The Fulton County Water Authority is feeling more confident that a project to extend service to up to 340 rural homes will go forward.
The project calls for 43 miles of new water lines, extending from Salem to Viola, north to Sturkie, east to Highway 395 and south toward Salem and the Camp area.
Many residents of the expansion area expressed interest when the project was announced last summer. But, after an initial flurry of sign ups, the pace of people signing on as new customers slowed.
In January, the Water Authority issued a new appeal for sign ups, saying 200 to 250 customers were needed to make the project financially viable, and only about 130 customers had signed up.
"We now have about 160 homes signed up," said Jerry Estes, of the North Arkansas Electric Co-op, which manages the Water Authority's day to day operations. "We are making progress and have received good feedback from the USDA about the possibility of getting funding."
The Water Authority believes more customers will sign on, once they know the project is going to become reality.
The White River Regional Planning Agency is seeking grants to help pay for the $2.3 million dollar project.
In January, the Water Authority sent questionaries to homes in the project area, seeking to document that most residents live on low to moderate incomes, in hopes such a finding would increase the amount of grant money for the project.
A USDA loan will pay for the portion of construction costs not covered by grants.
Initial projections were that grants may cover 80% of the cost, reducing the loan to about 20% of the total.
With a new fiscal year underway for federal and state agencies, the water authority should soon learn how much grant and loan money will be available for government or non-profit organizations in the region, and what Fulton County's chances are to receive funding.
"We feel like money will be available for smaller projects and, at about $2 million dollars, ours is a fairly small project," said Estes.
In January, the Water Authority warned that, without more sign ups, the project would have to be scaled back or cancelled.
According to Estes, more property owners are still needed to support the water project but, so far, no action has been taken to scale back the expansion to areas where the most customer support exists. The Water Authority is still concentrating on making the full project work.
Some customers, who have signed up, urgently need water service, because they live in areas where there are problems with wells.
Others see water service as protection to insure that their water is safe. Another advantage is, water delivered by pipeline does not need a pump, reducing electric costs, and service continues even when electricity is knocked out by storms.
So far, the Fulton County Water Authority has run 80 miles of water line to areas south and east of Salem.
It has about 1,000 customers, who pay an average bill of $40 a month.
Customer payments pay the debt service on outstanding construction loans.
For information on the new water project, call NAEC at 895-3221.