Crawford County Quorum Court declares vacancy in District 4 JP seat, approves grant application for water project

Matthew Hicks, commander of the Robert Jack Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1322 in Van Buren, speaks Monday to the Crawford County Quorum Court. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Saccente)

VAN BUREN -- The Crawford County Quorum Court will have a new member joining its ranks later this year.

The Quorum Court voted 8-0 to declare a vacancy in the District 4 justice of the peace position at its meeting Monday.

County Judge Chris Keith said the county will recommend someone to be appointed to serve out the remainder of Michael Morrison's two-year term. The recommendation will be sent to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who will make the decision.

Morrison occupied the District 4 justice of the peace seat since January 2021, according to the county clerk's office. In January, he was sworn in for another term, which is set to expire in December 2024.

However, Morrison announced his resignation during the Quorum Court's Jan. 17 meeting, effective that night, to accept a job in Little Rock, according to the meeting minutes.

The Quorum Court also voted 8-0 to to submit an application to the state for grant money through the Arkansas Community and Economic Development Program. This money would go to a project designed to provide drinking water to about 625 households in north-central Crawford County.

Keith said Monday he believed the application, which involves Mountainburg and the Fort Smith-based Western Arkansas Planning and Development District, will be for $1 million.

Mountainburg Mayor Susan Wilson has said households between Mountainburg and Cedarville from the Washington County line south to Rudy aren't served by any water system. Residents get water from wells or an outside source, such as the Lake Fort Smith Water Treatment Plant in Mountainburg. Mountainburg buys water from Fort Smith.

Wes LeMonier of the Van Buren-based firm Hawkins-Weir Engineers has said the project proposed to provide these people water will add 68 miles of pipe from Mountainburg's water distribution system to households in the affected area, as well as build infrastructure such as three water storage tanks, pressure-reducing valves and a new pump station. The project will improve three pump stations as well.

LeMonier estimated construction will take two years. The project covers about 54 square miles and is estimated to cost more than $13.4 million. Hawkins-Weir developed the project in collaboration with a committee of people who own property in the affected area.

The Quorum Court and the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission each awarded Mountainburg $2.5 million in American Rescue Plan money for the water project in 2022. Wilson announced Feb. 1 the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development awarded the town $7.4 million, including $5.7 million in grant money and $1.7 million in loans.

LeMonier said $1 million would cover connecting low-to-moderate-income residents to the planned water system and bringing their plumbing up to state standards. Any leftover money would go to project costs.

Aside from Morrison, justices of the peace Robert Arnold, Lonnie Myers, Morgan Morgan and Jayson Peppas were also absent from Monday's meeting.

These absences didn't leave enough of a quorum to allow the Quorum Court to vote on any of the ordinances on its meeting agenda, according to Keith. The ordinances will be discussed at the Quorum Court's meeting April 17.

More News