Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

TOP STORY >> CAW to raise water rates for its customers

BY JOHN HOFHEIMER
LEADER STAFF WRITER

Although not directly related to the need for Central Arkansas Water to purchase about 1,300 acres of sensitive land from would-be developers on Lake Maumelle, water rates to some customers, including Jacksonville, will be raised.

Currently Jacksonville pays CAW 94 cents per thousand gallons, and neither Ken Anderson, head of the Jacksonville Water Department, nor Bruno Kirsh, chief operating officer of CAW, was prepared to speculate on the extent of the increase to Jacksonville or other wholesale customers.

The increase is not expected to affect Sherwood residents nor Cabot-area residents, who don’t currently get water from CAW, according to Kirsh.

Anderson said he would know more about the effect on Jacksonville customers after he meets with CAW officials Aug. 23.
The new rates, part of the 2001 merger agreement between Little Rock Municipal Water Works and the North Little Rock Water Department, are intended to equalize rates between in-city customers in both cities, according to Kirsh.
The new rates reflect the financial requirements for the next three years for maintenance, operations and capital investments, he said, with Lake Maumelle land purchase money counted as a capital cost.
Rates must be equalized be-tween Little Rock and North Little Rock by 2010.

Meanwhile, lawyers for Central Arkansas Water and Deltic Timber began negotiations Friday in an attempt to arrive at a sale price for the 700 acres Deltic wants to develop just uphill from Lake Maumelle.

CAW staff and community activists say the development threatens the safety of the lake, central Arkansas’ primary source of drinking water. The CAW commission last month retreated from its order to condemn the Deltic land, giving its lawyers and those from Deltic until Sept. 8 to agree on a price.

The resolution approved at the July meeting says that failing to reach an agreement, CAW would then initiate condemnation proceedings, but environmentalists and community activists have said they fear the commission is caving in to the rich and powerful developer.

Commissioner Jane Dickey works for the Rose Law Firm, which represents Deltic in matters not directly related to the Lake Maumelle land in question.

Thursday, the commission unanimously elected Dickey, its most controversial member, to represent it on the comprehensive watershed management policy advisory council. The policy council is charged with setting the overarching goal for the plan. It will work with TetraTech , Inc., the contractor formulating the comprehensive Lake Maumelle Watershed Management Plan. Dickey was nominated as the commission’s representative by Jay Hartman at the request of chairman Tom Rimmer, who reported that he had contacted her earlier and she had agreed to serve.
Dickey did not attend the meeting. Hartman said Dickey was one of several commissioners experienced in watershed studies and issues. “Jane sticks out as the one with the background,” he said.

“I don’t want to say it doesn’t concern me,” he said of Dickey’s relationship with Deltic, “but it’s something she can work through.”
In addition to Dickey representing CAW, people representing 19 other interests have been appointed. Those interests include ratepayers, the League of Women Voters, local chambers of commerce, quorum courts, environmental groups, Deltic Timber, the U.S. Forest Service, realtors and recreationalists.

The watershed management plan will cover not just the 1,300 acre zone 1 surrounding the water treatment intake valve, but the entire 88,000 acres—that’s 137 square miles of watershed, according to Kirsh. The study, being conducted by Tetra Tech, Inc.’s North Carolina office, which specializes in watershed planning, should be completed within 18 months, with much of the work completed by late next summer.

The Tetra Tech study is much broader than what to do about Deltic, said Jim Harvey, CAW’s chief executive officer. He said Dickey had a long history of water protection work dating back to 1992.
“I can’t think of anybody else (on the commission) with her background,” he said.