- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 11, 2014

WEST POINT, Miss. (AP) - On Christmas Eve in 2012, one of Siloam Water District’s wells on Mississippi Highway 46 failed. About 300 residences in northwest Clay County were without water until crews could manually open valves from other wells and restore supply.

Last year, Clay County entered into an inter-local agreement with the district and applied for a Community Development Block Grant through the Mississippi Development Authority on its behalf to pay for a new well that would have a 300-gallon-per-minute capacity.

Thirty-eight other municipalities and counties also participated in the competitive grant process to secure funding for their own capital improvement projects. Of those, the 15 applications with the most points were awarded a combined $7 million. Clay County finished 25th.

Supervisors won’t decide until their next meeting on Feb. 27 whether to try again, but they agreed during this past week that the well needs to be replaced. If they choose to apply a second time, Golden Triangle Planning and Development District grant administrator Phylis Benson will guide them through the process.

The malfunctioning well is in the district where Shelton Deanes is the county supervisor.

“It’s going to cost half a million dollars or better to replace that well,” said.

The good news: The district has several valves tied together so that when one shuts down, an adjustment can be made to keep water flowing to all the communities it serves. But that can only continue for so long due to state health regulations.

“This particular area we’re targeting where the well went out, there is another well but the Mississippi Department of Health requires that you have a backup,” Benson said. “Right now they’re without a backup.”

The bad news: If that well goes out, the customers affected will face the same scenario they did that Christmas Eve. Also, the lack of a backup system poses a risk of water lines being contaminated with surface waters, threatening the health and safety of the area.

The likelihood of Clay County being awarded a CDBG grant this year would be higher if two criteria used to score each application improved, Benson said: documentation of need and an increased local match amount.

Documentation of need already has a foundation, she said. Before the county applied for the grant last year, GTPDD determined through a door-to-door survey that 563 people would benefit from the project.

Finding sources of funding to provide proof of a dollar-for-dollar amount match is a larger issue.

Each year, MDA finds out how much it will be allocated from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development for CDBG funding. Last year, that was $24 million. That amount is split in half between two major categories: Economic development and public facilities.

The $12 million in public facilities is divided again among “regular competition,” or cities and counties with a population of more than 3,500 people, and small municipalities, which are communities with fewer than that amount. Regular competition applicants can apply for a maximum amount of $600,000 for a project.

Benson said when Clay County applied last year, it sought $471,200 but only showed it could match $117,800, the bulk of which would have come from a loan from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.

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