At its Oct. 15, meeting the Fulton County Quorum Court approved a request for the Rural Water Authority to enter into an engineering agreement with Blalock 3, a Little Rock engineering firm, which has been involved in past rural water projects.
"We are expecting word any day that a final state grant has been approved," said Sherry Jackson of North Arkansas Electric, which manages water authority business. "We hope to be able to get the project under way soon."
In July of 2010, the Water Authority unveiled a plan to run 43 miles of new water lines, extending from Salem to Viola, north to Sturkie, east to Highway 395 and south toward Salem and Camp.
The main delay has been a lack of customer sign ups in the project areas. For the project to be financially viable, about 200 customers were needed, and, after a fast start, the number of people applying for service slowed down.
The Water Authority and North Arkansas Electric have continued to work to get enough customers, saying they have never had to cancel a water expansion project.
The USDA, which offers grants and loans, has given the project high marks, and indicated funding was available.
On April 4, the USDA informed Water Authority Chairman Linn Garner that the agency had approved a $663,800 grant, and a $725,000 low interest loan to help pay for the project.
The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which has also been supportive of the project, informed County Judge Charles Willett on July 31, that it had approved a $400,000 Arkansas Community and Economic Development Program (ACEDP) grant, based on Fulton County's 2010 application.
The agency added that, during the 2012 ACEDP grant cycle, "It is our intention to increase project funding by $920,625 (more)."
2012 grant funds were to be awarded in September and, while formal notice has not been given, local officials are optimistic the grant has been approved.
"With $1.3 million in state grants, and USDA grants and loans totaling $1.3 million, we will have the funds we need to seek bids," Jackson said.
When the project is built, it will follow the same routes originally announced, except a six mile section proposed to run along Highway 9 North to Camp has been eliminated, because of low sign up numbers in that area.
The Water Authority is hoping that people along the new water routes will still consider signing up, because of the reduced cost of becoming a customer now. To sign up, residents pay an initial fee of $175 -- a $50 Water Association fee, and a $125 connection fee. Once the project is bid, homes not figured in the construction plan will pay hundreds of dollars more to obtain water service.
The Fulton County Water Authority has run about 80 miles of water line in three previous phases. About 1,000 customers pay an average bill of $40 a month, with most of the money going to pay on USDA loans.
For information on the latest water expansion, contact North Arkansas Electric at 895-3221.