Dirt work will begin soon in the Vilonia area, according to officials with Vilonia Water Works, resulting in construction jobs as well as an ample water supply.
“We should begin to see a lot of visible action any day,” said Howard Williams, board chairman of Vilonia Water Works. The Lonoke White Public Water Authority project includes the building of a water system that will supply eight or more communities including Vilonia, Austin, Beebe, Furlow, Grand Prairie/Bayou, Jacksonville, North Pulaski and Ward. The cost is to be about $55 million, and it is anticipated to take more than three years to complete. Williams said it will involve several local contractors who he predicts will be hiring laborers. Out of the total costs, about $35 million, Williams said, will be paid to those local contractors.
A treatment plant and intake facility is to be built at Greers Ferry. A 36-inch line will be placed from the lake to Highway 16. From there, a 24-inch transmission line will be laid to Furlow, located north of Lonoke. In addition, other lines will be laid to each entity including one from Beebe to Vilonia.
“A lot of jobs will be created. This should mean a lot of job opportunities for construction people and we will end up with a major economic impact in this area,” Williams said. Two metering stations are also to be built in the immediate area—one on Highway 310 at Mount Vernon and another east of Vilonia.
Vilonia Water Works, Williams said, may be in need of water more than any of the other entities involved in the Lonoke White Public Water Authority project. At the present time, with the dry conditions, Williams said “our people are working 24 hours a day — through the night — to furnish our customer base.“
“If we can just hold on until 2014, we can expect to have Lonoke White water available and be in good shape for many years,” Williams said.
The tank in Vilonia, Williams explained, must be constantly monitored. Currently, the system uses about 2.5 million gallons a day, he said, placing a lot of pressure on the current system often resulting in leaks.
Vilonia Water Works is a 25 percent participant in the Lonoke/White project and is being required to pay back a major portion of the $55 million with a monthly payment of $50,000. The payment, Williams said, is based on $5 per meter. Officials with Vilonia based their debt on 10,000 meters — predicting growth.
“This is all being done on borrowed money,” Williams added. “There’s no grant money.”
The cost for the new system will more than likely require an increase in water rates for Vilonia residents. Howard estimates the increase will amount to about $2 per month per household.
“Every ounce of water we get, we have to buy,” he explained. “We are a seller of water. This is a very large rural water system. I’m pretty confident that a $2 increase (per meter) will help us do the work and meet our obligations.”
Forward thinking, he said, a “future water charge” of $3 per month was imposed on residents in 2010 to help defray costs, he added. As it has been collected, that money has been placed in a reserve to go to the project.
This is not the first time that Vilonia Water Works has required an expansion. When it was established in the late 1970s, Williams said it was a very small entity. By March 1990, Williams said, the public entity was “really struggling” to keep enough water for its service area. Conversations, he said, had already begun regarding participating in the current Faulkner/Cleburne Authority. In 1992, Vilonia Water Works, with 3,100 meter customers, signed the agreement to participate. In comparison, in May 2012, 8,301 bills were sent out.
“The reality is we have outgrown our supply,” Williams said.
The Vilonia water system consists of 500 square miles, extending 21 miles east to west and 24 miles north to south with two water supplies. The majority is furnished by Faulkner /Cleburne Water Authority but some does come out of the Pulaski system, Williams said.
There is some misconception, Williams added. He said they plan to continue purchasing water from Faulkner County/Cleburne Authority. That water, he said, will be used on the west end of the Vilonia Water Works system. The new entities will supply the east end of the system.