Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

EDITORIAL>> Lake Maumelle fight not over yet

Not much that the legislature has done in 90 days advanced the public welfare, but it did at least kill a nefarious plan to allow developers to corrupt our drinking water if they could make enough money by doing it.

Friday, Circuit Judge Willard Proctor made that victory for the public manifest by declaring that Central Arkansas Water could condemn 300 acres that developer Rick Ferguson wanted to convert into a residential subdivision on the north shore of Lake Maumelle.

The water company wanted the land to prevent polluting development along the shores of the lake, which it had built for the municipal water supply.

Ferguson had resisted the condemnation by claiming that he was being singled out.

Judge Proctor had held up a ruling while the legislature considered a bill written for Deltic Timber Corp. that would emasculate the utility’s eminent domain authority.

Deltic wanted to build a huge luxury subdivision along the peaks and valleys of the lake’s south shore, right above the intake for the municipal water supply for Central Arkansas cities, including Sherwood, Jacksonville and Cabot.

The bill sailed through the Senate in near record time but eventually died in the Cities, Counties and Local Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, chaired by Jacksonville’s Will Bond. Bond and House Speaker Bill Stovall of Quit-man were pivotal in stopping the bill.

But the water supply still isn’t safe from polluters, not yet. Deltic, the giant timber and development company that was spun off from the global petroleum giant, Murphy Corp. of El Dorado, still intends to exploit the gorgeous scenery that it acquired along the lake. The bill will resurface in the 2007 regular session of the legislature, or earlier at a special legislative session if it can change the dynamics of the House before the next election and get the support of Gov. Mike Huckabee, who would control the agenda at a special session.

That is why it is essential that Central Arkansas Water move swiftly to consolidate its victory. It can do that by beginning condemnation proceedings against the Deltic land sooner rather than later.

Stovall, whose stubborn insistence that the Deltic bill not become law on his watch, will not be the speaker in 2007.

Chances are that the speaker will be Rep. Benny Petrus of Stuttgart, a supporter of the bill and a minion of corporate interests like Deltic. Petrus and Bond are the candidates for speaker in 2007.

Deltic’s swarm of lobbyists have operated a hospitality room from Petrus’ private apartment in the state-owned Capitol Hill Building across the street from the Capitol.

Deltic and other friendly interests will be lining up commitments from legislators to vote for Petrus in the speaker election.

So you thought it would be illegal, or at least unethical, for private lobbying operations to be run from public property?

This is the Arkansas legislature. There is no time for nettlesome ethical questions.

There is too much private greed to be assuaged.