MARSHALL, Ark.. -- For decades, a pipeline from an Arkansas lake to supply much needed water to parts of Boone, Newton and Searcy counties was considered too expensive. Then millions in federal stimulus money came along, and construction started last March 1. Now some people getting paid to give up land for it question why so few dollars are flowing their way.
The pipeline will not only change the quantity of water but also its quality. People in Searcy and Newton counties have been drinking radon, uranium, sulfur and fluoride for decades.
The new source is the deepest channel of Bull Shoals Lake, just south of the Missouri border, where a huge intake plant is under construction. The system will pump lake water 110 miles to 20 towns and water systems.
“We've got to make loan payments by December 2012, so water should be flowing by then,” said Andy Anderson, the chairman of the board of Ozark Mountain Regional Public Water Authority.
Marshall has been pushing for a new water source to replace wells for years.
“Look at Rogers, Mountain Home, Springdale; anything can happen when they get water to it,” said James Busbee, a former mayor of Marshall.
The pipeline was economic priority number one for Busbee while he was the mayor.
“It changes things and changes things for the better,” he said.
“I was wondering when they'd come through, and it hit me at the worst time,” said landowner Tom Harris.
A growing number of landowners outside Marshall and beyond want to be better paid for letting the pipeline cross their property, including Harris.
“What has the water authority offered you for your property?” a reporter asked.
“$600,” said Harris.
“The amount varies from property to situation to situation,” said Anderson.
Anderson says offers are based on certified appraisals.
“Basically, it looks at what the damage is to the property, and we take the value of the land before and afterwards,” said Anderson.
Harris leases grazing land for $200 a month so construction crews can continue crossing his land through his pasture.
“What they've offered, and are telling people they have to take, is substantially less than fair market value,” said attorney Jerry Patterson.
Patterson has been running ads warning residents not to be low-balled by eminent domain.
“I do think this comes off as a little greedy,” Patterson said in an interview.
By Patterson's calculations, Harris is owed $1,300 by the water authority.
“Remember, we've got $76 million and they’re paying $300,000 for land they're to take," said Patterson. "Where's that money going?”
Larger payments for property, according to the water authority, would mean it would cost more for water when the system is done.
“Every dollar you add to the cost of the project -- that's another dollar we'll have to repay,” said Anderson.
Ironically in most places where the pipeline crosses private property, land owners can't hook on to it.
The water authority board says, until construction is completed, it's too early to estimate water rates. The issue of higher payments for land use will be decided in court by then and factored into the rates.