July 8, 2009 Edition

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Update on water authority given

Lawrence County Chamber Board Chair John Allen (from left), talks with Stewart Noland of Crist Engineers, A.J. Henry, chairman of the Northeast Arkansas Public Water Authority, and County Judge Alex Latham at the conclusion of the Chamberís recent quarterly meeting.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt

Gretchen Hunt

Members of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce heard an update on the formation of the Northeast Arkansas Regional Water Authority at the Chamberís quarterly meeting on Thursday.

Stewart Noland with Crist Engineers of Little Rock and A.J. Henry, chairman of the NEA Regional Water Authority, spoke about progress on the project and what the next steps will be.

The water authority offers an alternative to tapping ground water.

"We are having to go deeper and deeper every year," Henry said. "This is very important for Lawrence County."

Members of the authority are Alicia, Hoxie, Walnut Ridge and the Lawrence County Regional Water District, but Henry said the system, which will use surface water from the Spring River, will have the capability to serve other communities, as well.

The water treatment plant, which will be totally enclosed, will be able to treat three million gallons of water per day.

"This will provide long-term surface water supply for Lawrence County," Noland said. "We are not even skimming the surface of what is available."

The water will then be transported by 83,000 feet of water lines that will connect the treatment center and existing distribution centers for the members. Members will pay for the water they receive, but will no longer have to pump up ground water or treat it.

"Water will be monitored at the plant and at the individual distribution centers," Henry said.

One of the most challenging aspects will be crossing the Black River. This will be done by boring underneath the river and is expected to be completed this fall. Noland said a 27-28 inch hole will have to be bored to run the 24-inch pipe.

He said the project has taken about six to seven years to go from an idea to a reality, mainly because of the cost of the project, which is approximately $11.5 million.

A large bulk of that money is being funded through USDA and Arkansas Natural Resources Commission loans totaling $9.5 million. These are low-interest loans and will be paid back with revenues collected by the authority from its members.

A total of $2 million in grants has also been received. The authority received a $1.7 million rural development grant from the USDA and a $300,000 grant from the Delta Regional Authority.

The design for the project is complete and easement issues are being finalized, according to Noland. He said they should be ready to accept bids soon and hope to be under construction in October. The plan is to do work in the cultivated areas during the off-season for crops to cause as little disruption as possible.

"We hope to have this project complete in early 2011," he said.

The project will also result in the creation of some jobs, as employees will be needed for treatment and transmission of the water. There will be no retail services, though, as the authority will deliver the water to the municipalities and water services, and they will maintain the billing of their customers.

The change is expected to be cost-effective for the water companies as they will not have to treat their water and they will not have to maintain the pumps used for ground water.

"Hoxie has tremendous costs on upkeep of pumps," Hoxie Mayor Donnie Roberts said. He expressed if the system could be ready tomorrow it would not be too soon.

Noland said they designed the system so that none of the membersí existing distribution systems would be upset.

"They should have no additional costs," he said.

Noland said the state is encouraging communities to consolidate treatment facilities and that his company is proud to be a part of this project.

"Crist Engineers has done business in Walnut Ridge since the 1940s," he said. "We are a member of the Chamber and appreciate the opportunity to work with the Northeast Arkansas Regional Water Authority and look forward to more projects in the future"

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