Friday, October 14, 2016

TOP STORY >> Water property dispute in court

Leader staff writer

An ongoing water property dispute between Sherwood and Jacksonville is now in circuit court as Jacksonville appeals a ruling in Sherwood’s favor.

The Arkansas Natural Resource Commission approved in July a petition filed by Sherwood to reallocate 2,365 acres from Jacksonville’s Water Service Territory to Sherwood for authority to provide both water and sewer service to residents and businesses in the affected area.

But Jacksonville, which has the water rights to the area has said it is willing to provide water service to the area as long as the residents and businesses annex or come into the city. Without annexation, according to findings by the ANRC, Jacksonville would not provide services.

The area is mostly undeveloped land on the north side of General Samuels and up Hwy. 107 and is within Sherwood city limits.

J. Randy Young, the executive director for the ANRC, in issuing the commission’s final decision earlier this year, said, “Given that Jacksonville affirmatively states that it will not provide sewer service to residents outside of Jacksonville, orderly development and management compels the commission to assign the sewer (and water) service to an entity (Sherwood) that will provide service. Jacksonville, in its appeal, claims no resident or owner of any property in the disputed area has requested Sherwood service. The city said Sherwood only went after the property after receiving an inquiry more than two years ago from a potential buyer involving only about 28 acres of the property.”

Even though the acreage in question is in Jacksonville water service territory, it is now within the city limits of Sherwood.

Sherwood Mayor Virginia Young said water territory is different than city limits.

“The ANRC is concerned about everyone having access to water, not what city the property is in, and Jacksonville has refused multiple times to provide water unless the land owners annex into Jacksonville,” the mayor said.

“Why should these people go to Jacksonville, we had a ballot vote, and they chose Sherwood over Jacksonville,” Young said. “We are very willing to service the area.”

The mayor added that the water rates in Jacksonville are higher than the rates in Sherwood.

Jacksonville said that when the ANRC ruled for Sherwood that the hearing officer acknowledged that he had no information about the infrastructure (“pipes in the ground’) that services residences in the area and that Jacksonville’s infrastructure in the disputed area includes a three-million gallon tank and supporting infrastructure, “for which millions of dollars in federal debt obligations remain.”

Jacksonville continued with its concerns, also stating in the complaint that the hearing officer did not consider the impact of the Air Installation Compatibility Use Zone (AICUZ), “which provides exclusive jurisdiction to Jacksonville for the protection of the federal military installation at Little Rock Air Force Base.”

The city also said that transferring control of the land to Sherwood “creates an enclave” which is discouraged by state laws.

Jacksonville believes that the ANRC decision was “in excess of and an abuse of discretion of the agency’s authority and power.”

The ANRC, in its final determination and decision said, based on “findings of fact and conclusions of law,” that in 2009 the commission did approve a larger area of acreage, which included the disputed area “as being in Jacksonville’s service area for water, but was not being serviced by ether city.