Fort Smith Board okays $18 million utilities CIP for 2017, addresses other consent decree items

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 497 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors authorized appropriations for the utilities department’s capital improvement plan (CIP) for 2017 to the tune of $18.325 million in water and sewer upgrades and construction.

The monies will be taken out of the non-obligated balance of the Water and Sewer Operating Fund. Also at Tuesday’s (April 18) regular meeting, board members also approved $1.87 million worth of contracts for capacity improvements to Sub-Basin P007 as part of continuing work on the city’s estimated $480 million consent decree.

According to a revised ordinance and CIP a frustrated Director and Vice Mayor Kevin Settle pointed out was given to the Board “five minutes before the meeting started,” there are 21 individual line items for the current year. Approximately $6.69 million of the total is dedicated to water system improvements while the remaining $11.634 million will be focused on the city’s embattled sewer system, which has been at the center of a 165% rate hike for Fort Smith residents since 2014.

The Board approved the 2017 operating budget and CIP for the utilities department last December, but the approval did not show funding sources for the CIP, so no appropriations were made for the projects funded out of the operating fund balances. In addition to the $18.325 million for the CIP, the department’s budget holds $15.836 million in previously issued bond proceeds and lists an additional $7.158 million for projects to be funded through additional bond proceeds. Those 17 projects are unfunded at this time. The Water and Sewer Operating Fund is expected to end the year at $35 million.

As for Sub-Basin P007, the two contracts approved Tuesday night were with Forsgren, Inc. ($1.702 million) and Hawkins-Weir Engineers, Inc. ($167,100).

Also Tuesday, the Board finalized an intergovernmental agreement between the city, Van Buren, Sebastian and Crawford counties, and the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) to enter into a contract with Vickerman and Associates for the purpose of a $200,050 study into the opportunities and benefits of building an intermodal rail, logistics center, warehouse, and integrated riverport terminal in the region.

Vickerman has worked as consultant on 67 of the 90 North American deep water ports, including two of the largest in New Orleans and Chicago. The study could take up to nine months to complete, at the end of which Vickerman will put a call out for requests for expressions of interest (RFEIs) to find a developer, who would then theoretically bear the cost of building any resulting infrastructure.

If RFEIs fail to attract a viable developer, the city will “reconsider its support” of the Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority (RITA), Geffken said to the Board’s agreement at a meeting in February. The RFEI process will run for an additional nine months, giving RITA essentially 18 months left to produce a result. The city’s share of the consulting contract is $40,000.

In other utilities budget-related items, the Board okayed the purchase of 198 acres of surface land and 100% mineral rights for property owned by Eddie Phillips for the purpose of protecting the reservoir at Lake Fort Smith. The accepted offer was $170,000 and follows three tracts of land the city had previously purchased from the United States Forest Service (USFS) for similar purposes.