Saturday, April 05, 2008

TOP STORY > > NWS assesses damage, recalls night of storms

Leader staff writer

Amie Browne, meteorologist with the National Weather Service at North Little Rock, is waiting for information to come in from the teams out tracking the path of the tornadoes that ripped through the state Thursday night.

“All we know right now is that there were no reports from Jacksonville,” she said, “and we know that the Sylvan Hills High School was damaged, but we haven’t quite gotten up that far yet. It will be awhile before we have an idea of how strong this storm was.”

Browne describes the process of rating the magnitude and strength of a tornado: teams will go out and look at damage and first assess how the debris is spread out on the ground. It will lie in a straight line if caused by high winds, or if it falls in a circular pattern the damage is the result of a tornado. They then calculate the strength of the tornado by assessing the sort of structure that was damaged and rate it per the EF scale.

“It’ll be awhile before we know for sure what the details are,” Browne said.

John Lewis, of Cabot, a senior forecaster with the National Weather Service at North Little Rock, was ready to go home and get some sleep after 14 hours awake and on the job Thursday and Friday. He was called into work 8 p.m. Thursday to handle the severe weather headed toward Little Rock.

“About the time the storm hit the Benton area, we extrapolated its path, but it took a few moments to hit that it was headed right toward us,” said Lewis.

The forecasters watched the storm go through Benton, then Cammack Village, and when it got to Burns Park, they knew it was close. The time was 10:05 p.m.

“When a station can no longer take care of its area, we call our backup,” Lewis said, “and I called our backup in Memphis before heading for the shelter.”

One of the other forecasters had run in to tell him that there was a loud roaring sound to the southwest.
“I’ve been here for 15 years, and this is only the second time I’ve gone back to that room,” Lewis said.

He said that the storm shelter at his station is a designated room in the Weather Service building.

“We heard a loud roar,” he continued. “The building shook and the windows rattled. Still, we thought it went over us. We stayed in the room for about three minutes, then came out.”

He estimated that the tornado itself missed his building by about 200 feet, but the winds were still about 60 miles per hour.

Walking outside, he said there was no doubt that the tornado touched down at the North Little Rock Airport.

“Our flagpole broke and the bird feeder is gone, but a little farther away, there are planes everywhere and in piles. It barely missed us,” Lewis said.

“I put the whole story online on our site at,” he said.

The site also reports that the amounts of rain Thursday night were 200 to 500 percent of normal. “It was eerie. It was just eerie,” said Lewis.

TOP STORY > > Ward can’t afford suit over club

Leader staff write

The Ward City Council voted in special session Friday afternoon to repeal its vote earlier this week to fight in circuit court a tentative private club liquor license a state board granted for a restaurant that would serve alcohol inside Ward city limits, which is in a dry county.

The city doesn’t have the money for a lengthy lawsuit that could go as far as the Arkansas Supreme Court and cost a minimum of $25,000, the council said.

Instead, the council agreed that the appeal should be filed by Citizens for Sound Government, whose top leaders include former State Rep. Randy Minton and businessman Barry Ammons. The group, which gets together as needed, first formed more than five years ago to fight a dirt race strip that was supposed to be built about three miles outside Ward.

Ammons, the apparent spokesman for the group, said after the council meeting that Citizens for Sound Government didn’t think the area needed a racy strip, and he pointed out that there isn’t one there now. Asked who could join, Ammons said any voting county resident who agrees that Lonoke County doesn’t need businesses that serve alcohol.

The Alcohol Beverage Control Board granted the private club license to Win Knight on March 31, contingent on the actual construction of the business and approval by the state Health Department. Knight did not attend the special council meeting.

Alderman Ginger Tarno said during the meeting that the ABC decision set a precedent that will affect the entire county, adding that a group that represents the county should file the appeal.

Alderman Charles Gastineau agreed. “We stood our ground,” he said. “A broader group should appeal it.”

Ammons wouldn’t reveal the names of the lawyers he and Minton have spoken to about the case or how much it might cost, but he said the lawyers were eager to take on a 2007 law that has made it easier for ABC to approve alcohol permits in dry counties.

“We are prepared to attack the private club law on its face, on the original legislation. I don’t think anyone has done that before,” Ammons said. “We certainly are not going to roll over for this.”

About 30 area residents attended the council meeting and stayed for a short organizational meeting afterward. Discussion during that meeting made it clear that the group fears that the restaurant serving chicken, fish, seafood and alcohol that Knight proposes to build in Ward will be just the beginning. Eventually Cabot could have a Chile’s that serves alcohol like the one in Jacksonville, which also is dry. Residents in Lonoke, Scott and every other city in the county should also be worried, they said.

“The changes in the law made it easier for private clubs to get liquor licenses,” Minton said, adding, “It’s a way of getting around a dry county.”

Alderman Marrice Jackson agreed, saying the ABC wouldn’t be content until there was “booze in every county.”

Ammons said to stop Knight would take hundreds of supporters, not just the few who attended the Friday night meeting. What is needed is a “groundswell, grassroots effort,” he said as signup sheets were passed around.

TOP STORY > > Residents survey damage

Leader staff

An all-night-long storm brought tornadoes, high winds, rain and hail to central Arkansas on Thursday night, damaging homes, businesses and area schools and causing power outages in many areas.

The storm cut a path of damage through Sherwood, Gravel Ridge and Cabot and sent the son of the Austin mayor to the hospital.

Jacksonville and Beebe escaped with minimal damage.

Late Friday, Gov. Beebe declared Pulaski County a disaster area, along with several other counties.

The storm damaged Syl-van Hills High School, middle school and elementary school. Classes were cancelled there Friday, as well as at Northwood Middle School and Cato Elementary, both in northern Pulaski County, because of flooding.

Cabot and Lonoke schools were also closed Friday because of damage and power outages.

As of Friday evening, Westside Elementary School was still without electricity, according to Cabot Superintendent Dr. Tony Thurman; seven other campuses were without electricity until after lunch Friday.

But Cabot High School was another story.

“It was our worst situation. Even with power, the high school would not have been open because there was so much damage,” Thurman said.

Part of the roof on the new two-story high school structure was peeled back during the storm, he said. It was patched during the day in preparation for classes on Monday.

There were also numerous windows broken out, trees knocked over and awnings blown down at the high school as well. The roof of the Panther Stadium press box was also slightly damaged.

The industrial-technology building (the former CHAMPS Hall) also received slight roof damage but there was no flooding to the rooms and everything was salvaged, Thurman said.

Thurman said he was at the high school campus until 2:30 a.m. Friday helping to clear debris.

Driving along Hwy. 138 in the storm Thursday night, Sammy Chamberlain, the son of Austin Mayor Bernie Chamberlain, had a flying four-by-four fence post and a two-by-four crash through the windshield of his vehicle. The four-by-four struck him in the eye.

“I’ve been up all night at the hospitals,” Bernie Chamberlain said Friday afternoon. She said Sammy was first taken to North Metro in Jacksonville and then to UAMS in Little Rock. He was released late Friday and will be all right.

John Rehrauer, spokesman for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office, said there was some damage to homes, mostly from falling trees, in Kellogg Acres and where Brockington meets Hwy.107.

The damage is pretty significant, Rehrauer said. “We worked through the night and some reserves joined us this morning.

He said the county road and bridge department helped with heavy lifting. The Office of Emergency Services used portable lights to illuminate the intersection at Hwy. 107 and Jacksonville Cato Road in Gravel Ridge.

As the storm roared through Cabot, it toppled trees, blew out windows, damaged roofs, cars and other property.

“We heard the wildest winds,” said Betty Pacheco, who lives on South Second Street in Cabot.

She hid under the home’s stairwell with her son Tony, daughter Sheena and granddaughter Kayla. “The sirens were good and loud. We covered up with pillows and put a motorcycle helmet on Kayla’s head,” Pacheco said.

After the storm passed, “I opened the front door and a tree was there to greet me.”

A resident at 601 S. Grant in Cabot looked out of her door and said, “Our power is out, our phone is out. We have two small children, and we’re cold.”

Brockinton Auto Sales in Cabot suffered about $100,000 in damage to vehicles on the lot, as well as another $50,000 in damage to the property. About 12 cars were totaled and another 10 were lightly damaged, according to co-owners Charles Brockington and son Chuck Brockington.

“We’re back,” said Chuck Brockinton. “We had to hook up a generator, and as you can see, the neon sign says open. We have about 10 or 15 cars that are temporarily not for sale.”

Chuck Brockinton said that insurance will cover most of the damage and that it “probably won’t be a major loss.”

“We’re gonna bounce back fast,” he said.

Bob’s Garage, located on First Street, was one of the lucky ones.

Owner Bob Polantz said his business did not suffer damage, but several power lines were down and a storage building across the street was demolished. “We were in the bathroom [of our house],” said Polantz. “We heard it roaring.”

Traffic rolled nonstop both ways on Hwy. 367 in Cabot Friday afternoon as residents tried to see the damage from the apparent tornado that hit the edge of the city.

Most visible from the highway was the awning and sign at Brockinton Auto Sales that was knocked down, strewn across the parking lot and wrapped around several of the vehicles on the lot. Farther down the highway toward the Hwy. 5 interchange, Mags Trucking was heavily damaged while the now defunct Bancroft Cap Company sustained minor damage.

Beside Dreamline, a mattress factory, the wind picked up several mini-storage buildings and scattered them in the neighborhood across the street from the factory, but left the contents behind, barely disturbed.

One of the buildings flew high enough to clear 90-foot high trees before crashing into the top of the house at No. 2 Sharon Cove. Kevin Beers, a UALR student who lives there with his family, said the building protruded through the roof into his bedroom, the hallway and the bathroom. The family was in the hallway when it landed, he said.

Barbara Pruitt at 15 Stacy Street found her backyard shed overhanging her inground pool after the storm had passed.

“Someone said it gave a new meaning to pool house,” Pruitt said.

Mobile homes on First Street also were heavily damaged from trees that broke from the wind. But Mayor Eddie Joe Williams and
Alderman Ed Long both pointed out that no one in Cabot was injured, not even slightly.

“God was watching out for us,” Long said.

In Ward, several mobile homes were damaged from wind, falling limbs and falling trees. The affected areas include Black Oak Circle, Margie Lane, Palm Drive, Emily Circle and Moon Road.

Flooding was expected in Lonoke County “at the usual places,” said County Judge Charlie Troutman, but most of the damage was confined to Cabot, where county workers and equipment helped the city Friday.

“We had a couple of dump trucks, a backhoe and all the men we could turn out,” Troutman said.

Even though a number of tornadoes were reported, the weather service has not yet confirmed how many, except for a pair that hit the Benton-Bryant area Friday night as the storms starting thundering through the area.

According to John Robinson, with the National Weather Service, the pair of EF2 tornadoes traveled along a path from just northeast of Benton to 2.2 miles northwest of Bryant. The storm also dropped two to three inches of rain over most of central Arkansas. An EF2 tornado packs winds of 111 to 135 miles per hour and can cause considerable damage.

At the North Little Rock Airport, where a possible tornado touched down, a single-engine Cessna lay on its nose against a fuel truck near the runway Friday morning. The winds also tore into one metal-sided hangar and cut across the runway heading northeast.

The storm was so close to the National Weather Service building there that the weather official had to head for shelter from the storm. Wind gusts of 64 miles per hour were clocked at the NWS building, the second highest gusts ever recorded there.

Entergy Arkansas spokesman James Thompson said there were 38,500 customers without power Friday morning. That included 18,500 in the Little Rock area, 8,200 in the Jacksonville and Cabot areas, 9,300 in Hot Springs and 1,300 in Faulkner County.

Thompson said it might be late Sunday before all the power is restored.

First Electric Cooperative said it had 8,500 customers out in central Arkansas because of the storm.

By late Friday that number had fallen to less than 7,000. In the Gravel Ridge and Jacksonville area of Pulaski County, there were still 835 homes without power Friday.

Thompson said numerous power poles were broken by the high winds and that numerous lines were down.

“It’s going to be a long weekend,” Thompson said. The utility had made arrangements Thursday with neighboring states to send line crews in anticipation of the bad weather.

Leader staff writers John Hofheimer, Heather Hartsell and Joan McCoy contributed to this report.

Friday, April 04, 2008

TOP STORY > > School is damaged, students displaced

Leader senior staff writer

The winds that tore through central Arkansas Thursday night, terrorizing thousands huddled in their closets and bathrooms and snapping trees and power poles, also peeled back the roof at Sylvan Hills High School, sending Pulaski County Special School District officials scrambling to find alternative learning space for 920 students for the rest of the year, according to James Warren, executive director for support services.

There was minimal damage at Sylvan Hills elementary and middle schools, he said, but power was out Friday, so no classes were held.

Classes also were cancelled Friday at Northwood Middle School and Cato Elementary School in the Gravel Ridge area because local streets were flooded, Warren said.

Warren estimated that damage to the high school would be about $250,000. Meanwhile, Sherwood and district officials are meeting to find suitable classroom space.

Tentative plans call for the high school students to return to classes Thursday. They will be assigned to take classes at Sherwood Forest, the Harmon Recreation Center or North Little Rock First Assembly of God for the rest of the school year, according to Carletta Wilson, PCSSD director of community affairs.

“They have offered the buildings and we had people go over today to make sure the space is adequate,” Wilson said.

Parents should watch and listen to local newscasts to make sure the elementary and middle schools will resume school on Monday, she said.

“We’re going to have to figure out transportation, food, how to get the stuff in school to the locations for the teachers….It’s a huge operation,” Warren said. “We’ve done it before and we can do it again.

“It looked like the hand of God reached down and pulled off the roof,” Warren said of Sylvan Hills High School auditorium, and also of the roof over the computer lab, marinating computers in the rain and ruining them.

The home economics lab was flooded and four classrooms were damaged.

The math building was damaged and light poles broken in half at the football stadium. Metal roofing was wrapped around trees and poles, according to Warren.

“This was the cleanest campus in the whole district,” he added. “It now has a million pieces of paper scattered about.”

Warren, who learned of the Sylvan Hills catastrophe about 9:30 p.m. Thursday, was among those who worked through the night to address the problems.

A school bus driver who lived near the schools checked the damage and notified district officials.

Those working to keep the high school going included Superintendent James Sharp, Beverly Ruthven, head of learning services, and district administrators Deborah Cooley, Rhonda Harnish and Bill Barnes and officials from Sherwood including Mayor Virginia Hillman, aldermen including Shelia Sulcer and Charlie Harmon, school board members Charlie Wood and Danny Gilliland and many others, Warren said.

Former school board member Ronnie Calva, director of the Harmon Recreation Center, was there and offered use of the recreation center, according to Warren.

“I’ve never seen anything like the way the city acted,” said Warren.” Everybody who worked for Sherwood lined up and wanted to know ‘what can we do to help?’”

District security arrived to keep people out of the building and away from harm.

On Friday, a team had to get food out of the school freezers and into frozen storage while it was still safe, he said.

Other storm related problems for the district included damage to the press box, gym and auxiliary gym at North Pulaski High School and the flooding of three classrooms in the dungeon—that’s the basement.

At Pinewood Elementary, students evacuated Friday after the HVAC unit on the roof caught fire, Warren said.

“We’ve got guys replacing it now.”

The new Sylvan Hills band room is also leaking, Warren said.

“We’ll be working all weekend and every day until we’re done,” he said. “We’ve got 100 people on the job right now in the rain, pulling off the rest of the roof with cranes, trying to get back into the dry. We didn’t waste any time.”

He said adjustors and administrators from Central Arkansas Risk Management Association and Crocket Adjustment had assured the district that the buildings were completely insured.

Other damage in north Pulaski County was minimal and without injury or death, according to John Rehrauer, spokesman for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office.

EDITORIAL >>Winners and losers

On annexation election night, Sherwood had a watch party at a Gravel Ridge business while Jacksonville gathered at city hall.

Both cities sent out people to get the vote count as soon as possible. They both got the same results—a 3-1 victory for Sherwood—but looking in on the Jacksonville party, it would have been hard to believe the city had lost.

So who did win and lose in this battle for Gravel Ridge? Perhaps Gravel Ridge was the loser. For if “none of the above” would have been on that annexation ballot, it would have garnered the most votes.

Gravel Ridge residents will have to comply with city law now, not county. That means no more pit bulls, no more jalopies in yards and a tighter rein on building codes.

Sherwood gains land, people and eventually a larger tax base. It will get money immediately for its parks and recreation programs and its advertising and promotion commission through the 2-cent hamburger tax Gravel Ridge eateries will have to start charging.

Jacksonville — which could have annexed Gravel Ridge a generation ago — now gets to pocket a large sum of money it was looking to use to invest in Gravel Ridge. That money can now be turned inward and used to help the people who are Jacksonville residents.

Jacksonville will give up growth — it will now be landlocked for all intents and purposes — but it can focus on bringing in more restaurants like Chili’s. The Jacksonville location is one of the chain’s most profitable outlets. The city can work on bringing in commercial developments around the I-440 interchanges that are in the city limits.

Sherwood has an I-440 interchange, too—on paper, but it could be 20 years before it gets built.

So who won? Everybody has an idea, and nobody will know for sure for years to come.

EDITORIAL >>Nelson keeps them honest

Sheffield Nelson, who can rightfully claim paternity for the natural-gas severance tax that the legislature enacted this week, worries that the legislature will return next year and dilute the tax. Producers and the owners of mineral rights, freed of the handshake deal with Gov. Beebe that brought about the tax, could indeed lobby for a lower rate or even more generous exploration incentives when the lawmakers reassemble in regular session in January. Arkansas will not have been collecting any revenues by then, so they could claim not to be slashing the highway program. They could do it by a simple majority in both houses, far less than the extraordinary votes by which the tax passed this week.

If it happens, Nelson warned, he would revive his 7 percent severance tax and put it on the ballot in 2010. Where has this man been? In Nelson’s two races for governor, against Bill Clinton and Jim Guy Tucker, we did not detect such grit or, for that matter, such progressive impulses.

But, frankly, we aren’t worried that the legislature will relapse on a program of which those members seemed genuinely proud. They authorized a major highway repair and building program that will cost neither motorists nor the general election one red cent. When does a public servant — or the taxpayers — come upon a deal like that?

Nelson nonetheless raises a good point. The act passed this week need not be the last word on the subject and shouldn’t be.

Although the act raises the severance tax on natural gas by something like a hundred times, the tax rate and its incentives or exemptions are far more generous than those in other states.

The tax rate of 5 percent of net revenues for the producers compares to 7.5 percent in Texas, 7 percent in Oklahoma and 6 percent in Mississippi, three states with expanding shale-gas opportunities.

Although no lawmaker raised the point, Beebe’s deal with the gas companies aroused some passionate critics. The gas from new shale wells will be taxed for the first three years not at 5 percent but at only 1.5 percent. The reduced rate is to allow producers to recover their investment — their exploration expenses — before paying the full rate. Other states provide incentives, too, but generally not quite so generous as that.

The reason for the incentives in other states was that shale drilling was risky and extremely expensive. Rebates, exemptions and lower start-up tax rates were to encourage investors to assume the higher risks. But technology has changed all that.

Horizontal drilling in shale plays is still expensive — $2.5 million to $3 million a well — but it is no longer risky and the payout is enormous.

Obviously, no one needs incentives to explore when the certain jackpot at the end is $8 to $10 a thousand cubic feet. Wells in the Fayetteville shale are pumping from 2 to 6 million cubic feet a day. At that rate, a company will recover its investment in months, not years.

Rather than worrying about lawmakers who would retreat on the tax, Nelson ought to use his considerable clout to persuade lawmakers to scale back the incentives. Oklahoma rebates some severance taxes only until a producer recovers its investment.

Then the full tax rate applies. That would be a good solution here.

Instead of a $50 million highway program next year, we could have a $100 million program, and probably closer to $200 million in five years. And no one need worry that it would stymie development of the immense shale play. They can’t manufacture drilling rigs fast enough.

SPORTS >>2007 state runner-up West Memphis is no match for Sylvan Hills

Leader sports editor

Another conference doubleheader, another double romp.

The Sylvan Hills Bears remained perfect in 6A-Conference play on Wednesday afternoon by walloping last year’s state runner-up West Memphis, 12-0 and 16-2, at Sherwood Parks.

The victories — the Bears’ ninth and tenth consecutive — improved them to 15-4 overall, 6-0 in conference play and tied with Marion for first place. The Patriots took two from Jacksonville on Wednesday to move to 6-0.

Over the past nine games, Sylvan Hills has outscored its opponents 120-30. Bears head coach Denny Tipton said he’s not too worried about his team going unchallenged over the past several weeks.

“We’ve had some close games,” he said, noting the Bears escaped with a 5-4 win over Jonesboro in a sweep of the Hurricane to open league play. “But these are a lot easier on the coach.”

Sylvan Hills four losses this season have been by one run each — two in extra innings.

Extra innings were not an issue on Wednesday. In fact, both games ended early. D.J. Baxendale was untouchable in the opener, losing a no-hitter in the fifth when Michael Harrell led off the fifth and final inning with a looper that dropped in for West Memphis’ only hit.

“D.J. has pitched well for us all year,” Tipton said of the junior transfer from Abundant Life who has already committed to Missouri State. “That’s his third one-hitter in conference and in all of them, they seem to get a little Texas Leaguer on him. I think in all his conference games, they’ve only hit two balls out of the infield on him.”

With a fastball nearing 90 miles per hour, and a wicked slider and curve ball to go along with it, Baxendale (6-1) had the Blue Devils waving awkwardly all night. Baxendale struck out nine and walked only one.

The Bears got all they needed in the first when they parlayed four walks, two wild pitches and Jack Chambers’ two-run single into a 4-0 lead. They padded that to 10-0 in the second, getting another RBI-single by Chambers and a two-run double by Blake Evans.

Evans added an RBI-double to the fence in center field in the fourth, and Clint Thornton delivered him with a single.

The Bears didn’t exactly pound the ball in the first game, finishing with just seven hits. But their bats came alive in the nightcap when they pounded out 14 hits. Baxendale and Hunter Miller combined to go 6 for 7 with seven RBI in the second game, but the bottom of the Bears’ order came through all night.

Chambers, Evans and Jordan Spears — the seven, eight and nine hitters — each had two hits. Chambers drove in three runs. In the opener, Chambers and Evans each went 2 for 3 with three RBI apiece.

“We’ve been hitting pretty good one through nine,” Tipton said. “That’s the key and that’s what I tell them: Don’t panic. If it’s not your night to hit, somebody else will pick it up. We’re pretty consistent up and down the lineup. When we all hit on the same night, we’re pretty good.”

The Bears jumped out to a quick start in game two with Miller collecting an RBI single and Baxendale bringing in a second run with a sacrifice fly. Sylvan Hills plated three more in the second. Spears had a sacrifice fly, followed by RBI singles from Miller and Baxendale as the Bears took a 5-0 lead.

After going 1-2-3 in the third, Sylvan Hills sent 11 men to the plate in the fourth, scoring six. The big blow was Miller’s two-run homer to left-center. Miller went 3 for 4 with four RBI. Chambers added a two-run single and Evans an RBI single in the inning.

West Memphis avoided a five-inning run rule by scoring two with two outs in the fifth to make it 11-2 and extend the game.

But Sylvan Hills went back to work in the top of the sixth, sending 10 more to the plate and scoring five. Mark Turpin had a two-run double, while Chambers added an RBI double and Baxendale an RBI single.

Miller (3-1) allowed four hits, three walks and two earned runs over five innings, striking out four. Chambers closed it out in fine fashion by fanning all three West Memphis batters in the sixth.

Sylvan Hills will tangle with the co-leader Patriots when they travel to Marion on Tuesday.

SPORTS >>Lady Panthers post easy win over Pine Bluff

Leader sports editor

The wet spring is wreaking havoc on baseball, softball and soccer seasons around Pulaski, Lonoke and White counties.

But for some, it’s hitting harder than others. Young teams like the Cabot Lady Panthers could benefit more than most from critical playing experience, but so far, they’ve managed to play just four games this season.

They got one in on Wednesday and evened their overall record at 2-2 and their 7A-Central record at 1-1 with a 10-0, 5-inning romp past Pine Bluff behind a two-hit, six-strikeout gem from junior hurler Cherie Barfield. Still, playing only four games throughout the entire month of March has Cabot head coach Becky Steward a little frustrated.

“You don’t want a spring like this when you’re so young,” said Steward, who hoped to get in a game at Russellville on Friday, weather permitting. “We’re still feeling our way through. We’ve had a different lineup in the past three games.

“You can only have so many hitting and fielding sessions indoors.”

The Lady Panthers feature 10 freshmen on their roster and only four seniors and three juniors. The rest are sophomores.

On Wednesday, youth didn’t get in the way of Cabot’s easy time with the Fillies. Brooke Taylor led the way with a single, a double and four RBI. Becca Bakalekos singled and doubled and drove in a run. Chelsea Conrade added a two-run triple, and Meagan Rivera drove in two runs with a base hit. Kristi Fletcher added an RBI with a hit.

“Cherie made them put the ball in play and we made the plays,” Steward said. “The defense in our first four games has made some critical errors. But we feel like, later on, as we get some games under our belts, the fielding will get better.”

Barfield didn’t walk a batter and ran the count to three balls only one time.

SPORTS >>Storms ravage Sherwood Sports Complex

Leader sports editor

Well before you reach the fields themselves, it’s apparent that the storm didn’t spare the baseball complex.

The light fixtures, leaning precariously at 30-degree angles, are the tipoff, along with the clusters of debris clinging to the backstops.

But it isn’t until you crest the hill along the walkway into the Sherwood Sports Complex that you take the full measure of the devastation.

The storms that blew through central Arkansas on Thursday night ravaged the multi-field sports complex that surrounds Sylvan Hills High School and which includes the home field for the Sylvan Hills High baseball and softball teams.

Hardest hit was Kevin McReynolds Field, home of the 6A-East Bears. The press box sits upside down near home plate and the crumpled metal bleachers along the first and third base lines now lay on their sides near the on deck circles.

The blue outfield fence and the blue wall in centerfield are gone, their absence made more conspicuous by the 30-foot portion of fence in right center that somehow remained standing.

The roof on the concession stand that sits in the middle of the four main fields at the complex is gone, its pink insulation clinging to the backstop on Fields 2 and 3.

“We’ll probably have to level that building,” said Sylvan Hills Optimist Club board member Mike Sanders, pointing at the pentagon-shaped concession stand. “Pieces of the rafters landed in the woods [beyond Field 3] and you can see the insulation in the trees.”

Sanders said the Optimist Club was to meet last night to discuss how to proceed. Much dependson how the Sherwood Parks and Recreation Department decides to file its claim — whether through an insurance adjuster or through FEMA, Sanders said.

In the meantime, the Optimist Club is trying to arrange for alternative ball fields for the youth baseball leagues, which were slated to start in three weeks. Sanders said Maumelle had already agreed to block off some fields for use.

“We’ll start getting our volunteer base, make some phone calls, and get some sort of account set up for donations,” Sanders said. “Kind of like Dumas did when it got blown away [in a tornado in February of 2007].”

All the fields in the lower portion of the complex received some level of damage, Sanders said, though he said Kevin McReynolds Field and Field 2 were hit the hardest.

The softball and soccer portion of the complex, which occupies an area on a hill southwest of Kevin McReynolds Field, mostly escaped damage, Sanders said, though a backstop on Field 8 was down.

“But it’s minor stuff compared to what went on here,” he said.

Sylvan Hills athletic director and head baseball coach Denny Tipton was unavailable for comment as of Friday afternoon.

SPORTS >>Rusty Red Devils drop two

Leader sportswriter

The rain over the past two weeks has generated plenty of rust — and that includes the Jacksvonille Red Devils.

Jacksonville dropped a pair of games to 6A-East powerhouse Marion on Wednesday. The Patriots routed the Red Devils 11-4 in the opener. Though Jacksonville stayed close in the nightcap, they fell 9-6.

“We looked like we hadn’t been on a practice field in a while, which we hadn’t,” Jacksonville coach Larry Burrows said. “They had not been either, so that’s really no excuse. We need to be on the practice field as much as we can.”

The Red Devils fell to 7-9 overall and 1-3 in 6A-East Conference play.

Burrows said the early season struggles at theplate have been remedied to some extent. But he said the defense and pitching has taken a turn for the worse.

“We’ve been hitting better,” Burrows said, “but these last few games, we’ve played bad defensively, and we’ve given up way too many walks. We have got to put both halves together. We’re getting more runs, but defensively, we have to get better.”

Freshman Patrick Castleberry led the Red Devils against Marion. Castleberry and Terrell Brown each finished with three hits in the twin bill. Castleberry also drove in four runs. Jason Regnas drove in a pair of runs in the nightcap.

“We played hard; we just made too many mistakes,” Burrows said. “We didn’t play well enough to beat a 16-2 team like Marion, that’s for sure. Our practice field and game field neither one drain very well, and it’s gotten us a couple of days behind.”

Jacksonville took the lead in game two, albeit briefly. The Patriots scored two runs in the opening inning and another in the third, but a four-run third inning put the Devils out in front for the first time all night.

They put up two more runs in the following frame to build a 6-3 lead, but Marion finished strong with three runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth.

The remainder of Jacksonville’s games for the week were cancelled by Thursday morning. The Red Devils are scheduled to take on West Memphis on Tuesday.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

TOP STORY > > Ward will go to court over liquor license

Leader staff writer

The Ward City Council voted Monday night to file an appeal in Lonoke County Circuit Court to fight the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board’s decision granting Winn Knight a private-club liquor license despite public opposition at an ABC hearing on March 19.

The city is given 30 days to file an appeal after ABC granted Knight his license.

During the special called council meeting, nearly 30 residents and church officials voiced their objections and asked questions about Knight’s proposed family-oriented, relaxed-atmosphere, alcohol-serving restaurant, which will be located adjacent to

Dude’s Place at the intersection of Highways 38 and 319.

The residents had learned of the meeting earlier in the day and were told the council would be discussing whether or not the city would take further action against Knight’s private-club license, which would allow him to serve alcohol to club members, just like Chili’s in Jacksonville, even though Lonoke County is dry.

Knight was not at the meeting and later told The Leader no one had bothered to inform him of the meeting so he could answer questions from residents.

According to Mayor Art Brooke, all that the city had to do was notify the media within 24 hours of a called council meeting and within two hours for an emergency meeting, so a more advanced notice wasn’t needed.

When informed of the council’s plan to appeal the decision, Knight said that was the city’s right and he would take his case all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court if he had to.

“I satisfied all of ABC’s requirements, and it is the city’s right to appeal that decision,” Knight said.

“They (the city of Ward) have an uphill battle, and I will take it as far as I have too. I’ve been working on this for the past three years — I’m in it for the long haul,” he said.

Everyone speaking against Knight said they were morally opposed to having alcohol in Ward and didn’t see the need for a restaurant that serves alcohol. They were also concerned about people’s safety and urged the city council to appeal ABC’s decision.

Knight said he didn’t think religion should play a part in whether or not people should have the opportunity to sit down and eat a meal with a glass of wine or beer.

“I understand their concerns, but I don’t think they’ve taken the time to talk with me about their concerns,” he said.

“I don’t think that people who don’t drink have the right to decide for others whether or not they should be able to have a drink with their meal,” Knight added.

Aldermen Charles Gastineau and Ginger Tarno believed it would be better if a private organization or group of concerned citizens led the appeal, but other council members disagreed.

“I understand the emotions and that citizens don’t want this, but I’m wondering if it’s in the best interest of the city to be the lead in this and be expending public monies to fight this,” Gastineau said. “Let a private organization take the lead and we support them,” he said.

Tarno agreed, saying the city wouldn’t bow out of the appeal, but rather assist the group that filed.

Ward City Attorney Clint McGue told the council it would be a tall hurdle to clear to have the ABC board’s decision overturned and upheld.

“I think whoever does it is in store for a lot of litigation. The burden of proof is on those that appeal and it is a high burden,” he said. “It might be daunting, but it is certainly doable. I think it will be a struggle.”

When asked how much it would cost to appeal the decision, McGue told the council it would be less if the city lost in circuit court, but the cost would be about $5,000, more if the city retains a lawyer with experience in the matter.

Knight said he will start building in the summer and hopes to have his establishment open within a year.

His building plans must still be approved by the Ward Planning Commission as well.

“He went through the process to get the permit and we have to accept that from this point on,” McGue said.

“We now have to ensure he meets the rules and regulations set out that apply to private club facilities and zoning. The only way we can prevent it from coming in is as a structural standpoint, with the same review as would do for a Dollar General coming in – making sure it meets the zoning and building requirements.

TOP STORY > > Child-wedding bill is repealed

The special legislative session Gov. Mike Beebe called this week to pass a $100-million-a year gas severance tax has proven a gift to state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville.

First, the session allowed legislators to repeal an ordinance sponsored by Bond during the regular 2007 session of the General Assembly that had the unintended consequence of technically allowing marriage ofminors of any age with parental consent.

Just as important locally, the special session allowed legislators to change the reimbursement deadline for North Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School District lawyers to seek reimbursement and court costs for filing for unitary status.

“The deseg thing is a big blessing,” said Bond, “moving the date back for reimbursement of attorney fees and costs.”

Originally, Fed. Dist. Judge Bill Wilson had to have ruled the schools unitary by June 14 if the districts were to qualify for up to $250,000 in reimbursement, but Wilson said he was waiting for a higher court decision and could not rule on unitary status for North Little Rock School District and Pulaski County Special School District by that date.

The new bill moves the cutoff date for reimbursement to Dec. 31, 2008.

Bond said he believed this would restore the incentive for the districts to move forward.

The school bill was approved 95-2 in the House and heads for the Senate, according to DeCample.

As for the badly worded bill that had allowed even toddlers to marry with parental consent, Bond pleaded good humoredly to his fellow lawmakers, “Throw me a rope and bail me out.”

They laughed and cheered.

Bond had originally sponsored that bill as a favor to the Judicial Council, but it arrived badly worded and Bond later took responsibility, saying he should have given it scrutiny before sponsoring it.

The bill now allows males 17 and females 16 to marry with parental consent, or anyone 18 to marry without parental consent.
Fortunately, nothing bad has happened as a result of the wording adopted last session, Bond said.

All three bills were greased before calling the session, Bond said. “The governor was making sure he had a consensus before having both beet in the circle,” he added. —John Hofheimer

TOP STORY > > Trial for Cox put on hold

Leader senior staff writer

To try bail bondsman Bobby Junior Cox for conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, participating in an ongoing criminal enterprise and lesser crimes would constitute double jeopardy, Special Judge John Cole of Sheridan ruled Monday.

Special Prosecutor Larry Jegley received a copy of the ruling Tuesday and said he’d confer with Attorney General Dustin McDaniel before deciding whether to appeal Cole’s decision to the state Supreme Court.

“It’s my intention, subject to the attorney general’s input, to make an appeal,” Jegley said.

Cox’s attorney, John Wesley Hall, filed a two-inch thick motion and brief maintaining that a trial of Cox now, after he was dismissed from the Campbell public corruption case, would be double jeopardy.

Also undecided is whether the trial of alleged co-conspirator Larry Norwood, also a bail bondsman, would proceed or whether the Norwood case should be put on hold until the Cox double-jeopardy question is settled.

Cox and Norwood were originally charged as codefendants in the sprawling drug, theft, conspiracy and criminal enterprise trial of former Lonoke Police Chief Jay Campbell and his wife, Kelly Harrison Campbell.

He is serving a 40-year sentence, and she’s serving a 10-year sentence.

The cases against Cox and Norwood have lingered while the transcripts were being made Cole declared a mistrial in Cox’s case last year because a witness suddenly testified that Cox had solicited him to kill Lonoke County Prosecutor Lona McCastlain and a star witness.

“A lot of things are up in the air,” said Jegley.

He said he should know how he’ll proceed with Norwood in the next several days.

TOP STORY > > Sherwood says sewer violations fixed

Leader staff writer

In a recent draft order, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality says Sherwood has too much nitrogen and fecal matter in its treated wastewater and has proposed to fine the city $17,400.

But Mayor Virginia Hillman is upset with the release of the draft, suggesting that it was made public to sway Gravel Ridge annexation votes. She says most of the violations have been corrected and that the city’s wastewater department recently changed management and that will help prevent repeat violations.

According to the order, the city’s system had 20 violations over the past four years of too much ammonia nitrogen in the water and 12 violations in the past two years for too much fecal coli form bacteria in the water.

According to the ADEQ the permitted amount of ammonia nitrogen allowed varies from 2.2 milligrams per liter to 8 milligrams per liter. On the testing days, the state agency found amounts up to 37.5 milligrams per liter.

Fecal coliform bacteria were found in amounts two to three times the amountthat is permitted.

The ADEQ report also said the city’s waste-sludge lagoon was not being properly operated and that the south levee of the lagoon had been breached.

The order listed numerous other problems with the sludge lagoon and said the lagoon was near capacity and in need of cleaning.

ADEQ also said a manhole overflowed at 1005 Silver Creek in January and spilled about 100,000 gallons of raw sewerage into Silver Creek over a two-and-a-half day period. According to the department, Sherwood was slow in cleaning up the spill and did not use proper equipment in the creek.

Doug Szenher, spokesman for the ADEQ said the order is a preliminary draft and aspects of the order may change before it is finalized.

The order, which needs to be signed by both city and state officials, fines Sherwood $17,400 and requires a comprehensive corrective action report turned into ADEQ. The city will have about 15 months to correct most of the problems found by ADEQ officials.

The order states that if Sherwood does not come into compliance, it could be fined up to $500 a day.

TOP STORY > > Builder faces sanctions

Leader senior staff writer

It may be a carrot or it may be a stick, but the Air Force will not decide whether the Carabetta organization can bid on future government contracts until negotiations are settled and a new developer in place to build and manage housing at four Air Force bases where Carabetta failed to fulfill its contracts, according to Brig. Gen. Rowayne Schatz, commander of Little Rock Air Force Base.

“That’s the leverage the Air Force is holding,” he said.

Schatz said he hoped the letter of intent would be signed this month and that negotiations could be completed in three or four months, with Hunt-Pinnacle in control by October.

Work on Little Rock Family Housing couldbegin next spring, he said.

Only about 1,000 of the 1,200 units at Little Rock Air Force Base are currently occupied, the general said, and the new contract may call for about 1,000 total units.

The Carabetta organization was managing partner of American Eagle Communities and Shaw Infrastructure was the co-owner.

“The parties involved have been working out a letter of intent for the sale, which establishes the negotiation parameters,” the general said.

“Things are on the right track,” he added.

American Eagle Communities completed only about 25 of the 1,200 new and remodeled housing units it contracted to build, own and manage at Little Rock AFB and failed similarly at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, Hanscom in Maryland and Patrick Air Force Base in Florida.

At the end of three years, Carabetta was two years behind on the Little Rock AFB contract, according to the Air Force.

Most of those jobs have been shut down since last May, and while some Little Rock area contractors and suppliers have been finally paid, contractors at Moody alone are said to be owed millions of dollars.

Schatz said the Air Force, the banks, Carabetta and Shaw are in negotiations that would allow Hunt-Pinnacle to take over the projects—on a reduced basis—at all four bases. Hunt-Pinnacle was chosen in January over Forrest City and GMC, the general said.

Hunt-Pinnacle will be the developer, provided that contract details can be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction, Schatz said.
The Valdosta Daily Times, near Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, reported that Carabetta was holding up negotiations, seeking immunity from prosecution and trying to stay off the disbarment or federal watchdog list, but negotiators for the Air Force would not confirm this.

This has taken longer than we anticipated,” said Schatz. “There’s a large amount of money and a little lack of trust between participants.”

TOP STORY > > City picks Benton’s chief to lead cops

Leader staff writer

It took two tries, but Gary Sipes is now Jacksonville’s new police chief.

In the same week that Sipes was announced as the city’s new police chief, Jacksonville hired city planner David Joe “Chip” McCulley, 28, to fill the long-vacant city engineer position.

McCulley, an Arkansas native, is the former city planner for Owasso, Okla., and is excited to be back in his home state.

Sipes, 50, applied about four years ago and was one of the finalists, but the job ultimately went to Jacksonville’s own Capt. Robert Baker.

Sipes then applied for and was hired to lead the Benton Police Department.

When Baker announced his retirement, Sipes reapplied for the position, was once again a finalist and this time got the job.

“We still have some paperwork issues to resolve,” Mayor Tommy Swaim said, “but we have offered him the position as police chief.”

“The salary is in the high $60s,” Swaim said. “It varies with certain benefits, but it will probably be between $67,000 and 68,000.”

That’s about $8,000 more than Sipes makes in Benton.

Sipes will be introduced as the new chief at the city council meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at city hall.

“There’s always regret in losing someone that has been with the department for a long time,” Swaim said of Baker, who led the force for four years. “But we are excited to have a new person come in, and we’ll help him make that transition as smooth as possible.”

Before his stint in Benton, Sipes was director of code enforcement in North Little Rock and a 21-year veteran of the police department.

“This was not a spur-of-the moment thing,” Sipes said. “I saw an ad for the Jacksonville position. The former chief’s last day was March 28. I was aware there was an opening for several weeks. They advertised the job, and I simply put my resume in for it. I was chosen for an interview and was offered the position.”

Sipes, as Benton’s police chief, tried to live by a creed that he posted on the police department’s Web site.

In the creed, Sipes stated that “as a law enforcement officer my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property; to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder, and to respect the constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality and justice.”

Sipes also promised to “keep my private life unsullied as an example to all; maintain courageous calm in the face of danger, scorn or ridicule; develop self-restraint; and be constantly mindful of the welfare of others. Honest in thought and deed in both my personal and official life. I will be exemplary in obeying the laws of the land and the regulations of my department.”

He plans to work under the same creed in Jacksonville.

Sipes, who is a Pine Bluff native, also has family in Jacksonville.

While Owasso’s city planner, McCulley was named as one of Oklahoma’s top movers under the age of 40.

In Owasso, McCulley oversaw the planning, annexing, rezoning, platting and site planning for the most eventful growth spurt in the city’s history. In 2006, the city saw the opening of two hospitals and the Smith Farm Marketplace, a 335,236-square-foot commercial development.

McCulley, a graduate of the University of Arkansas, helped design and construct the landscape plans for Little Rock’s Clinton Presidential Center.

“When that was finished in 2004 I was essentially out of a job,” McCulley said, “and that’s when I went to Owasso.”
Recently he and his wife returned to Little Rock.

“She’s in information technology sales and had the opportunity to come to Little Rock and we wanted to be in Arkansas. So we moved and I started looking for work again.”

McCulley said that during the interview process he fell in love with Jacksonville and the city staff.

“It’s a good fit for me,” McCulley said.

McCulley and his wife have sold their Little Rock home and are looking to build a new home in the Jacksonville area.

TOP STORY > > Lawmakers decide to hike tax on natural gas

Leader staff writer

If, as anticipated, the House and Senate approve each other’s versions of the $100-million-a-year gas severance tax increase today that will benefit local road projects, Gov. Mike Beebe is likely to sign the tax into law sometime this afternoon, according to Matt DeCample, the governor’s spokesman.

The old rate was less than three-20ths of a percent, while the new rate will be 5 percent.

The House approved its version 81 to 16 Tuesday and the Senate approved a similar version 32 to 3.

While that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $19 billion worth of maintenance and new construction the state Highway
Department has identified over the next 10 years, it’s far better than nothing. That’s according to Metroplan executivedirector Jim McKenzie.

Of that $19 billion, $8.8 billion will be needed just to maintain the existing highways, and the state Highway and Transportation Department has identified only about $4.1 billion in revenues, plus another billion dollars over 10 years from the new tax.

McKenzie, a longtime advocate of increasing the state’s severance tax, said, “$100 million doesn’t buy what it used to.”

Cabot will eventually average maybe $170,000 a year in increased road funds, Lonoke $30,000, Jacksonville $125,000 and Sherwood $167,000, according to figures from the Department of Finance and Administration.

The governor worked out his proposal with the companies extracting the gas from the Fayetteville Shale, then gathered legislative support before calling his special session.

Of the new revenues, which are phased in, although not gradually, the state Highway Department will get 70 percent of the road and highway money, the counties will get 15 percent and the cities will get 15 percent. Five percent of the total will go the state’s general fund.

“It will take a while before (the state sees) the $100 million and the resource will deplete as it is extracted,” McKenzie said.

In its first year, Pulaski County would receive $631,591, with a high of $871,870.

Jacksonville would receive an estimated $134,937 in 2009, with a high of $240,099 in 2015.

Sherwood would receive $97,026 the first year, topping out at $172,642 a year.

Little Rock would receive $826,029 the first year and a high of $1,469,782 a year, and North Little Rock would receive $272,585 the first year and a high of $485,021.

Lonoke County would receive $140,136 the first year and amounts ranging from $180,631 the first year and nearly $250,000 in 2015.

In the highest year, before the revenue starts falling off, Austin would receive $4,856, Cabot $176,084; Carlisle $18,491; England $24,206; Lonoke $34,406 and Ward $20,706.

Scott Bennett of the Highway Department says the state needs an additional $150 million a year in funds just to meet the maintenance needs. At best, the severance tax will get them half of that, McKenzie said. That’s still not money to complete the North Belt Freeway, work on Hwy. 67/167 or build the new I-430/630 interchange in west Little Rock, he added.

TOP STORY > > Gravel Ridge votes to join Sherwood

Leader staff writer

Gravel Ridge residents decided Tuesday by a 3-to-1 margin to become part of Sherwood.

Tuesday’s vote brings to an end a four-month effort by both Jacksonville and Sherwood to annex the 2,500-acre community of 3,500.

According the Pulaski County Election Commission, 632 residents, or 74 percent, voted to join Sherwood, while 221, or 26 percent, voted to become part of Jacksonville.

Seventy-five Gravel Ridge residents took advantage of early voting, with 59 siding with Sherwood and 19 for Jacksonville. Of the three absentee ballots cast, two were for Sherwood and one was for Jacksonville.

“We are so excited to have our neighbors in Gravel Ridge joining us,” said Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman.

Once the vote is certified, which the mayor said should be Friday, then the city will have to pass an ordinance bringing Gravel Ridge into the city. The council’s next meeting is scheduled for April 28, but a specially called meeting to approve the annexation is a possibility.

“We are overwhelmed with the outcome,” she said at a watch party at the Meat Shoppe in Gravel Ridge.

Mayor Tommy Swaim, who was at Jack-sonville City Hall awaiting the results, congratulated Sherwood and Gravel Ridge on the vote. “The residents had the wonderful opportunity to voice their opinion and sided with Sherwood. We’ll just move on,” he said.

In the week leading up to Tuesday’s vote, both cities sent out fliers and knocked on doors.

Jacksonville was the first to vote to annex Gravel Ridge back in December and set a February election date. Sherwood soon followed suit and set a March election vote.

When cities initiate annexation procedures as Jacksonville and Sherwood did, both the city and the affected area must vote on the issue.

Jacksonville’s annexation vote—which included Jacksonville and Gravel Ridge voters only—was Feb. 5. In that election, 3,319 votes, or 66 percent, were for the annexation, and 1,733 votes, or 34 percent, against annexation, but about 70 percent of the

Gravel Ridge voters were against the idea.

Sherwood’s vote to annex Gravel Ridge—which included Sherwood and Gravel Ridge voters only—was March 11. In that election, 1,764 votes, or 82 percent, were for annexation and 386, or 18 percent, against. Even the Gravel Ridge residents approved of the annexation.

Except for the excitement and enthusiasm pouring out of the Meat Shoppe Tuesday night, most residents won’t notice many changes.

Addresses and utilities will remain the same. There’ll be a smooth transition from county deputies patrolling the area to Sherwood police taking over. Sherwood will make use of the county’s substation in Gravel Ridge.

The volunteer fire department will remain intact and be the primary responder for emergency calls in the area.

Once Sherwood’s City Council approves the ordinance bringing Gravel Ridge into the city, restaurants and other businesses serving prepared foods will have to charge an extra two cents per dollar to comply with Sherwood’s hamburger-tax ordinance.

Money collected through this tax is split between the city’s parks and recreation department and the advertising and promotion commission.

Sales tax on nonfood items will stay the same.

EDITORIAL >>No miracle, just good works

Mike Beebe did not spend 20 years in the state Senate for nothing. He learned how to count votes. The governor said he expected to get 81 votes in the House of Representatives and 32 in the Senate for his bill raising the severance tax on natural gas. The votes yesterday were 81-16 and 32-3.

Counting commitments is not so hard, but getting lawmakers to stay hitched is problematic, as any governor will tell you.

Being agreeable on the telephone is one matter, answering the indelible roll call on a tax is another. Every one of Beebe’s commitments answered the call. Under Arkansas’ perverse Constitution it takes 75 votes in the House and 27 in the Senate to pass a tax on businesses and certain other kinds of taxes.

Thus for the first time since World War II will Arkansas collect a significant tax on its most abundant non-renewable resource.

(The tax was 2.5 percent until gas interests got the tax lowered to the invisible rate of three-twentieths of a penny per thousand feet in 1947.)

The tax will be 5 percent of the market price minus the pipeline expense. Actually, that is not quite true. Much of the tax will be taxed at only 1.5 percent — still far above the current rate — under provisions that Beebe worked out with the big gas producers. Producers and mineral-rights owners will pay the tax at the lower rate for three years, an exemption that is supposed to let the producers recoup their investment in a well before paying the full rate. That exemption is far more generous than other states allow. Oklahoma, for example, taxes gas production at 7 percent but rebates most of the tax only until the producer recovers its exploration expense.

Wells in the Fayetteville shale north of here are producing such huge volumes of gas that the companies will recover their full investment in a mere matter of months, not years. Many are producing more than 5 million cubic feet a day and the current market price is nearly $10 a thousand cubic feet. You can do the math. It won’t take long to recover the development cost of $3 million to $3.5 million a well.

Beebe is being excoriated in some quarters for selling out to the big producers by including the long payback period and setting a tax rate below the rates in other big gas-producing states. It would be far better in our mind to approve the initiated proposition of Sheffield Nelson, who would levy a tax of 7 percent with no exemption for new wells. Nelson said he would be agreeable to letting the legislature in 2009 insert some rebate period for new wells, which it could do by a two-thirds vote in each house.

But Nelson will not pursue his proposal, so the Beebe plan is the law. While the Beebe bill leaves tens of millions of dollars a year needlessly on the table, we are inclined to compliment the governor for good works instead of condemning him for failing a miracle. The bill will produce some $57 million next year, according to administration estimates, nearly all of it to repair and build highways. As the wells finish the three-year hiatus and hundreds of new wells come on line, even the compromise tax will produce a hundred million dollars a year, and probably far more. When pipelines are built down Crowley’s Ridge to the Mississippi River, the exploration will follow all the way to Phillips County.

That will produce the biggest highway program in the state’s history. Motorists won’t pay a dime of it and neither will homeowners. No one’s heating bill will be affected.

SPORTS >>Lonoke gains league split with Bulldogs

Leader sportswriter

Drew Southerland went 4 for 4 and scored three times, and Ricky Manning and Justin Neyland each drove in three runs as Lonoke pounded Bald Knob, 13-5, to earn a doubleheader split on Friday at Lonoke.

Bald Knob won the first game, 5-2, scoring three runs in the top of the seventh inning and negating a 10-strikeout performance by Lonoke hurler B.J. Manning.

Lonoke moved to 6-3 on the season, 3-1 in 2-4A Conference play.

“We came out flat in the first game and it cost us,” said Lonoke head coach Nick Kelnhofer. “I was proud of our effort in the second game because we finally began to swing the bats. Our pitching and defense was also excellent in the second game.”

The pitching was outstanding in the first game, as well, but the defense was not. Four errors proved the Jackrabbits’ undoing.

Lonoke got an early lead on Glenn Evans’ leadoff triple and Luke Mitchell’s RBI groundout. Three singles and a sacrifice fly by Evans in the fifth put Lonoke ahead again, 2-1, but the Bulldogs tied it in the sixth, then scored three in the seventh.

Lonoke out-hit Bald Knob 8-7, getting two hits each from Evans, Southerland and Jordan Harris. Manning struck out the firstsix Bald Knob batters he faced.

Lonoke scored two in the first inning of the nightcap to take a 2-1 lead. After Bald Knob tied it in the top of the third, Lonoke erupted for five runs in each of the third and fourth innings to put it away. The Jackrabbits collected eight consecutive hits in the third inning. The big blow was Neyland’s two-run double. Jason Dillie and Jacob Taylor added run-scoring singles.

In the fourth, Mitchell and Ricky Manning opened with doubles, Southerland singled and Neyland was hit with a pitch. Dillie was safe on an error, brining in a run, and Taylor and Harris followed with RBI singles.

Lonoke pounded out 17 hits. Southerland led with four, while Taylor added three. Four others — Mitchell, Ricky Manning, Neyland and Harris had two each.

Southerland got the win, allowing 12 hits and striking out seven in going the distance.

The Jackrabbits were slated to host Carlisle on Tuesday after Leader deadlines.

SPORTS >>Lady Badgers start strong, falter in Conway

Leader sports editor

CONWAY — The Beebe Lady Badgers took on the upper classifications at the Conway tournament over the weekend, winning their first game on Friday, then dropping their final three.

The Lady Badgers, 5A state runners-up in two of the past three seasons, opened the tourney at Conway High on Friday with a dramatic 3-2 win over Class 6A Benton.

Beebe’s Chelsea Sanders had given the Lady Badgers a 3-1 lead with a two-run single in the fifth.

Benton placed runners at second and third with one out in the bottom of the seventh. A sacrifice bunt drew the Lady Panthers to within 3-2, but the game ended when catcher Chelsea Sanders threw out a Benton runner trying to go to third base on the play. Later in the evening, 7A Fayetteville beat Beebe 5-0.

On Saturday, the Lady Badgers fell behind 8-0 and 12-2 to Conway before staging a furious rally, which came up short in a 12-9 loss. Ally Wallace belted a three-run homer and Ashley Barrick added a three-run double in the seven-run seventh.

That set up a consolation rematch with Benton. Beebe opened up an early lead with three in the first inning, but the game went into a tiebreaker at 4-4 in the seventh.

Benton scored twice to take a 6-4 lead. The Lady Badgers loaded the bases with singles by Barrick and Laura Tucker. Bailey Thomas’ single made it 6-5, still with the bases loaded and one out. But Sanders flied out and Watkins sent a deep fly ball to the fence that was hauled in for the final out.

Beebe fell to 5-3 and returned to conference action at Wynne in a game played on Tuesday after Leader deadlines.

“We still feel pretty good about where we are,” said Beebe head coach Terry Flenor. “We always try to use a tough tournament this time of year to get ready for conference play. We found a few things we need to correct. But with no more games than we’ve been able to play so far, we’re OK

SPORTS >>Bears dominate

Leader sports editor

He went 4 for 5 at the plate, scored three runs and drove in two others. He also pitched four innings of one-hit ball, struck out six and picked up the win in relief.

Not bad for a kid who lists baseball as his second sport.

Hunter Miller, the Ole Miss football signee, was all that on Friday afternoon in Sylvan Hills’ 12-5 win over Conway in a round-robin tournament at Conway High School.

Miller went on to belt home runs in each of Saturday’s games as the Bears added two more wins over the weekend, beating Fort Smith Southside in a slugfest, 17-13, and Conway again, 13-2.

“Our bats started off really slow this season,” said Bears head coach Denny Tipton. “But the last seven games, we’re really swinging it well.”

As in 92 runs over that span, while limiting opponents to just 28. Sylvan Hills, which walloped Mountain Home 25-3 and 10-0 last Tuesday, is now 13-4 overall. All four of those losses are by single runs.

Sylvan Hills broke open a close game on Friday by scoring seven runs in the top of the seventh inning after rallying from deficits of 3-1 and 5-3 to finally tie the game when D.J. Baxendale came across on a throwing error after Nathan Eller’s bunt single.

Jordan Spears started for Sylvan Hills, but never could locate the plate. He lasted only one-third of an inning, walking five and giving up an RBI-double.

Jake Chambers came on in relief and kept Sylvan Hills in it by getting a strikeout and a fly out with the bases loaded as the Wampus Cats took a 3-1 lead after one. The Bears had scored in the top half on Miller’s two-out triple and a wild pitch.

The Bears also scored with two outs in the second when Clint Thornton ripped a two-run double to the gap in right center after Blake Evans had singled and Chambers had reached on an error.

But Conway reclaimed the lead in the second with two runs on a hit, a walk and the Bears’ only error of the game.

Leadoff singles by Miller and Baxendale in the third resulted in a run when Tyler Van Schuyck’s fielder’s choice brought home Miller to make it 5-4.

Chambers then pitched out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth, getting consecutive fly outs to Miller in center. B.J.

Lowe’s third out appeared to be heading for the gap in right, but the speedy Miller was able to chase it down to retire the side.

Sylvan Hills tied it in the fifth. Baxendale and Van Schuyck received leadoff walks. Eller laiddown a perfect bunt for a single and Conway pitcher James Murphy’s wild throw on the play evened the score when Baxendale scored from second.

The Bears had a great opportunity to take control with two on and nobody out, but Murphy struck out the next three.

Miller came on in the fourth, issuing a leadoff walk to Zach Cates. But Sylvan Hills catcher J.T. Long caught Cates trying to steal, and Miller allowed only two more base runners the rest of the way — a single and a walk with two outs in the sixth. But he escaped that jam with a strikeout, as the two teams went into the final inning tied at 5.

Van Schyock opened Sylvan Hills’ 7-run, game-winning rally in the seventh with a double. After Ellers walked and Erick McKinney was plunked with a pitch, Evans lined a double past the bag at third to score two. Pinch hitter Chris Perez singled in another run, and Miller made it 11-5 with his fourth.

Miller than pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, fanning the last two Conway batters.

Sylvan Hills jumped out to a 16-6 lead against Southside on Saturday, then held off a late rally. The Bears pounded out 17 more hits, including three by Baxendale and Thornton. Miller added two hits and four RBI, including a home run. Chambers, Perez, Spears and Turpin also chipped in two hits apiece.

Eller took the win in the second contest with Conway. Turpin went 4 for 4, while Baxendale was 3 for 3. Miller picked up another home run and two more hits, and Long added two base knocks, as well.

The Bears hosted West Memphis in a game played yesterday after Leader deadlines.