At the Feb. 23 Salem City Council meeting, Mayor Gary Clayton announced that approval has come through for a $500,000 grant to pay the full cost of a major sewer system improvement.
"I have in hand a grant agreement from the state of Arkansas, which I have signed," the Mayor told the council. "We have also received a letter from Economic Development authorizing us to begin incurring expenses for this project. They also issued a letter giving us permission to use our engineers, rather than bidding our engineering process."
That means the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, which awards and distributes federal grant money, has cut red tape and given a green light for the project.
The project calls for repair and improvement to the sewage plant's two oxidation lagoons, the final process to remove solids from treated sewage.
According to Public Works Director Bill Worsham, the levee between the two ponds was damaged when heavy rain, produced by remnants of Hurricane Ike, flooded the lagoons in 2008.
Under the grant, erosion damage will be repaired and the levy will be reinforced.
The project will also replace an old sewer line which runs along the Town Branch, starting in back of the Dollar General Store, running through town, and past Preacher Roe Park to the treatment plant.
The sewer line is deteriorated, allowing storm run off to infiltrate the line and overload the treatment plant during heavy rain.
A schedule for the project calls for initial engineering work to begin right away.
"As soon as this (signed agreement) is back in Little Rock, we'll start the engineering work and the environmental review process. The plans and specifications are to be submitted by June 1," the Mayor said, as he outlined the construction schedule.
"We're anticipating advertising for bids by July 1, having a bid opening and awarding the contract on Aug. 1," the Mayor said. "Construction will start on Sept. 1. We're anticipating construction to be completed by Jan. 1 of 2013."
The project was originally projected to cost $486,000, but the final grant approval is for $504,054, when design work and administrative costs are added in.
"This grant agreement has already been signed off by Michael Gaines, who is Executive Director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, and I have signed it so, for all practical purposes, we are in business," the Mayor said.
The city has worked with Engineering Services Inc. of Springdale since making the first application for the grant in 2010. Cassie Elliott, a private consultant, will work with the city and Engineering Services to oversee the administration of the project, to make sure federal policies are followed and money is properly spent.
Elliott, who held a public hearing about the project before the January council meeting, said the city was fortunate to be in the running for the large grant.
"This is one of the bigger ones (grants) I've worked on," Elliott said. "These don't come along every day, that you get 100 percent on $500,000."
Following a long wait after applying for the grant in 2010, the city was informed in 2011 that its application had not been approved for funding. So, it was a surprise when, late last year, the state contacted Engineering Services to suggest the application should be resubmitted, because some of the federal funding to address Hurricane Ike damage had not been allocated, and the Salem project ranked high in the first round of funding.
After the council meeting, Mayor Clayton said the $504,000 grant may be the largest the city has ever received.
Clayton recalled that the city received a $400,000 grant years ago to build city hall and the fire station, and $300,000 to run commercial sewer and water lines to the Salem Industrial Park.
"This is a real break to get this grant, because the improvements need to be done, and we would have eventually had to finance it all by ourselves," the Mayor added.
Worsham reported, this month, that public works crews cleaned the levee area between the two sewage lagoons, in preparation for the work to reinforce the levee.
There was no other formal business on the city council agenda.
Mayor Clayton reported that January sales tax collections were three percent above figures from January 2011.
Considering January is usually a slow month for sales tax collections, Clayton expressed hope the early 2012 figures are a sign that a good year is ahead for local businesses, who help fund city government through sales tax revenue they produce.
The next Salem City Council meeting is scheduled for March 22 at 7 p.m. at city hall. The public is invited to attend.