BY MELANIE BUCK –
A project that has been in the formative phase for several years has been deemed financially unfeasible for both consumers and the utility, said Mena Water Utilities Manager Charles Pitman. What was dubbed as the Hog Jaw project, would have supplied water to the community of Hog Jaw, which is south of the Ouachita River at Pencil Bluff and to an area off of Polk Road 42 and Big Fork. The area reaches into Montgomery County.
In 2008, an account for expenses was formed and Mena Water looked at how they could supply water to that area, took aerial photographs and land surveys for topography, roads, easements, etc. They also identified the area to serve and then needed to confirm people that were interested in having water services. In total, 98 customers signed a form committing to have a meter set and paying for it if the line came that way. Pitman explained that with such low numbers, each consumer’s monthly bill would be a minimum of $56, before any water usage. “It could not be a cheap service due to the distance,” said Pitman.
Pitman explained the conclusion to terminate the plan “was not an easy decision,” but cited several reasons: financial feasibility, health and safety, and customer service. First, Pitman noted simple math, such as the minimum monthly payment that is not feasible for many consumers. “The project just to put in water lines would be $2.8 million dollars. Also, getting our system up to par to not have so much chlorine would cost additional money that is not budgeted,” said Pitman.
He explained that since the process first began, the Arkansas Department of Health has become more strict on how chlorine is implemented in water systems. “The farther the water has to travel, the more chlorine it takes to keep it safe. Chlorine puts off a bi-product that is not safe for consumers. We have already gotten a violation a couple of years ago for too much chlorine and have an issue where we have to maintain a lower chlorination level.” Those farther customers would have a greater chance of having chlorine bi-product water. The health and safety of its consumers is always a top concern for the local utility.
Another concern was the lack of quality customer service they would receive. Some lines would be at least an hour and a half from the water company; not ideal for someone with a water leak. It’s also not ideal for the company; losing a worker for a minimum of four hours to make a simple repair.
Although Pitman said they would like to help the area and bring water to more consumers, it was not a sound decision for the utility as a whole. “It wasn’t an easy decision. Our main concern is to serve the citizens of the Mena area and this wasn’t going to do our existing customers any good.”