By Jeri Pearson
A several-year battle with a water holding tank may be remedied with assistance from federal and state grants, without which additional band-aids may be necessary.
“This is essentially what holds Mena Utilities drinking water, and if it were to collapse the result would be water rationing for customers,” Charles Pitman, utility director, said.
The Clear Well Project has been an ongoing issue with numerous attempts to address the problem resulting in what amounts to temporary fixes.
“We have been band-aiding it for years,” Pitman explained. “That part of the plant is almost 40 years old.”
Mena Water Utility, under the umbrella of the City of Mena, applied for grants from both the federal and state government, asking for a total of $15 million for a new water plant.
“Obviously, if we don’t get all we need, we will have to figure out what is most importation to accomplish immediately to get a few more years out of the Clear Well in hopes that it doesn’t collapse, versus being able to do the project as we hope.”
Mena City Council voted last week to approve accepting $6.6 million in loans from a federal lending agency at an interest rate of 1.25% for 40 years.
Only $1.5 million was awarded in federal grant funding and Pitman said the utility is not waiting a response from state agencies.
“We’ve asked ANRC, Arkansas Natural Resource Commission to see what they will do for the other $7 million the USDA didn’t fund.”
Being awarded additional funds is key to the Clear Well project.
“For $15 million dollars, we are trying to get everything that is about 30 years old replaced,” Pitman said. “There is nothing critical, with the exception of the Clear Well – which could put customers in a bind if it were to collapse. We know the issue needs to be addressed, but we don’t yet know how customer’s bills might be affected. That is why we are trying to go after as much grant funding as possible.”
The Clear Well, which was built to hold 650 gallons, currently leaks at a significant rate, causing the utility to treat water for consumption that escapes the well before the water can be delivered to customers.
If the leak were to become more significant, it could run the well dry causing grief for customers who rely on water from Mena Utilities.
An application was sent to ANRC in June of 2020, which told Mena Utilities the application was on hold until the USDA determined how much funding and loans would be awarded.
Pitman said he hopes to hear from ANRC soon so a plan to go forward can be determined.
Mena Water Utilities customers will soon be receiving their April 2021 water bills. The bills will include usage during the historically low temperatures and snowy weather from the week of February 15, 2021. We know many of our customers experienced broken water lines and will have higher than usual water bills. Many customers have already contacted the office. However, those customers that have not let us know that they had a leak and those that need more time to pay, please contact our office at 479-394-2761 to see how we can help. Mena Water Utilities has options for pay extensions and possible water and sewer adjustments for those that had a broken water line due to the weather.