by David Ramsey
A land-use ordinance restricting development in the Lake Maumelle watershed is set to go into effect in April of 2014 (with a moratorium on various forms of development in place in the mean time), but various stakeholders are hoping to come up with an alternative plan.
An amendment from JP Tyler Denton established a task force to once again hash out the various issues surrounding watershed protection and make recommendations for possible changes to the ordinance. Denton is hoping to get 20-30 (!) individuals to serve on the task force, representing various constituencies, including landowners, environmentalists, business interests, and others (Deltic Timber, which owns more than 10,000 acres of land in the watershed, is the biggest stakeholder of all). Here's a press release on the task force and here's the application for those interested in serving on it.
“This is a good opportunity for the community and all the stakeholders who didn’t like the initial watershed management plan to roll up their sleeves and work for a better plan,” Denton said. Some environmentalists have complained that the ordinance does not go far enough to protect the watershed, while landowners have griped that they are getting a raw deal.
Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines said that he believed that the ordinance as it stands already "does what we've set out to do, which is protect our drinking water and to be as fair to the property owners as we can." He pointed out that the debate — and attempts at compromise — have been ongoing for years, and the ordinance as written has periodic review and opportunities for amendments. "I don’t have any problem at all with folks getting together and looking at this," he said. "My biggest concern is that they don’t forget that our primary role and responsibility is to protect the drinking water of 400,000 people in central Arkansas. And if they come back and want to reduce those protections, then I’ll have a serious problem.”
For his part, Denton seems to be focused on the process and building consensus rather than any specific policy complaints about the ordinance. "I'm optimistic that the Quorum Court has seen a light at the end of the tunnel for finally putting this behind us," he said. "I'm optimistic that this doesn't have to be such a heated, partisan activity. I'm confident that with community input from the bottom up that we can come up with a process that will make everybody happy. And if we can't, at least we tried."
Denton tapped Tom Riley, a conflict resolution expert from the University of Arkansas, to facilitate the process. If the discussion follows a similar path to the last few years, Riley will have his hands full.
In any case, the task-force recommendations will be non-binding and would have to go through the Planning board and the Quorum Court. Otherwise, the ordinance as is will be implemented in a little less than a year.