A prayer and applause opened a groundbreaking ceremony Friday for construction of the Tupelo Bayou Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Richard Arnold, Conway Corp. chief executive officer, supervised lines of participants taking turns with the golden shovels.

A prayer from the Rev. Cornell Maltbia of True Holiness Saints Center blessed the undertaking and those who will benefit from the project for years to come.

Tossing the dirt in a greenfield site on Lollie Road were contractors, board members, financiers and city, county and state officials and employees who have worked since 2005 on the massive undertaking.

The $70 million project is Conway Corp.’s largest in financial terms. The new plant and related system improvements, including line work and a pump station, will replace the city’s current Stone Dam facility. Initially, the new plant will treat up to 16 million gallons of effluent per day.

"This project replaces an aged treatment plant with a new facility that can be expanded to accommodate future growth," Arnold said. "It is ideally situated to become the only treatment plant the city will need if it becomes uneconomical to continue operations at the Tucker Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant."

Ultimately, the plant will be able to process 32 million gallons a day (MGD). The initial phase will construct two parallel 8 MGD liquid trains for a total capacity of 16 MGD. Additional capacity increases can be constructed in 8 MGD increments, with a 24 MGD capacity anticipated by 2030.

The project is funded through a $70 million loan from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission.

Conway Corp. customers will help repay the loan through increased monthly wastewater fees, beginning with the June billing.

The average residential customer currently using 5,000 gallons of wastewater pays $19.32 per month. Under the new rate structure, the bill increases 20 percent to $23.18 the first year; another 20 percent to $27.82 the second year; and 35 percent to $37.56 the third year.

Once the Tupelo Bayou plant is handling Conway’s treatment needs, the 30-year-old Stone Dam facility on Stanley Russ Road will be decommissioned.

Conway Corp. provided the following project details:

• As part of the Tupelo Bayou project, improvements for wastewater treatment are being installed at the Tucker Creek Plant.

• Wastewater flow from the Stone Dam Wastewater Treatment Plant will be rerouted to the Tupelo Bayou Wastewater Treatment Plant.

• A portion of the Tucker Creek flow will be diverted to the Tupelo Bayou facility with line work improvement construction.

• The Tupelo Bayou plant will feature advanced treatment technology that includes an activated sludge treatment system with innovative additions such as ultraviolet disinfection — which eliminates the use of chlorine and sulfur dioxide gas — and anaerobic sludge digestion with gas recovery, which will be reused in the digesters’ heating cycle.

• Future use of digester gas for power regeneration may also be possible as the treatment plant is further expanded.

• The project employed several approaches to saving money, including a sales tax exemption for the wastewater equipment that saved approximately $1 million.

• The construction contractor is PC Construction Co. of South Burlington, Vt., which is one of the nation’s largest employee-owned contracting firms.

• North Little Rock-based Garver provided the professional engineering services to plan and design the wastewater system improvements, which began in late 2005.

• The treatment plant will be located on a greenfield site adjacent to the Arkansas River, and the facility will discharge its enhanced effluent into the river.

• The overall project includes constructing the central and Donnell Ridge pump stations for $12.3 million. The contractor is Branco Enterprises of Neosho, Mo.

• The Conway collection system line work will cost $11.7 million. The contractor is Rosetta Construction LLC of Springfield, Mo.

Staff writer Becky Harris can be reached at becky.harris@thecabin.net and 505-1234.