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Water authority seeks customers for new proposed water project

Friday, October 14, 2011

A new water line will run down Old Ridge Road, between Sturkie Road and Highway 395, if a new rural water expansion project goes forward. The state has indicated the Fulton County Rural Water Authority is next on the funding list, but it immediately needs about 40 more customers in the project area to sign up for service, to qualify for funding.
The Fulton County Water Authority is making an urgent plea for sign-ups as it tries to seal a deal to extend more than 40 miles of new water lines to the Viola, Sturkie and Camp areas.

"Arkansas Rural Development has informed us that construction money is available and we are next on the funding list," said Jerry Estes of North Arkansas Electric, which manages Water Authority operations. "The fact they called us is a good sign we can get our application approved by January or February, and get work underway next year."

The project will cost about $2.5 million, and the Water Authority believes it can qualify for a $2 million grant, lowering its total loan amount to about $500,000.

The problem is showing Rural Development and USDA, which provide the grants and loans, that enough customers are signed on to ensure payments on the loan can be met.

When the project was announced in July of 2010, the Water Authority said it needed 200 to 250 customer sign-ups to make the project financially feasible.

There was a good initial response, as about 130 residents signed up during the first six months. But, since January, new customer support has been slow, despite mailings to residents and other efforts to promote the project.

"Right now, we have about 160 sign-ups," said Estes. "We need about 45 more right away, because we need to get our application in by the middle of the month."

The cost to sign up is $175. Many of the customers who have signed on have well problems and urgently need the reliable and safe water supply that new water lines will deliver. But the Water Authority said, even those who have good wells are making a good investment if they sign up now to support the project. That is because the cost to obtain service will be much higher for those who want service after the lines are run.

"$175 to become a Water Authority customer is very inexpensive," Estes said. "You could consider it well insurance, something to fall back on if your well ever goes out, because digging a well or repairing a well can be expensive."

Since it began, 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.

Under the proposed expansion, water lines will run from Salem to Viola, north to Sturkie, east to Highway 395 and south toward Salem and the Camp area.

The 43 miles of new water lines will serve about 340 rural homes.

If the project does not soon have about 200 customers signed up, the Water Authority will try to obtain funding by cutting the number of miles and homes in the project area.

"To get funding, we will need to show we have so many meters per mile," Estes explained. "If we have to reduce the size of the project, we will run lines to areas where we have the most customers, and cut out some lines where there is less support."

Since funding is available and Fulton County is in line to obtain it, the Water Authority is eager to get its application in.

Estes remains optimistic that enough customers will sign up to allow the project to go forward.

"We got five or six sign-ups last week," Estes said. "We need people who support the project to contact their neighbors and help get the word out. I think some people have held back signing up until they knew the project was going to be built. Well, now's the time to get involved if you want water service."

For information on the project or to sign up as a customer, call NAEC at 895-3211, and ask for Jerry Estes or Sherri Jackson.

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