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Water Authority scales back project, still seeking additional customers

Sunday, November 27, 2011

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The Fulton County Water Authority is making some changes to a proposed rural water expansion project, to make it more attractive to the state and federal agencies who will evaluate its application for funding.

"We've taken a look at our project map and compared where we have the most people signed up," said Jerry Estes of North Arkansas Electric, which manages Water Authority operations. "We have decided to drop from the plan water lines which would serve Highway 9 north and the Camp area. We have about a six mile area along Highway 9, from Highway 395 to Camp, where we only have two sign ups, so the USDA would probably say that line is not financially feasible."

The original proposal called for extending 40-miles of water lines from Salem to Viola, north to Sturkie, east to Highway 395 and south to Highway 9 and over to the Camp area.

"We have 165 customers signed up," said Estes. "That is about the minimum we need to seek funding, and we are still hopeful we will sign up at least ten more potential customers that we have been talking with. The more sign ups we have, the better our project is going to look when our application is considered."

In October, Estes made an urgent plea for residents who live in the project area to sign up if they were interested, because the Water Authority needed to file its application for funding.

Arkansas Rural Development, which works with the USDA to fund projects, had informed the authority that it appeared some construction money would be available this fiscal year, and the Fulton County project was on the list for possible funding.

Estes' plea was heeded by about ten residents in the project area who have signed up in recent weeks.

"We have sent information and applications to others who are interested and still expect to get more customers," said Estes.

Latest word from Arkansas Rural Development is, it will open bids for several projects the first week of December. If any are deemed too expensive or not feasible for other reasons, the Fulton County project could be considered for immediate funding.

If funding is not received this year, the application would be considered in the 2012 fiscal year, when budget cutting may leave less funding for rural development projects.

The estimated cost for the local expansion project is $2.5 million. The Water Association hopes about $2 million of the cost will be covered by a USDA grant, reducing a low interest federal loan to $500,000.

"We feel like we have a strong likelihood of being funded," Estes told The News. "The USDA had us do an environmental study and an income study, and we've had some engineering fees. I don't think they would have had us go through all that, if they didn't think we have a good project."

Estes said, even though water service to the Camp area is being dropped from the current project, it can eventually get service in a future project, if there is enough support.

"We did have quite a few sign ups north of Camp," said Estes. "The problem is, we didn't get enough customers on Highway 9, to pay to run a line to the Camp area."

Under the revised plan, a water line will still run south on Highway 395 from Ridge Road to Highway 9, outside of Salem. A short line will be run along Highway 9 North to reach four or five customers and the Athletic Complex, on the other side of the bridge across the South Fork River.

"We still want to talk to anyone in the project area that wants water service," said Estes. "They need to call us as soon as possible."

For information on the water expansion project, call North Arkansas Electric at 895-3211, and ask for Jerry Estes or Sherry Jackson.



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