A major unpaved road improvement project and a water and sewer infrastructure project in Newton County have been selected by the Buffalo River Conservation Committee (BRCC) for funding pending legislative approval. They are among the first projects prioritized by the committee since it was established last September by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

The projects are outlined in the BRCC's progress report made public and published online on Aug. 20.

Last November, following Arkansas Legislative Council approval, a total of $2 million was available for the BRCC efforts. $1 million from the Governor’s discretionary fund, and $1 million from private donors.

In December, 2019, a 17-member subcommittee was established that is comprised of local landowners, local city and county government officials, and stakeholders in the areas of agriculture and tourism. The subcommittee is tasked with identifying opportunities for training, relationship building, and specific initiatives to preserve and enhance water quality in the watershed.

First, inclement weather, and then the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, made it difficult for the BRCC members and subcommittee members to meet in person. However, via conference calls and work by small individual groups, work has been progressing.

In June, members convened to review proposals submitted for funding as well as receive updates from the four topic areas. Requests for funding included four unpaved roads sites as well as three water and wastewater proposals. During the meeting the four unpaved roads sites and funding of $250,000 to the City of Jasper for wastewater treatment facility improvements received recommendations for funding.

That same month, a presentation was given to the House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee. It included an update on the BRCC efforts and the current status of funding requests on projects within the Buffalo River Watershed.

In August, the BRCC approved the following updated requests for funding:

(1) maintaining the funding amount of $250,000 to the City of Jasper for wastewater treatment facility improvements;

(2) revising funding requests for Unpaved Roads to reflect $231,935 for Cane Branch Road in Searcy County and $397,400 for Cave Mountain Road (to Hawksbill Crag) in Newton County. The total funding for Unpaved Roads equates to a $570,979 once contingency costs are added and funding from the federal nonpoint source management program are subtracted.

If these funding proposal requests are approved by the House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee, there will be funding of $179,021 remaining for distribution by the BRCC moving forward.

Upon BRCC and legislative approval “agreements” will be developed for both counties. “Agreements” are necessary due to the fact federal dollars from the Nonpoint Source Management Program will be utilized.

Erosion and sediment from unpaved roads are leading contributors to water quality issues within the state. The Nonpoint Source Management Program can currently commit previously secured funding for unpaved roads ($110,263) to unpaved roads work in the Buffalo River watershed. These NPS funds cannot be utilized to “hard surface” any site.

As with all sites it is incumbent upon each respective County Judge to agree to address each road site. It is anticipated once an “agreement” has been fully developed and signed by the appropriated parties work would begin.

It was noted in the BRCC report that 14,784 feet of Lone Beach Church Road in Newton County was among a list of sites considered by the BRCC unpaved roads subcommittee. That project carries an estimated cost of $80,600. Also considered was, 11,088 feet of Newton County Road 6450 with a cost of $84,400.

The 7/10 mile Cane Branch Road project calls for the installation of 19 culverts, road grading, ditch re-shaping, surface materials and other work. The site is within approximately 3,000 feet from Cane Branch and the Buffalo River. Ditch runoff from this site directly impacts the Buffalo River.

The 2 miles of Cave Mountain Road averages 1,500 feet or less from discharging into the Buffalo River. The road slopes from 3-15%, has switch back curves and suffers from ditch and road shoulder erosion. Due to its grade and the volume of traffic the road “washboards.”

General work to be performed includes removal of trees, install cross pipes, enhance base with clay and crushed stone and roll with a smooth drum roller, chip and seal and install guard rails.

It is specifically noted in the report that once funding is secured the National Park Service will initiate an assessment for the project site. It is estimated the assessment will take 9-12 months. This assessment must be completed, and any issues noted adequately addressed before work can begin.

The Water & Wastewater Subcommittee met Aug. 4 and reviewed projects including the City of Jasper's request of $350,000 from the BRCC. BRCC in June approved grant funding in an amount of $250,000. In July, Arkansas Natural Resources approved loan funding in the amount up to $1,791,750. The project calls for wastewater treatment facility improvements to include sludge processing, main pump station improvements and collection system rehabilitation.

The subcommittee workgroup is recommending additional funding for this project, if available.

The report also shows that Marble Falls Sewer Improvement District No. 1 requested $100,000 from BRCC towards a wastewater project costing $555,000

USDA Rural Development is working with the applicant for the balance of the funding. Natural Resources is also working with the applicant for possible funding.

Marble Falls is exploring alternatives including a septic tank option. The consulting engineer has determined the individual septic tanks would not, work, but a community system may be viable.

Additional information regarding the septic tank option should be available in mid-August. Marble Falls SID #1 continues to work with Communities Unlimited to determine the appropriate resolution.

The report relates that the state department of environmental quality and health department voiced concerns about a community septic system, and recommended Marble Falls or Communities Unlimited reach out to them.

The update also reports that Bass Pro founder Johnny Morris announced the purchase of the former Dogpatch USA theme park property on Aug. 4, 2020. The plans for the property are not finalized and remain in early stages. According to the press release, Morris says he is committed to preserving the historic Dogpatch property as a nature experience for future generations to enjoy.

As a result of regulatory comments indicating a general state of disrepair at the wastewater treatment facility, the installation of a new, smaller Advantex treatment facility at the same location as the existing wastewater treatment facility is proposed. All components would remain in use and in the current configuration except the existing package plant would be converted to a flow equalization basin and the existing blowers would be abandoned. Additionally, heat tracing would be installed on backwash water lines for the existing drum filters.

Granting Marble Falls' grant request of $100,000 is contingent on department of environmental quality and health department approval of the project, securing funding for the balance of estimated project costs, and Marble Falls SID #1 meeting the existing debt services requirements with Natural Resources Commission.

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