Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

EDITORIAL>> Deltic flexes it muscle

Today we may get a verdict on whether the economic muscle of one big corporation can trump the vital interests of 360,000 people. All the evidence so far suggests it can in the Arkansas legislature in 2005.

The City, County and Local Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, chaired by Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, finally will hold a hearing this morning on a bill that will curtail the power of the Central Arkansas Water utility to protect the regionís water supply by condemning land on the slopes above its shores.

Deltic Timber Corp., which wants to build a luxury subdivision overlooking Lake Maumelle, got the bill through the Senate in near record time before House Speaker Bill Stovall thwarted its pell-mell passage through the House. Word early this week is that the companyís phalanx of lobbyists has lined up votes to pass the bill if it reaches the House floor but is a vote or two shy of getting it out of the committee.

If you take the state daily paper, youíve seen the full-page advertisements explaining how safe and pure the water will be when Deltic finishes the sprawling development called The Ridges at Nowlin Creek. Modern technology and strict rules will prevent builders and homeowners from polluting the lake, the ads say.

The company will have as many hired authorities as it needs today to persuade people that the water that will be sucked into the intake valve down the slopes from the subdivision will be absolutely pristine.

Experts from the state Health Department and from a Massachusetts consulting firm say itís not so, that the stormwater containment planned by Deltic is not suitable for the rocky slopes.

The water company ó that is all of us, the water users ó will have to build expensive plants to cleanse Maumelle water, now some of the purest in the United States.

Letís assume that Deltic is right and that it can control forever the runoff from the 220 homes and other structures on the ridges by regulating the fertilizer and other chemical applications. It would take a sizable police force to enforce it, but maybe Deltic could somehow extend its control once the land is in the possession of private homeowners. What about the next developer across the valley, and the next and the next? The water company could not exercise eminent domain to stop anyone else.

Central Arkansas taxpayers spent a fortune building this pristine lake in the wilderness above the metropolitan area so that they could be assured of pure water for a century. Now one corporation wants to exploit, for its own profit, the gorgeous scenery created by the publicís investment.

There is nothing close about this issue.

All the money spent to influence government policy is on one side, all the virtue on the other. Keep this roll call for future use.