by Max Brantley
I learn from Central Arkansas Water that it has purchased the controversial 701 acres owned by Deltic Timber near the Lake Maumelle water intake for $8.175 million. Some of the money had been in a court registry in a condemnation proceeding and the utility will be able to apply interest earned on that money to the purchase. Deltic can repurchase the land if it's ever determined that the land isn't needed for watershed protection.
The immediate threat from Deltic's desire to build high-end homes there is over. But don't cry for Deltic or applaud. To get $11,500 an acre for undeveloped scrub timber property purchased for next to nothing and which is taxed at, literally, pennies on the acre, is a pretty sweet return. It is also risk-free and immediate, unlike putting in streets and drainage and then marketing lots for a subdivision.
Still, this is a better outcome for the lake and wouldn't have happened but for an unprecedented grass roots opposition to development and some stout legislative help in 2005, notably Bill Stovall, who backed the good guys in the Little Rock delegation. (Bad guys, you know who you are.) What holdups of water customers for future protection from the likes of Death Star Sen. Bob Johnson, builder Rick Ferguson and others with financial interests in the watershed remain to be seen.
UPDATE: Jim Harvey, the water utility chief, said he was encouraged to settle with Deltic because of the potential of continuing legal battles and an uncertain outcome by a jury finding in the condemnation case, plus potential attorney fee awards. He said, too, that the utility's relationship with Deltic had improved and that he expected cooperation from them on less critical parts of the watershed, where the company controls some 24,000 acres. He said, too, that an agreement is near on Rick Ferguson's development on the north side the lake. He'll likely be allowed to go forward and the utility will drop its condmenation proceeding. In return, Ferguson will put some of the acreage into a conservation easement and build a ditch that will take other acreage out of the Lake Maumelle drainage watershed.