Leader Blues

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

EDITORIALS>> Gold in them thar hills

“What was all that about?” a few of you may have been wondering when Deltic Timber Corp. moved the heavens this spring to get legislation from the General Assembly to prevent the Central Arkansas Water utility from condemning some of Deltic’s land on the south shore of Lake Maumelle, the region’s principal source of water.

Central Arkansas Water, you will remember, thought the 220 luxury homes that the timber and land development company plans to build on the slopes above the lovely lake would contaminate the water and cost water users (that’s the rest of us peons) tens of millions of dollars to counteract. A big citizen campaign, along with House Speaker Bill Stovall of Quitman, scotched the bill. It almost certainly will reappear when the legislature meets again.

Why would Deltic spend so much money on one of the most intense lobbying campaigns in recent times and risk so much ill will among 360,000 water users? And then why would it turn down Central Arkansas Water’s offer of $3.8 million for the land, which lies just above the water system’s intake?

If the answer was not obvious, Forbes magazine clarified it last week, although not in the course of explaining the dispute over the development. It was a business story about this highly profitable development company, which started as a wood-products subsidiary of Murphy Oil Corp. of El Dorado.

Here’s a little of the Forbes article:

“Deltic also peddles plots to home builders from its large (60,000 acres) holding west of Little Rock. Since 2001 the development, called Chenal, has sold an average 206 lots annually for $76,000 each. This year’s target: 300 lots. For every $1 the company spends clearing the lots, laying down water pipes and building roads, it gets $2 back from the buyers.”

An average of $76,000 for a lot! And many lots go for several times that amount.
Until utilities are laid to the lots, all the speculative land owned by Deltic and other developers in the Maumelle and Chenal region is assessed for tax purposes at a tiny fraction of those values. The owners assess them as timber or pasture land, although the land is held for upscale development.

Typically, developers pay taxes of about $1.65 an acre a year to your county government and schools. Contemplate how much you pay for your little plot and house.

Although its board of directors are getting cold feet, Central Arkansas Water should proceed with condemnation with all deliberate haste and send a message that it will protect our water supply for our lifetimes.

Surely, the developers will not raise the usual cry about public condemnation: that you’re taking the land off the tax rolls and robbing the schools.
They wouldn’t dare.

Would they?