Tuesday, June 19, 2012

TOP STORY >> Grant helps end stink over sewer

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville will use a $105,000 grant to finish off a 20-year effort to bring sewer service to the Valentine-Wooten Road area southeast of Jacksonville. The Jacksonville City Council approved the grant in a special meeting Thursday.

Thea Hughes, manager of the city’s wastewater department, called the situation dire and told the council that many area residents were living with failing septic tanks or worse.

Hughes said about $3.5 million in state and federal grants had been spent to build sewer lines and five pump stations so the 200-plus residents can tie into the city’s sewer system.

The latest contractor has been making repairs that had gone unattended for about five years when the last contractor walked off the job in a dispute.

“As he has been making repairs, more problems were discovered that funding wasn’t available for,” she said. Overall, the project was about $100,000 short of completion, but the Delta Regional Authority has stepped in with the money.

The authority was notified by Gov. Mike Beebe’s office that emergency funding was needed, and the project was approved by the DRA last week. The authority will contribute $105,000for the completion of the sewer project.

But the city had to agree to waive competitive bidding. “It makes no sense,” Hughes said, “to stop the work and go back out for bids when this contractor is doing a good job and was the low bidder when the repair project first went out for bids and knows where the problems are.”

She added that there would be increased costs and delays if the council went through the bidding process all over again.

The council agreed. They also agreed to let the city enter into a contract with the contractor and serve as a conduit for this latest grant.

The Delta grant will be used to repair and complete a large bulge in pipe that if left unattended will result in further cracking and seepage of raw sewage into residential properties, complete nine “change in grade” areas where the slope of the gravity sewer pipe allows sewage to travel through the system in compliance with Arkansas Department of Health regulations, and repair and replace defective pipes running under county roads.

Chris Masingill, chairman of the Delta authority, said during an announcement at city hall on Tuesday, “This is very important to the community, very important to our economy. What happens here in Jacksonville is important to the success of the entire region. This is the type of project that is why we do what we do. We want to help create jobs, build community and improve lives. This project helps complete that mission.”

The sewer project should be completed in about a month, “We’ll run a final inspection and then we’ll accept the line and that means maintenance, upkeep and repairs become our responsibility,” Hughes said.

But it doesn’t mean any resident will be ready to use the sewer.

“Each resident is responsible for having a line run from their homes to our line,” Hughes said, adding that state law requires anyone within 300 feet of a main sewer line to tie on.

Hughes said many of the residents have received approval, because of low income, for free hookups through various agencies.

Why isn’t the city paying for the sewer work to begin with?

Hughes said the city normally does not pay for sewer lines. “That cost is covered by the developer of a subdivision or area. But because the Valentine-Wooten was already established, it had to form a public service commission and apply for grants to build the lines,” she said.

Once it did that, Hughes explained, a contractor was hired but had problems and lawsuits and in a dispute with the commission walked off the job five years ago.

After the council voted to bypass competitive bidding and sign the contract with the contractor, Aldermen Reedie Ray, who has pushed for years to get sewer services out to the area, thanked the council.