by Max Brantley
I cannot imagine a worse piece of city planning or growth management policy. Already the sprawl forces control the thinking of LR local officials (and have for decades.)City Director Joan Adcock is raising questions about the legislation, too, and a question she posed to City Attorney Tom Carpenter produced this response:
This will produce more sprawl. Of the many capital intensive, brick-and-mortar infrastructure items needed for urban life, sewer is the most necessary and the most expensive.
Public health requires it and, compared to water pipes, sewer lines typically are deep in the ground (gravity flow). Developers will do anything to get sewer on someone else's dime.
Remember our aborted attempt to adopt impact fees for sewer about three years ago? Reggie Corbitt's difficulties and departure scuttled the initiative.
I have reviewed HB 1549. While the language at first appears to maintain discretion with the local government, Section 2 (e), which starts on page 2 at line 28, mandates that the City provide extraterritorial sewer service to areas within its planning jurisdiction if: (1) the city has capacity; (2) there is a request for such service; (3) necessary easement have been obtained by the applicant; (4) the applicant pays for the infrastructure (which is not further defined); (5) necessary deeds for sewer service are provided to the City; and, (6) a pre-annexation agreement is signed.Davis said the legislation wasn't related to his business, but a response to requests from constituents west of the c ity. He said he doubted the sewer line extension bill would help the Ferguson development because its distance from the city would likely make paying for a connection cost prohibitive.
The last section of the bill expressly notes that local governments have no control over the situation if there is a request for extraterritorial extension and the above conditions are met.
This creates a number of problems. First, the mandate has nothing to do with the impact that a development will have, or may in the future have, on the City. Second, a municipality cannot mandate service to all of the customers within its corporate limits under current law, yet this allows a developer - not the municipality - to make the decision about extraterritorial services even though the developer is not necessarily a citizen of the municipality. Third, I am not sure how the City can own property outside the City limits, but the statute requires that the developer deed the property to the municipality; that said, I know that cities can own park facilities outside its corporate limits, so that need to be reviewed further.
Another complication that I see from this legislation is the impact it would have should the City be sued under state or federal law for failure to comply with environmental regulations. While Little Rock, the Water Reclamation Commission, and the Plaintiffs are natural parties to such a suit, and any potential settlement, this suggests that any developer willing to meet the various preconditions would have a right to participate in the settlement. Of course, among other things this would be a loss of the sovereignty of the local government to a private developer who, except for this one area, has nothing to do with City finances, nor really contributes to the property tax base.
I would think an entity like Central Arkansas Water would also be bothered by this legislation. According to the language, the City would have to provide sewer services even though CAW may not wish to provide water services. There is no requirement that CAW, or any municipal water system, be involved or approve of a sewer system that may have an adverse impact upon its groundwater, or water source.