by Max Brantley
Graham Rich, CEO of Central Arkansas Water, confirms that a series of private meetings have been held in recent weeks to come up with compromise land use rules for the Lake Maumelle watershed, a proposal tabled by the Pulaski County Quorum Court at the end of the year.
CAW has participated at the invitation of County Judge Buddy Villines. So has Kent Walker, an attorney for some smaller landowners in the watershed. So has Chuck Nestrud, attorney for Deltic Timber, the owner of the majority of acreage, mostly undeveloped timberland, in the sprawling basin for Central Arkansas's chief water supply. So have representatives of the real estate lobby, anxious to be protected in hopes of developing the land some day.
...... No, the many well-informed advocates and activists for watershed protection were NOT invited to attend. "Good question," said Rich, when I asked why. He referred me to Villines. I have a call in. Rich commented later that the process could have benefitted from "a broader collection of ideas." Yes.
Meanwhile, Rich will be sending along shortly the latest draft proposal, though it is not necessarily final. Rich has promised to develop a summary of key changes as well. "I wouldn't call them substantive changes," he said. That is, they don't alter rules on density of development. He said they are mainly aimed at "mitigating the impact on people who live out there now," which he said was always a goal of Central Arkansas Water. But the many voices in the meetings have raised a number of issues about "definitions" and explanations about zoning districts.
UPDATE: Here's a recent draft of the evolving ordinance, though I'm told still more changes are coming from the most recent meeting.
When I commented that the process had begun to a resemble a “death by a thousand cuts” to meaningful watershed protection, Rich acknowledged the lengthy process had “morphed into issues I never thought would be brought up.”
He noted that groups ranging from Occupy Little Rock to the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity had gotten involved. “It has taken on a face that I think goes beyond protecting the water for 400,000 people. It has taken on ideologies and philosophical issues that I don’t think serves the greater good of this great community.”
Yesterday, by the way, was the last day at work for the retiring Martin Maner, who's been the watershed manager, including in the days when former CEO Jim Harvey drew a line in the sand against developers seeking to prevent meaningful watershed regulation. Rich said the utility is advertising for a new manager. In in the interim, Robert Hart, newly arrived from the state Health Department, and Jonathan Long will oversee watershed issues.
UPDATE: Villines insists the meetings have primarily been about correcting "misinformation" for current property owners and to address some concerns that a cumbersome permitting process might hamper legitimate minor changes in use of property by current landowners. He said when changes in the subdivision and zoning ordinances are examined and discussed, "People will see there has not been any substantive changes to protection of watershed itself."
The proposals have been tabled by the Quorum Court until the U.S. Geological Survey completes a report on potential impact of various sorts of development on the lake. Villines acknowledges that the USGS report is irrelevant to consideration of the "science" of the issues of watershed protection, but said the delay is mandated by the motion to table the ordinances until that study is completed. He said clean water groups hadn't been included because the meetings were primarily to address concerns about small landowners, though he conceded some others, such as Deltic, had joined in. But he insisted no changes were made on account of Deltic's participation.