The Arkansas Blog reported yesterday, after interviews with multiple sources, that Deltic Timber has turned its lobbying pressure to members of the commission that governs Central Arkansas Water in its fight to develop homes in critical portions of the Lake Maumelle watershed.
A bill to prevent Central Arkansas Water from condemning Deltic property on steep, rocky soil above the main water intake at the lake has stalled in the House after Senate passage.
But opponents of the bill say Deltic has turned its attention to water commissioners to accept a "compromise." Some commissioners are reportedly wavering. Jim Harvey, CEO of Central Arkansas Water, says no one has approached him about the rumored deal. But he said there is no room for compromise. Construction in Zone 1 of the watershed inevitably means a loss of control of runoff into the lake. Deltic reportedly is offering in return only to drop its legislation -- already apparently dead -- and to delay construction for a couple of years. Neither move allays the utility staff's pollution concerns.
Water Commissioner Eddie Powell confirmed Saturday that Deltic had been talking to individual members about the possibility of a compromise. He said none had been reached and that he remains opposed to the legislation and development in the watershed at least until completion of a planned independent analysis of watershed development by an environmental expert, a process that could take more than a year. Powell said Deltic representatives had indicated the utility could suffer a backlash if it took a hard line in dealing with the company, which has developed West Little Rock's sprawling Chenal Valley. Significantly, Powell, given the opportunity, wouldn't flatly rule out the possibility of a deal with Deltic. He said if Deltic made a formal proposal, the commision "has to listen."
Sources also tell us that Eddie Drilling, head of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce (which received a contribution from Deltic Timber to build its headquarters building), has joined with Deltic in lobbying water commissioners Jane Dickey and Powell and that City Board member Dean Kumpuris has been part of the discussion. According to some reprots, they've crafted a "compromise," a two-year moratorium of the issue. Deltic wouldn't develop its land the utility wouldn't condemn it. That would allow time for changes in membership of the House, currently inclined to beat the bill, and the likely retirement of Jim Harvey, who's been an unrelenting obstacle to develop of the land. There is no indication that anything substantive has moved commissioners toward accommodating Deltic other than the company's extreme pressure and fear of harm to the water utility. No scientifc evidence has emerged to allay water employees' fears about runoff. And only new legal questions have emerged about the utility's ability to control development anywhere else around Maumelle, including a hotly contested lawsuit with developer Rick Ferguson, if it lets Deltic have its way.
Drilling said Monday, however, that the Chamber has merely tried to bring the competing sides together because Deltic has been a valuable member of the chamber and the community. He said the chamber opposes passage of the Senate bill and would like to see the ongoing study of the watershed carried out. He said he didn't have a personal positiion on the question of whether Deltic should be allowed to develop a subdivision on the ridge above the water intake on Lake Maumelle.
Sen. Jim Argue, in response to reports about the new direction Deltic is taking, sent a memo Saturday to water commissioners. It said:
"First, let me thank you for your service to Central Arkansas Water. You are the successors of a very long line of faithful stewards who have assured Central Arkansas residents a plentiful and high-quality water supply. I've known many of them over the years.
"Second, I am outraged and embarrassed that the Legislature is being used as leverage by one corporate bully willing to risk your heritage of wise management in favor of profits. This bully isn’t even willing to accept the future liability of the plan they offer; if they are wrong, your 360,000 rate payers will be left with that burden. A sweet deal, indeed, if they can find anyone foolish enough to take them up on it.
"As one of your rate payers, I expect you to give fair consideration to any proposal. Your position of restricting development in Zone 1, a small but critical part of the watershed, seems reasonable and is supported by your expert counsel. It is the most certain management method for protecting our water. Give fair consideration to other methods, but never under the threat of legislative meddling in local affairs. If you reverse your position under pressure, your rate payers will never accept that their interests came first.
"I hope you are aware of the online petition that now includes over 2,000 signatures and comments defending Lake Maumelle and opposing SB230. You can review it at http://www.petitiononline.com/SB230/petition.html. These concerned citizens are counting on you to stand tall under pressure.
"We are indebted to House leadership for opposing this bill. It is bottled up in committee, and the latest count reflected three-fourths of the committee in opposition to the bill. Many legislators, community leaders and citizens have come to your aid in fending off this unjustifiable threat. Your allies are listed below. Please do not abandon them."
Argue then listed these opponents of the Senate bill:
On-line petition – 2,029 signatures
Board of Commissioners, Central Arkansas Water
Legislative Committee of Pulaski County Quorum Court
Jacksonville Water Commission
League of Women Voters of Pulaski County
Citizens Protecting Maumelle Watershed
Arkansas Municipal League
Arkansas Association of County Judges
Downtown Neighborhood Association
Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods
Little Rock Neighborhood Associations
North Little Rock Neighborhood Associations’ Leadership
Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey
North Little Rock Mayor Patrick H. Hays
Wrightsville Mayor Lorraine Smith
Alexander Mayor Shirley Johnson
Cammack Village Mayor Harry Light
Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon
Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim
Bryant Mayor Paul Halley
Shannon Hills Mayor Larance Davis
Cabot Mayor Mickey Stumbaugh
Maumelle Mayor Burch Johnson
Little Rock Board of Directors (which actually has not taken a formal vote on a resolution on the matter, though a number of members have spoken individually against the Deltic bill)
Cabot City Council
Hot Springs Board of Directors
Jacksonville Water Works
Beaver Water District
Benton-Washington (counties) Regional Public Water Authority
Carroll-Boone Water District
Community Water System
Jonesboro City Water and Light
Paragould City Light and Water
Nashville Rural Water Association, Inc.
Camden Water Utilities
Former water commissioners
Grande Maumelle Sailing Club
Saline Watershed Regional Watershed Distribution District
Pulaski County Quorum Court
Metroplan Council of Local Governments
Arkansas Water and Wastewater Managers Association