by Max Brantley
We can't be everywhere, but I'm hoping to get a report from the 2 p.m. meeting of the Central Arkansas Water commission. I'm hoping the news is that commissioners have turned down the incredible sweetheart deal to "settle" with developer Rick Ferguson on a subdivision he wants to build uphill from Lake Maumelle, the city's water supply.
As we've said before, Ferguson gets his lakeview subdivision, gets $1 million bucks and, worst of all, makes no agreement to develop future acreage under the new watershed management plan. It's total capitulation -- AFTER the water utility won its condemnation suit against Ferguson. It makes absolutely no sense. The political strings he's been able to pull are not self-evident. Why settle with Ferguson after going to the mat so righteously against the much more powerful Deltic Timber? Anybody with a solution to this riddle is invited to chime in.
I'm happy to say that I've heard in the last hour from multiple people involved in the matter on the water utility side -- including on the commission -- who are NOT happy about this deal. May they stand up and be counted.
UPDATE: The commission voted 5-1 6-1 to approve the settlement. The only no was from Eddie Powell of North Little Rock. Many questions were asked. No commitments were made by or for Ferguson's future commitment to watershed protection on additional acreage. Public comments were pointed and critical. Former Water Commissioner Craig Wood said the decision was wrong and had negative implications for future generations. By my early report, there was no answer for questions about what happens if a propoosed concrete drainage diversion ditch fails or doesn't work in taking runoff from Ferguson's property out of the watershed. Sad. Very sad.
Here's another eyewitness report:
Commissioners acknowledged that many of the opponents to the development had complained that it did not comply with the $1.2 million Lake Maumelle Watershed Management Plan, completed in May 2007. That plan calls for no development in Critical Area A, nearest the water intake. The development in question is in Critical Area A. After the charade of the public hearing Monday night and the 30 minutes for further public comment at today's meeting, Commissioner Jane Dickey articulated the ruse: All those critics who say the settlement doesn't comply with the WMP are wrong. The proposed ditch mechanically removes the develpment from Critical Area A, hence, no problemo. The motion was made, the vote was taken. It was an elegant thing.
There were immediate rumblings of a ratepayer lawsuit.
The purported reason for settling, rather than risk taking the thing to court in comdemnation, is the uncertainty about what price might be set for the property. Here's what CAW CEO Graham Rich calculated those costs might be:
There are 120,000 connections (meaning bill-payers) in the system.
If the price ended up being $3 million, the average cost per connection would be $2.08 per month for one year; or $4.86 at $7 million; or $6.94 at $10 million.
Of course, larger water-users, such as industries, would pay proportionately more of that cost. Also, there is no requirement that any such expense be paid off in a single year. We do not even know with whom CAW is making this agreement, which relies on an enormous amount of good faith. We know it is with Waterview Estates LLC, but LLC member information is now confidential per Act 865 of 2007.
Also, this agreement binds the commission not just to deal with Ferguson but with anybody else he might sell the property to.