by Max Brantley
We did some reporting last week for next week's paper on ditch construction underway in Waterview Estates, the controversial residential development overlooking Lake Maumelle that Central Arkansas Water decided not to condemn. In return, developers have promised to build a diversion ditch that would take runoff from the property out of the lake's watershed.
Environmentalists have sued to overturn the utility's settlement, but meanwhile work has begun. The work is not on the diversion ditch itself, but a secondary drainage ditch. It's a big one -- the culvert looks six feet high in photos we were supplied last week. The water utility has taken a ho-hum stance on the work. It's legal. Silt fences have been erected. They'll worry about mitigation for the damage if the settlement is overturned later. And so on.
Environmentalists will step up the pressure tomorrow with a news conference to show aerial photos of the gash on the hill overlooking the lake.
UPDATE: I've added one of the aerial photos of the ditch work and, on the jump, Monday's news release.
UPDATED NEWS RELEASE
LOCAL DEVELOPER PUTS DRINKING WATER AT RISK
Aerial Photographs Reveal Development Is Proceeding Despite Pending Lawsuit
At a news conference today, Citizens Protecting Maumelle Watershed (“CPMW”) revealed aerial photographs that illustrate a simple fact: Central Arkansas’ drinking water is once again at risk from overzealous development in a sensitive area of the watershed.
“Despite our pending legal motions to stop the Waterview Estates development, Rick Ferguson has already begun clearing land and is installing a huge drainage ditch dangerously close to Lake Maumelle,” said Kate Althoff, Coordinator for CPMW. “The photographs we’ve obtained are a startling illustration of just how close Waterview Estates will be to the drinking water source of almost 400,000 Central Arkansans.”
Barry Haas, a plaintiff in the pending legal matter and a CPMW board member, said, “These pictures are plain, stark evidence that the Waterview Estates development poses a real danger to our drinking water. Every person who drinks water coming from Lake Maumelle should be very concerned about the future health of our water supply.”
The collection of photographs was taken on Wednesday, October 24th, and reveal an enormous gash within what is known as “Critical Area A.” Critical Area A is the most ecologically sensitive area of the watershed and is the portion closest to the “intake,” or where drinking water is drawn from Lake Maumelle.
The Waterview Estates parcel was the subject of a lengthy condemnation battle between the developer and the Central Arkansas Water Commission (“CAW”). CAW condemned the land but, prior to a trial to determine the value of the land, CAW and Ferguson reached a settlement agreement. The agreement allowed the development to move forward if Ferguson would construct an enormous 3- mile long drainage ditch. In July of this year, CPMW and other plaintiffs (Barry Haas, Kathy Wells, Craig Wood, and Glen Hooks) filed motions in Pulaski County Circuit Court to intervene in the matter and set aside the settlement agreement. Despite these motions, Ferguson has proceeded with the construction of the ditch.
"We filed our motions with the courts 3 months ago and have grown frustrated that we have not yet had a hearing,” said Althoff. “This land belongs to the 398,000 people who depend on Lake Maumelle for their tap water. We ask all investors in the Waterview Estates to immediately stop all construction activities on this land."
CPMW will hold a November 12th public forum to discuss the pending risks to Lake Maumelle and to show more photographs of the damaging development. The forum will take place at 6:30 p.m. at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, 2301 South University Avenue. The public and media are invited to attend.