OKTIBBEHA COUNTY — It’s been at least two decades since Center Grove Water Association could provide all its customers with water from its own well.
That’s roughly how long ago the letters started coming from the Mississippi Department of Health telling the association’s board the well had reached its capacity and couldn’t accommodate additional customers. Since then, board president Ronald McMinn said, the association has paid the nearby town of Maben between $700 and $800 per month to provide water for many of its 172 customers not connected to the well.
“Our well was built in 1964, and it was supposed to serve 75 or 80 customers,” said McMinn, who has led the board since 1995. “It’s not much over 100 that we are supposed to have on it.”
Sitting in Center Grove Baptist Church earlier this week with Phylis Benson from the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, the water association’s board decided to take possibly the best shot it has to fix the problem.
McMinn and Benson will ask the county board of supervisors Monday to sponsor Center Grove’s application for a Community Development Block Grant to build a second well. The new, 2,200-foot-deep well would cost about $1 million according to preliminary estimates, Benson said.
Benson, a project analyst with GTPDD who helps area counties and municipalities apply for CDBG grants, said the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide Mississippi about $26 million this year to be distributed through the competitive grant program. Those grants are awarded specifically for qualifying projects related to economic development and public facilities, she said.
Only counties and municipalities are qualified to apply, but Benson said a county can sponsor an application for a rural water association. Grant awards range from $100,000 to $600,000, but she said an applicant — or in this case the water association — would need to match the grant “dollar for dollar” to be competitive, even if that required taking out a loan for those funds.
The currently “debt-free” Center Grove Water Association has less than $100,000 in the bank, McMinn said, so some type of loan will be necessary to raise the match. It recently spent $25,000 to deepen its existing well by 200 feet (bringing it to 2,200 feet), he said, which allowed a few more customers to connect.
Without a second well, McMinn said the association faces the eventual possibility of “folding up” and being absorbed by a larger water association.
“If we don’t get this grant, I don’t know what we’ll do,” McMinn said. “One hundred seventy-two customers won’t pay for a $1 million well.”
A ‘decent’ chance
Benson said, if the county sponsors the application, Center Grove might have a decent shot for funding.
In the 12-factor model CDBG uses to score an application, Benson said the most points are awarded for “demonstration of need.”
“That’s when I pull out the violin,” she said.
Historically, she added, water and sewer projects do pretty well, as evidenced this year when a sewer project on Babylon Road in west Starkville received $300,000 from the program.
Still, the water association will have to show at least 51 percent of residents in the affected area are low to moderate income, something that will require a door-to-door survey. The association also will need to secure the matching funds before the May 21 grant application deadline.
Before any of that matters, county supervisors have to agree to sponsor the project.
A county or municipality can only apply for one project at a time, Benson said, and cannot apply if it has an open project, such as a funded project under construction.
Oktibbeha County hasn’t had a project funded in years, and District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard, who represents the Center Grove community located about 10 miles west of Starkville, hopes his fellow supervisors get behind him on this one.
“Center Grove is a growing area with more growth expected,” Howard said. “There are new homes being built in that area all the time. Even though Maben has been willing to help, you don’t want to have to continue to depend on Maben to serve your customers.
“I feel like we hit the majority of the marks really well for getting this grant,” he added. “Having safe drinking water is absolutely a priority in my opinion.”
McMinn, 74, sees the area growing, too. If the board can’t get the grant this year, he said its members would try again next year.
“Most of us are old folks just trying to get this fixed up for the younger folks,” he said. “… We have a good community out here. We’re just trying to keep it — or at least keep it in water anyway.”
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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