Monday, March 21, 2005

TOP STORY>> Battle against Deltic is still on

IN SHORT: A showdown on Deltic Timber’s efforts to strip Central Arkansas Water of its authority to regulate surrounding land use goes to the House of Representatives after a water commissioner withdrew her moratorium resolution on Friday which could have helped Deltic.

Leader staff writer

M. Jane Dickey, a Central Arkansas Water commissioner, withdrew from consideration Friday her resolution for a two-year moratorium on both developing and condemning land on the slopes of the Lake Maumelle reservoir while a previously planned management study is conducted.

CAW, which owns the Lake Maumelle reservoir that provides drinking water for customers in Jacksonville, Cabot and Sherwood, as well as Little Rock and North Little Rock, has refused to let Deltic Timber develop about 175 pricey, lake-view homes on 1,300 acres near water treatment intake structures on the lake.

The fight now moves to the House Committee on City, County and Local Affairs, where it has languished for weeks, but is due for consideration on Wednesday.

Committee Chairman Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, has said he’s inclined to vote for clean water, but that he’ll give the matter a fair hearing.

“I want to hear from the scientists,” Bond said.

Deltic is now said to be supporting Rep. Benny Petrus, D-Stuttgart, for the House speaker seat Bond has said he’ll seek next term.

Deltic slipped through the state Senate the bill that would strip CAW—and only CAW—of its power to regulate and to take lands by eminent domain.

Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy, and Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, were among the 11 senators opposed to Senate Bill 230.

Dickey could not be reached for comment late their primary water source.

CAW says the extra cost of treating water if Deltic builds subdivision near its Lake Maumelle intake site is reason enough to retain the right to condemn the property and buy it from Deltic to keep development out.
Senate Bill 230, which would strip CAW of its condemnation powers, goes before the House City, County and Local Government committee for a hearing on Wednesday.

But CAW is not the only water utility in the area that is trying to keep costs down by increasing its customer base. Com-munity Water Systems of Greers Ferry takes its water from that lake and distributes it locally. The utility also has built a pipeline to Faulkner and Cleburne counties and hopes to build one to Lonoke County.

That proposed project, called the Lonoke-White Project has been ongoing for almost 15 years but is now involved in a lawsuit that has it on hold until a court decides whether signed contracts are binding and who actually owns the intake site and waterline rights-of-way, CWS or the cities and water associations that were supposed to buy the water.

The members of that water project are Ward, Austin, Highway 319 Water Association, Bayou II Water Association, Grand Prairie Water Association and Mt. Vernon/Enola.

If a jury eventually says the members of the project not CWS are the owners of the intake site and waterline rights-of-way, Ward Mayor Art Brooke says the members will form their own water district and use their property, which cost $3 million, as leverage in an association with the Mid Arkansas Water Alliance.

MAWA, spearheaded by CAW, is currently involved in attaining a long term water supply for all its members.

Brooke says Lonoke-White members have talked to CAW about using the property if the jury decides in their favor.

The members of the Lonoke-White Project would then have ownership in their water supply not just be customers, he said.

CAW officials have said that although SB 230 has been amended so no other water utility is affected, any joint project possibly would be.

Regionalism, the combining of financial re-sources to benefit many and save money for all, is a call that many cities in central Arkansas have answered. But not Beebe.

Once the “White” in the Lonoke-White Project, Beebe became a member because of the prevailing theory that ground water would soon dry up and the only recourse would be to use surface water.

That association and why it ended was addressed Tuesday evening during a Beebe Planning Commission meeting on a proposed annexation that would double the size of the city.

Area residents wanted to know why Beebe pulled out of a project that was supposed to guarantee all the water the city would need. Don Beavers, an engineer who works for the water and sewer commission, answered that Beebe has enough water for the next 15 to 30 years.

Dwight Oxner, Beebe water and sewer manager, elaborated on that statement on Friday saying, “It’s hard to plan for more than 20 years at a time,” he said. “But every five years or so we update our 20-year-plan and all indications are that we’ve got plenty of water.”

Beebe gets its water from five wells located inside and outside the city but all in the Alluvial Aquifer. Tests performed by the Arkansas Soil and Water Con-servation Commission and engineers hired by the city show that the aquifer has dropped only one inch in 50 years, he said.

Cabot also was a member of the Lonoke-White Project but did not sign a contract with CWS, opting instead for CAW.

Beebe’s departure was a problem because that city’s low income level was to be the source of government grants. But when Cabot pulled out, it became impossible to build the project as planned with an intake structure on Cove Creek. That intake structure was included in the contract that is now being contested in court.

Only Grand Prairie and Bayou II have sued CWS. Spokesmen for those water associations say that since the structure is not included, the contract is not valid.