Water link to Alabama a ‘no-go’ for now

By Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times

A contract signed by the former Northeast Itawamba Water Association head that would link the local system with a system in Alabama is invalid, according to the current board of directors.

During their regular monthly meeting, members of the Northeast Itawamba Water Association Board of Directors were questioned by representatives of the water association in Franklin County, Ala., including board chairman Doug Aaron.

Aaron questioned where the board stood with plans to connect the two water systems — a $3-million project that would allow the Alabama water system to provide surface water to local water association’s 1,700-plus customers and help resolve pressure issues that have plagued the system for years.

The project, if it moves forward, is scheduled for completion by September of next year.

A contract between the two associations was signed in January. Since then, little headway — beyond research — has been made in the project. In fact, the local water association’s board members have been questioning whether or not to move forward with the project at all, citing potential rate increases built within the contract as reason to be wary.

Not that it matters. According to Northeast Itawamba Water Association Board President Ralph Burkes, the contract is no good.

“Not a person sitting up here now knew anything about that contract when it was signed,” Burkes told the Franklin County representatives. “I was on the board when that contract was signed and by the time I even knew there was a contract, it was already signed.”

But according to Burkes, former board president Brian Cunningham signed the contract without first seeking approval of the board — a violation of the water association’s by-laws.

Burkes told the Alabama water system representatives that no vote was taken and the contract was never approved.

“So you’re saying the contract isn’t valid?” Aaron asked.

Burkes replied, “The contract isn’t valid.”

The board has previously discussed concerns with the Franklin County project, which board members seem to agree represents too costly a risk without first considering other options.

“Price is our biggest problem right now,” Burkes said of the project, speaking not only of the cost to connect the two systems, but the rates the Alabama water system would charge — rates the board believes have the potential to be significantly higher than those being charged to Northeast Itawamba Water customers now.

“If you can’t cut costs, we can’t do business right now,” he said.

Last month, the board voted to hire Cook Coggins Engineering to conduct a feasibility study of connecting the regional water system to the City of Fulton’s water system to provide water for customers in the Salem area.

That study is expected to be completed within the next 30 days.

Although the board president was clear that he didn’t intend to honor the original, albeit invalid contract between the two water systems, he didn’t rule out the possibility of eventually linking the two together.

“You don’t have to run away,” Burkes told the Franklin County representatives. “We’re going to have to get water from somewhere. We’re just looking at Fulton, too.”

adam.armour@journalinc.com