Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

TOP STORY >> Activists question the delay by Deltic

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Deltic Timber’s petition for more time to get its appraisal of the land Central Arkansas Water has condemned in the immediate Lake Maumelle basin is not a stalling tactic to allow Deltic another chance to get its way in the state General Assembly, a spokesman said Tues-day.

Currently, a trial is scheduled for Pulaski County Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce’s court on April 15 to determine the amount that CAW must pay Deltic for the 900 acres Deltic had hoped to develop into mini-estates on central Arkansas’s primary drinking-water source, but Deltic last week petitioned Pierce to postpone the beginning of the trial until the original September date.

That has fueled speculation that Deltic would try again next January, when Benny Petrus takes over as House speaker, to get legislative relief that would allow its Lake Maumelle development.

“In regard to possible legislative action, there’s been absolutely no discussion of that,” according to Craig Douglas, the Deltic spokes-man. “I think I would be aware of a plan and there is no plan.”

Likewise, Petrus said Tuesday that he had no plan to promote Deltic’s interests when he becomes speaker and has heard no discussion of such a plan.

“Nobody has contacted me on that issue,” he said.

Petrus said he was upset that he had been tied to Deltic in the media.
“I didn’t have anything to do with Deltic last time,” Petrus said. “Everybody in the world had me associated with Deltic. I didn’t have anything to do with it. I don’t serve on that (House Local Affairs) committee.”

“As far as Deltic Timber and CAW, I didn’t know a firm could run legislation. Like any legislator, I will evaluate each and every (piece of legislation) proposed. There’s another 134 legislators out there other than myself.”

“If I had to guess, I say neither (Deltic nor CAW) would try to introduce legislation,” when the General Assembly reconvenes, Petrus said.
Disclaimers by Douglas and Petrus were scant comfort to Patricia Dicker, a Pulaski County Quorum Court member who represents the county on the Policy Advisory Council for the development of the Lake Maumelle Watershed Plan, being formulated by consultant TetraTech.
“I think (Deltic is) doing everything (it) can to slow stuff down. If I were guessing, I’d say they are interested in putting something in the legislature now that Petrus is in,” she said. “I think they’ve got something up their sleeve. If they develop the area, they’ll ruin the lake. Even best management practices would pollute it.”

State Rep. Sam Ledbetter, D-Little Rock, and CAW’s attorney, said Tuesday that Petrus was elected speaker on Jan. 9 and “On the 12th, we received the motion for the continuance. It does make you wonder.”

Ledbetter campaigned for state Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, who lost to Petrus 58-42 in the speaker’s race.

“It’s a gray area as to whether or not the legislature can change the ground rules in the middle of the game,” Ledbetter said.
Deltic says it needs more time because many of the appraisers it would like to choose among wouldn’t have sufficient time to do the job right by April 15, and points out that the original trial date was Sept. 12.

CAW has until about Jan. 27 to answer Deltic’s petition.

“I’m sure our attorneys will ask that we continue on the grounds that the judge granted an expedited trial,” said Bruno Kersh, CAW’s chief operating officer. “I would assume there are appraisers who could do the job (for Deltic).”

Kersh said the bond money currently earmarked for the acquisition must be used within the next 18 months, but that money could be shifted around so that the land purchases could still be made after that time.