There are places in America where people worry about protecting their water supply from terrorists. Here in Central Arkansas, we have to fight to protect our water from our own legislators.
Twenty-two senators voted to weaken local government’s ability to safeguard Lake Maumelle from pollution. The lake provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Central Arkansans. The senators acted at the behest of Deltic Timber Corp., a big timber and land development company (and not bad at legislative development either) that wants to build a subdivision on the lake and has encountered opposition from Central Arkansas Water, a public utility. The corporate-friendly senators who put Deltic’s interests ahead of the public’s were Altes, Baker, Bisbee, Bookout, Broadway, Critcher, Faris, Hendren, Holt, Horn, G. Jeffress, J. Jeffress, B. Johnson, Laverty, T. Smith, Steele, Taylor, Trusty, Whitaker, Wilkinson, Womack and Wooldridge. That’s nearly two-thirds of the Senate. Uncommonly disgraceful.
As of this writing, the Deltic bill (SB 230) is in committee in the House of Representatives, which seems less inclined to jeopardize a major water supply in order to put more money in Deltic’s already well-filled pockets. What is most encouraging is the outburst of public indignation since the Senate vote. Elected city officials from throughout the region have signed advertisements urging defeat of SB 230. Water-utility officials from other parts of the state have stood up in opposition, knowing that the bell could toll for them next time. The Arkansas Municipal League is lobbying against the bill and for local control of local affairs. Private citizens are mobilizing. An ad hoc coalition called Citizens Protecting Maumelle Watershed sponsored a rally at the Capitol posing the question “Who should have the responsibility of protecting drinking water — public officials or private commercial developers?” It’s not really a hard question, even if 26 senators missed it.
The Sierra Club, Arkansas Audubon and the League of Women Voters are among the groups opposing SB 230. The Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods also came out in opposition to the bill, which the coalition’s president, Jim Lynch, called “the latest in a long line of decisions orchestrated by Deltic to get what it wants regardless of other city and public priorities.” Consumers of Lake Maumelle have enjoyed good-tasting, pollutant-free water for decades, Lynch said, and “we should not surrender this record to Deltic’s short-term objective to build 225 homes with a hilltop view of Lake Maumelle.”
Deltic and its pack of senators were beginning to look surrounded at mid-week. Governor Huckabee needs to enlist on the side of the people too, announcing his opposition to SB 230 and vetoing it if it reaches his desk. He’s railed against “rats and roaches” in state government. Here’s a chance to put his veto where his mouth is.