The running themes in remarks Friday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the Lonoke White Water Project were dedication and cooperation in the face of discouragement.
"These [water] board members have never let up," Gov. Mike Beebe said. " These mayors and city council people have never let up. Their predecessors never let up in a dream that died many, many times that has been reborn many, many times."
Among those taking part in the groundbreaking were U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark.; U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock; Arkansas Natural Resources Commission chairman Randy Young and mayors, directors and other representatives of cities and water associations that will be getting water from the project.
The $45 million project will build a 35-mile pipeline and an intake and treatment plant at the Cove Creek section of Greers Ferry Lake to bring water as far south as Furlow
Lonoke White Public Water Authority includes the cities of Austin, Beebe, Jacksonville and Ward, the North Pulaski and Furlow water users associations and the Vilonia and Grand Prairie/Bayou Two public facility boards.
Pryor also used his remarks to announce that the state had been given the disaster declaration that Beebe had requested of U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The declaration was made the afternoon of the day Beebe’s request was given to Vilsack, Pryor said.
"This is a labor of love that so many people deserve responsibility for … this is a great day for this part of our state," Beebe said in regard to water project.
Beebe said he learned early that reliable water is crucial to a community.
"You give people a paved road and city water, and you can build a community, and things flourish from there," he said.
This has been a long time coming. Arkansas is blessed with a lot of natural surface water. Being able to capture and utilize surface water for people, agriculture and industry is a "major, major asset for any state," Beebe said.
There are an estimated 39,000 connections to be served by the Lonoke White Public Water Authority.
"That translates to over 80,000 people who are going to have access to a steady supply of surface water transported from Greers Ferry …," he said.
Pryor said the start of construction is a credit to many people who did not give up on the idea.
"I’m a newcomer to this; I’ve been working on this for only 10 years," he said. In fact, the project to transport water from Greers Ferry to central Arkansas was one of the first matters he faced.
The water project is an example of local, state and federal cooperation, Pryor said. More than 100,000 can expect to use the project in the near future, and with time, that will become hundreds of thousands.
Boozman also credited cooperation at all levels for seeing project through to this point."I think what we are celebrating is a great partnership," he said.
"What it represents is everybody working so hard at the city level, the county level, the state level and the federal level," Boozman said. Getting so many agencies working together is not an easy task, he said.
Projects such as Lonoke White carry great importance, Boozman said. "Everybody understands that we cannot continue borrowing 40 cents of every dollar we are spending in Washington, but I believe very strongly in the infrastructure projects," Boozman said.
From an environmental perspective, the Lonoke White project will reduce the demand on groundwater, Boozman said. This will ensure water for those whose supplies are marginal, he said.
"This will increase property values, increases economic development, and increases the tax base," Boozman said. "That is how you grow Arkansas, how you grow the country," he said.
Seeing construction begin on the water "is a great day for this part of the state. … We should celebrate it," Pryor said.
Pryor said the cooperation needed for the project stands as an example to those in Washington, D.C.
"You identified the problem, you pulled together, and you fixed it," he said. "When we look at Washington, we see a big partisan divide. We see a lot of gridlock. … We hear a lot doom and gloom that America is in decline. … I completely disagree with that. … We know there is nothing wrong in Washington that we cannot fix. It is just a matter of political will and us working together like you did here at the local level."