Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

TOP STORY >> Cabot developers frustrated

Leader staff writer

Five Cabot-area developers were among those who attended a hearing called to air grievances against the actions of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality which has stepped up enforcement of federal EPA storm-water runoff regulations.

One of those developers says he appreciates the interest of Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, who called the hearing earlier this month, but he says nothing has changed.

The ADEQ is hardnosed in its enforcement and he fears higher fines if he complains.
The developer said he was fined twice, once for $4,800 and once for $2,800.
Fines generally range from $3,000 to $10,000 per violation.

The developer, who asked not to be identified, said ADEQ’s requirements are adding significantly to the cost of development.
“It’s getting expensive,” he said. “I can spend $30,000 to $40,000 to put bales of hay and screening around a subdivision before I even start building. And some of it is uphill. Where’s anything going to run to?”

During the hearing, developers complained that the ADEQ has unfairly fined them for violating storm-water runoff regulations without giving them time to correct problems.

Glover said the department has been nitpicking the developers—fines for not having a rain gauge in the right place or papers in the right place, for instance.

Each development must have a permit in plain sight, with an approved pollution-discharge plan in an ADEQ mail box at the development and must have devices like straw bales and mesh netting to reduce the discharge of silt from construction sites.

The Cabot developer said this week that one of the biggest problems is dirt on the street that comes off delivery trucks that have driven across muddy construction sites.

“There is no way to prevent that,” he said.
Dennis Benson, chief of the ADEQ water division enforcement section, said enforcement was stepped up about 18 months ago after a sweep of central Arkansas showed that about 75 percent of developers were in violation of runoff regulations.
“Sediment can have a lot of impact on receiving waters,” Ben-son said.

For instance, he said, they are talking about a drawdown of Lake Conway because of sediment coming from developments.
In cities, silt fills up storm-water drains and can cause flooding. In Cabot, improperly maintained silt fences and improper discharge of water from a subdivision muddied the city pond on Kerr Station Road so badly that one resident who fished there every Sunday feared Arkansas Game and Fish would not be able to stock it with trout in December as planned.

Tim Lemons, a Cabot civil engineer, represents several developers. While he says ADEQ inspectors are polite and professional, he said the developers need time to adjust to the new inspection rules and time to correct any deficiencies before they are fined.
“My problem is not with the ADEQ staff, my problem is with the system itself,” Lemons said.

He said he wants a probationary period for developers to find out what they are doing wrong and fix it and learn before the fining phase.
But the Cabot developer said he believes any effort to get ADEQ to soften its enforcement practices is “dead in the water.”
While Lemons was reserved and respectful with his comments, the developer was more plain spoken.

“They’ve gone from one extreme to the other,” he said. “It used to be that they came out and talked to us and told us what we were doing wrong. Now they fine us. I think they want us to be afraid of them.”