain 24 inches. The treatment plant could be built smaller and added on to later as needed, he said.

If Cabot pulls out, this will be the second time. Cabot was one of the original members, but about 10 years ago, it pulled out in favor of using Central Arkansas Water as its long-term supplier of surface water.

The commission that now runs Cabot WaterWorks said last week that although having a backup supply of surface water might be desirable, Cabot doesn’t need the water. Members said they objected to having only one vote on the board of the Lonoke White Public Water Authority because members with fewer water customers could conceivably vote to charge them more for the water than others would pay.

Tad Bohannon, attorney for Cabot WaterWorks, also said last week that state law says cities can’t finance water projects for more than 20 years unless financing comes through the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. The Lonoke White Project will be financed for 40 years through the USDA.

Bohannon repeated that objection during the Tuesday meeting of the LWPWA board, but Clint McGue, attorney for LWPWA, said he didn’t think the project financing was illegal.