Tuesday, July 10, 2012

TOP STORY >> Ward gets big check

Leader staff writer

Ward got a welcome kick in its economic pants Monday night when Woody Bryant with the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority presented Mayor Art Brooke with a check for $206,000.

The amount covers what the city gave to the water project about six years ago to help get the $50 million project off the ground.

The money will go to the city’s water department, which actually provided the funds in the first place.

“It will allow us to start some projects that have been on hold and we will put some of the money in a contingency fund to help in case of emergencies,” the mayor said.

He added that it could cost as much as $20,000 to repair or replace one of the city’s water pumps. “It can happen. Just a few years ago we had a major flood that caused $178,000 worth of damage to our equipment,” Brooke said.

Alderman Charles Gastineau was happy to see the check. “It’s been a long time coming and this project has been declared dead more than once,” he said.

But the project is very much alive with a groundbreaking set for 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Ward Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Mike Beebe, along with Rep. Tim Griffin and Rep. Rick Crawford are scheduled to be at the ceremony.

Ward was the first of a number of entities to be repaid now that the project has secured its funding.

In September 2011, the LWPWA received a $24.5 million federal loan for construction. The federal loan is combined with a commitment of up to $30.9 million from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission for the authority to pump water from Greers Ferry Lake.

The plans call for an intake structure to be built at Greers Ferry Lake, which will ultimately be able to draw 30 million gallons of water a day from the lake.

The beginning capacity of the intake will be 10 million gallons a day.

The water will go to a nearby treatment plant that will also have a 10 million gallon a day capacity at the startup and a 24-inch transmission line to bring the water into the local area.

The eight entities and their nearly 40,000-plus customers will be responsible for the loan repayment, and rates have already been increased for most to cover the payments.

Bids on the $50 million Lonoke-White water project were opened in early June and the groundbreaking will be Friday, with construction starting in earnest in August. It should be completed by July 2014.

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 the USDA, pulled out in favor of buying water from Central Arkansas Water. Lonoke city, one of the most recent members, also pulled out.

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, 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.