Tuesday, August 23, 2011

TOP STORY >> Lonoke-White water project back on again

Leader staff writer

The on-again, off-again funding for the almost two-decade-old Lonoke-White Water Project appears to be on again.

The board that runs the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority approved during a special meeting Tuesday six resolutions that essentially show the agencies that are expected to provide the funds that they are serious about building their treatment plant and water line to bring water to the area from Greers Ferry Lake, and they will have enough revenue from the sale of the water to repay the funds.

Dave Fenter, finance manager with Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which might provide about half the funding for the $50 million project, said after meeting that the important thing for the public to know is that the funding isn’t certain. But he said the governor has looked over the project and so has Randy Young, the head of ARNC, and it looks good to them.

The cities and water associations that are part of the project include Jacksonville, Ward, North Pulaski Water, Beebe, Austin, Furlow, Grand Prairie Bayou Two and Vilonia.

There are still several conditions that the members of the project must meet before the agreements can be signed but the members know what those conditions are and they are sure they can meet them, Fenter said.

The public also should know that if the funding goes through, the project won’t get started until possibly spring of 2012.

ARNC’s attempts to fund the project in the past have failed because the money was to have come from the Environmental Protection Agency. And federal EPA money can’t be used for projects where the need is not immediate. The water associations and cities that will benefit from the Lonoke-White Project have enough water for their immediate needs. The project is to take care of growth and to conserve ground water.

The $25 million or so that will be ARNC’s part of the funding will come from bonds backed by the state.

“The EPA is not involved,” said Woody Bryant, the project director for Lonoke-White Public Water Authority.

But another federal agency, the United States Department of Agriculture, is expected to provide almost $25 million for the project.

Ricky Carter, with USDA, told the LWPWA board that his earliest correspondence about the project was almost 20 years old. It’s a good project that is worthy of funding, he said. But he also said that funding isn’t certain. There has been a misunderstanding between his office and the office in Washington that must be resolved.

To ensure that the money is repaid, the Washington office wanted many of the contracts for purchasing water elsewhere voided. Carter said not only is that not possible financially, it’s not practical. The Lonoke-White Project is permitted through the U.S. Corps of Engineers to take from the lake only 4.4 million gallons and the combined usage of all members is about 10 million gallons a day.

When the project is completed, it will provide about 36 percent of the water used by members, Carter said. Member wells will provide 32 percent and 32 percent will be purchased elsewhere.

Carter said he had hoped to hear from Washington by the Tuesday meeting that the confusion had been cleared up. No answer came, but told the LWPWA board, “The longer it takes, the better it looks.”