Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

TOP STORY >> CAW is winner of land dispute

Leader staff writer

The contentious struggle between Central Arkansas Water and Deltic Timber Corp. over ownership and control of 706 acres of prime development land on the banks of the Lake Maumelle drinking water reservoir ended late last week when Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie M. Pierce signed an order condemning the land and giving CAW ownership.
All that remains is a jury trial to determine the price CAW must pay Deltic for the land, which it had intended to develop into mini-estates.

Lake Maumelle is the primary source of drinking water for parts of central Arkansas, and CAW has agreements to supply water to Jacksonville, Sherwood and Gravel Ridge, so both the quality of the water and the cost of the land are important to area customers. CAW also will supply water to the Cabot area beginning in about a year, according to Steve Morgan, CAW’s director of regionalism and future water source.

CAW put $3.85 million in an escrow account, which Deltic may now withdraw, according to the judge.
“The clerk is directed to deliver the funds on deposit to the defendant, or its designee,” Pierce ordered.
The $3.85 million figure was based upon an independent real estate appraisal, but the actual amount Deltic will receive will be determined by a jury trial, according to Sam E. Ledbetter, CAW’s attorney. Ledbetter said Monday that no trial date had been set.

“They are taking the money out,” said Jim Harvey, chief executive officer for CAW. “I hope that’s a good sign.”
The $3.85 million figure amounts to $5,460 per acre.

Meanwhile, CAW won a two-week jury trial in September against Waterview Estates, in which Waterview sought unsuccessfully to block condemnation of 301 acres, also on the immediate Lake Maumelle watershed.
A jury trial tentatively set for the week of Nov. 14 will determine the cost of that acreage. CAW’s deposit in that case was $765,000, or about $2,500 per acre.

That land, owned by Rick Ferguson, was “not as critical,” as the Deltic land, according to Harvey.
Kate Althof, coordinator for Citizens Protecting Maumelle Watershed, said members were pleased that the former Deltic land would remain forested and protected by CAW, but cautioned, “There are still a lot of unanswered questions. This is only the beginning. The lake is not safe.”
With a two-year watershed management study underway, “There are a lot of competing interests on how the lake will be used,” she said.

“It depends on the plan and its implementation, and political will.”
Althof said the management study’s technical advisory committee would discuss clean-water standards with the policy-advisory committee Oct. 20.

Lake Maumelle water purity now is so high that the water could be degraded and still meet state and federal standards. She fears there will be pressure to lower the standards to those levels.
“The an-swer will not be purely science,” Althof said.

In an ef-fort to avoid condemnation and proceed with its upscale development plans, Deltic tried during the most recent session of the state legislature to pass legislation that would have stripped CAW of its power to condemn land.

The state Senate easily passed Deltic’s proposed new stealth law, but by the time it got to the House, CAW, environmentalists, clean water activists and others organized a formidable defense of the need to retain CAW’s condemnation rights and the need to protect the pristine drinking water source.
The bill died in a house committee.

Then Deltic proposed leaving the land touched — neither developed nor condemned — for two years, while a watershed-protection study and plan was completed.

The Central Arkan-sas Water Commission, while committed to proceeding with the study, refused that offer.
Instead the board ordered its attorneys — Ledbetter and Bruce McMath — to attempt for two months to negotiate a settlement with Deltic.

When the time limit expired without Deltic even naming the price it wanted for its land, the commission at its September meeting ordered the attorneys to begin condemnation proceedings.