Tuesday, May 29, 2012

TOP STORY >> $50M plan will pump water here

Leader staff writer

Bids on the now $50 million Lonoke-White water project will be opened June 7 with construction expected to start in August.

The project’s estimated price has doubled in the planning stage. The estimated completion date is now July 2014.

The members of the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority which will build the water system and bring water from Greers Ferry Lake to their customers have raised their rates to pay for the project. It will be funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission through state water bonds.

Not all the members need the water now. But they know they will need it in the future for growth or if the state forces them to shut down their wells or their wells go dry.

Membership in the project has changed over two decades. The members are now Austin, Beebe, Furlow, Grand Prairie/Bayou Two, Jacksonville, North Pulaski, Vilonia and Ward.

Beebe, the member that put the White in Lonoke-White, pulled out and came back.

Cabot, at one time the member with the largest population and the one that hurt the project’s chance at a grant from USDA, pulled out in favor of buying water from Central Arkansas Water when it formed from the municipal water departments of Little Rock and North Little Rock and didn’t come back.

But city leaders at that time did size a planned water line connecting to CAW large enough to sell to most of the original members if the Lonoke-White project failed. Lonoke city, one of the most recent members, also pulled out.

Woody Bryant, the project director who was hired about three years ago when it appeared the project had a real chance for funding, said there are a few details that must be worked out such as some easements that still aren’t signed.

But the funding was approved last fall pending permits and engineering for the lines to Beebe, Furlow and Jacksonville and those are all completed.

“The money has been solid since last fall,” Bryant said.

The bid opening will be at Ward City Hall and Bryant said it will be “an all-day affair.”

The bids went out in six packets for the water treatment plant with the intake structure at Cove Creek, large transmission lines from 36 to 24 inches of steel or ductile iron, 12-inch PVC transmission lines, a tank on Hwy. 127 near Hwy. 107 north of Rose Bud, access roads and meter stations.

The project was once controlled by Community Water Systems, which is headquartered at Greers Ferry. CWS completed a rural water system for Faulkner and Cleburne counties about 17 years ago that was partly funded with federal grants.

But not long after, the grant money became unavailable and the Lonoke-White project began a long struggle for funding.

A lawsuit that concluded about six years ago put ownership of the project in the hands of its members. But CWS retains ownership of half of the 205 or so acres at Cove Creek as well as shared use of the 2.85 acres on the lake where the intake structure will be built.

CWS has until 2018 to claim and pay with interest half of the cost of the intake if it wants to use it, Bryant said.