By MIKE WILLIAMS
Several unhappy residents of the Robinson Tract community approached the Board of Supervisors Monday night about a water line project in their area.
Paul Hamblin was first to speak, addressing his comments to Robinson District Supervisor Jeff Reeves. Hamblin expressed the most concern about why residents who choose not to hook up to the county water service would be charged a non-user fee.
“If you have good water, and you don’t hook up to it, it’s not justice if you don’t want the service and it (non-user fee) is imposed on you regardless of what you want. That’s not fair,” Hamblin said.
“That’s the countywide policy,” Reeves said.
County Administrator Jonathan Sweet explained the water line issue is a matter governed by the county’s Public Service Authority and urged citizens to address their comments to the PSA board.
Hamblin said he found out about the water line project last week. He said it appeared the project is being pushed upon citizens in the area. “It’s what the county wants, not what the people want,” he said.
Hamblin, who said he lives outside Hilton Village Loop on the main road, noted one of his neighbors has a petition with “many names on it.”
“We don’t want the water run there,” he stated.
Chairman Laura Walters told Hamblin he would be given information on contacting the PSA.
Another resident of the area said she hasn’t had problems with her well and she had talked with others who have also had no problems.
“We don’t want the water,” she stated. “I don’t think it’s fair they’re going to force us to pay a fee for something we don’t want.”
She added that residents of the area need information.
“No one has told us anything. There have been people out there the last three weeks surveying, but nobody will tell us anything.”
Reeves said he had been told two weeks ago by the PSA that it planned to send out a letter to the residents.
“I assume it hasn’t got there yet,” Reeves asked.
“No,” exclaimed Hamblin.
One citizen asked when the PSA board meets and Ashley Edmonds, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors responded they meet the second Tuesday of the month at 9 a.m.
“In the morning,” someone replied? “How’s someone supposed to get off work [to attend the meeting]?”
Walters suggested calling the PSA or sending an email to express concerns over the project.
Contacted Tuesday by The Patriot, Jared Linkous, PSA Director, said there had been several requests from the Robinson Tract area in the last few years for water service, including from a church.
Linkous explained that some years ago, the local Extension office offered voluntary water testing at a reduced price. Residents countywide could bring water samples in for testing.
He noted that the tests showed problems with the water samples for a couple of residents in the Hilton Village Loop area.
Linkous explained that many of the lots in the area are half-acre in size, but that rules now require nearly an acre of land to provide enough room for a septic system, space for a reserve area should problems occur and the proper distances between wells, homes and septic systems.
He said for lots like that, if the well should someday fail, there won’t be enough room for a reserve area.
Linkous also said it is a well-known fact that we live in an area with karst topography, with underground caves and sinkholes. He explained in such an area, if a septic system should fail, there would be a high possibility for contamination of wells.
He said whenever people come to the PSA seeking water service, “we try to get water to them” out of concern for health and safety.
He said the PSA has not had any calls from citizens who didn’t want the water, and that the Robinson Tract area is at the top or near the top of the areas to be served according to the PSA’s master plan.
He added the project is “pretty early on,” with surveyors out to begin working on a layout for the system, which will help determine construction costs.
Linkous explained the PSA has arrived at a good funding package for the project through the Health Department.
Because, he said, Pulaski County is not considered a disadvantaged community, it doesn’t always qualify for some grants or low-interest loans for such projects.
But this time it did qualify, Linkous said, because the PSA proposed combining the water project with another involving two private wells that had failed.
Health officials agreed and the PSA will receive nearly $1.5 million in a principal forgiveness grant and a 30-year loan at only 1.8 percent final rate financing with expedited closing.
“We worked hard to get that kind of financing offer for the community,” Linkous said. “I hope we can have a conversation on it. If not, we probably won’t get financing like that again.”
Concerning the non-user fee, Linkous explained that even at 0 percent financing, the PSA takes on some sort of debt on water projects such as the one proposed in Robinson Tract.
“The non-user fee is like a base rate. If you are a non-user, you pay a fee, an availability fee. But for those who use the service they pay per 1,000-gallons of use,” Linkous said.
He explained that should the well belonging to a non-user goes out or becomes contaminated, they could immediately hook onto the county water.
“That ability has value to it,” he said.
He said it actually takes about five years from start to finish to complete a water project such as the one proposed for Robinson Tract, considering all the planning, surveying, design, reports, applications and permitting that must be completed.
“If someone’s well goes out, they don’t have five years,” Linkous explained.
Plus, he said, typically when county water is available to a property owner, it causes the value of their property to increase.
“I feel like it is a pretty good service we’re trying to provide,” Linkous said.
He added that people often say they have good well water and don’t need county water.
“But you can’t see or taste bacteria,” he said. “Have it tested.”