Citizens speak out as Strong council seeks solution to water woes

Strong’s citizens expressed frustration and searched for details on a plan to move forward after a week-long cookery order for the city was issued last month during a city council meeting held at Strong City Hall on Thursday March 11th.

On February 19, shortly after the winter weather and snow hit the region, a cook order was issued for the entire Strong Water Works system, including the Aurelle extension.

As explained at the council meeting, the cooking order related to exacerbated problems in the water system due to the winter weather.

The cooking order itself was lifted on March 3rd.

Citizens at the meeting expressed frustration at how long they had been without water.

The meeting began with the approval of the minutes of the previous meeting, the approval of the income and expenditure reports and the approval to pay the bills for February.

Resident Cindy Smith spoke first to Mayor Daryell Howell on behalf of the ward.

“I not only represent my community here, but also the school. We have more than 300 bodies down there and if we run out of water for a long time, we have to cancel school. Meanwhile we ran out of water in our houses [winter] Storm for almost seven days and I think Freehope was a little longer out of the water than that. We just want to know what the update is, if something is being done and what the plan will be. We want to know what the water situation will look like in six months or in a year. We are in a dire situation and we want to know where we are, ”said Smith.

Strong-Huttig Superintendent Kimberly Thomas said the school district returned to class on Feb. 24 thanks to “all water-related repairs,” according to information in an email dated Feb. 23 [being] completed in the town of Strong ”, although at the time employees and students still had to drink bottled water due to the cooking sequence.

Mayor Howell replied to Smith.

“I can answer that question with the information I have and answer what we did. The water is up again and wells five and six have new engines this year, so care has been taken. We have received some information on how to get a new well. Well Five was used in 2002 and Wells Six and Seven in the 1980s. We submitted one [grant] Applying to Arkansas Natural Resources for a new well and received two offers I’m waiting for … We’re doing it [also] Have resources and, based on the price of bids received, have the potential for the city to do well without a grant or loan. So an application was submitted to insert a new 80 GPM (gallons per minute) well, ”Howell said.

Howell added that although the location of a new well has not yet been determined, the city worked with Gaunt Engineers, the company that placed the current wells at Strong, to file the Arkansas Natural Resources application, and that the engineers would determine future placement of the well.

Howell said he expected the city to know more details about the grant application on March 15.

A second strong resident, Tina Bennett, also spoke.

“Are you looking forward to repairing the new (water) pipes all over the city? Even if we put in new motors and pumps, if the lines are not working, the problem will not be solved, ”said Bennett.

Howell responded to that question too.

“We replaced the lines within the city limits in 2016, but a full line replacement is not only worth a few dollars. We’re trying in phases because the resources we have at our disposal do not enable us to provide a $ 20 million replacement, ”Howell said.

“Can you phased it out and have a plan that says we will do as much as possible with the money we have this year and continue to apply for grants?” Said Bennett.

Howell responded that the city had gradually worked to improve the water system, including replacing the aqueduct within the city limits in 2016 and applying for a water and sewer grant applied for in 2020.

“This part of the well is phase one, and we hope we have a plan for the next month to push the replacement not only here in town but also for Aurelle,” Howell said.

Several citizens also present during the discussion said that they did not know at the time of the council meeting that the cooking arrangement had been lifted.

Next up was Dennis Sternberg, CEO of the Arkansas Rural Water Association, a nonprofit.

Sternberg sent a team to help Strong restore the water and eventually visited himself. He elaborated on his views on the problems the city was facing and made his recommendation on how to resolve them.

According to Sternberg, the Arkansas Rural Water Association provides “training and technical support for all Arkansas water and sewer systems, certification training and on-site technical support.”

“The storm hit and affected systems across the state … and your system wasn’t the only one affected. But it turned out that the weaker systems were not prepared … I was actually called by State Representative Sonia Barker about concerns that citizens have no water or have no low pressure, “said Sternberg.

Sternberg said he immediately sent ARWA racer Terry Fortenberry to Strong and had them contact the city’s water utility for water systems, Jimmy Hargis, who also manages other regional water systems, according to statements from the meeting.

“Back then, [Hargis] explained that he didn’t know they were running out of water, but that there might be low pressure … when [Fortenberry] When we got down here we made sure the pumps at the pumping station that were pumping to Aurelle were running but running without water. What happened when this freeze happened it froze many pipes and when it started to warm up and hit the systems, the systems drain. If you don’t have an operator on hand, it will damage your system more than anything. You had no one here who is licensed and knows what to do. You have three men [including council members Charles Perry and John Williams, Sternberg later stated] who worked with us with the city, who were excellent, who got into the holes and know the system, ”said Sternberg.

Sternberg provided details of the work to restore the system and the problems it encountered.

“We’ve had so many problems out there with leaking pipes, leaking houses. We had a 2-inch pipe that had apparently been leaking for a while and that no one wanted to speak to in a stream. You need to thank your neighboring operator for stopping by, stepping into the creek, dipping a full circle repair clamp, putting the leash on and sealing it when it is turned off. That two inch line will eat up your wells; All they produce is go out into the creek. You always have to maintain and view the records, ”said Sternberg.

His main recommendations for the city were to find and hire an approved water company specifically for the city and build a well above 80 GPM to ensure water continuity. He also suggested that city officials learn more about valve positions. Sternberg said he passed the two major recommendations on in his report to the Arkansas Department of Health.

“You have a serious problem. They have a school system that relies on the water system to work properly. If you are under a cooking order, they will need to provide bottled water. You have three small wells. You mentioned an 80 GPM well. I think that’s ridiculous. I would go for at least 250 GPM. It will cost more, but you will have a long-term solution, ”said Sternberg.

Following the discussion, the Council adopted a resolution on water problems.

The resolution Howell read during the meeting authorized the mayor to apply for the drinking water and state loan program administered by the Department of Natural Resources of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture. The resolution was passed unanimously.

The next session of Strong’s City Council will be on Thursday April 8th.

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