Leader Blues

Saturday, November 25, 2006

TOP STORY >>Building near critical watershed may get approval

IN SHORT: Development in the most critical area of Lake Maumelle water reservoir seems certain.

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

The future looks murky to Lake Maumelle purists, who only months ago thought the lake was finally safe from upscale developers itching to build mini-mansions in Critical Area A in the region’s most pristine, most important drinking-water reservoir.

The lake was built by CAW predecessor Little Rock Water in the 1950s exclusively as a drinking-water reservoir, and provides at least some of the drinking water to 11 central Arkansas towns and cities, serving about 388,000 customers.

If Central Arkansas Water’s commissioners accept the draft watershed management recommendation on December 14 from Tetra Tech Inc., the consultants hired to formulate a long-range plan, both Deltic Timber and developer Rick Ferguson could build—with limitations—on land near the lake’s drinking-water intake structure, according to Jim Harvey, CAW’s chief executive officer.

“We may not have had enough time to make recommendations by then,” Harvey said.

CAW has condemned the Deltic and Ferguson lands in the critical area, but the courts are determining the price the utility must pay. It could be prohibitive.

“There is going to be some development,” said Harvey Tuesday. “The utility can’t afford to own it all. What we wanted was to own the absolute most critical,” he said, “close to the intake structure, steep, erodable. That’s what we fought for.” Harvey said CAW staff still hadn’t decided what its recommendation to the board would be.

“We still would like to own that part, but the (Tetra Tech) proposal presented to us is the most protective and the best we have seen up to this point.”

Both developers have large holdings in the watershed, with about 700 acres of the Deltic land in Critical Area A and about 300 acres of Ferguson’s land in the zone.

In order to develop parts of Critical Area A, Deltic and Fer-guson must agree to abide by the plan requirements on the 41 percent of all developable land they own in the watershed, not just the Area A land. They must sell or donate conservation easement to the utility.

They must conduct pilot studies of best management practices proving they can be used effectively. Failing that, they must agree to sell the land, already condemned, to the utility at current property values. Adequate administrative, regulatory and enforcement structures must be created.

The recommendations would allow development of homes on 20-acre lots with most of that land left untouched, or, a more dense development pattern of one house on a five-acre lot if certain conditions are successfully met.

Pulaski County Quorum Court member Patricia Dicker, a vocal opponent opposed to any construction in Zone A, says she feels let down by County Judge Buddy Villines and by Metroplan, both of which seem to endorse the Tetra Tech recommendations.

“If I had my way, that entire watershed would be kept in forest. That’s the most protective,” Harvey said. “But the utility can never afford that.”

A Metroplan proposal would pump sewage out of the watershed, Harvey said. “If you never had a failure, that’s the best way. But a big dose of sewage at once in the lake—that’s horrible.”

Metroplan got involved when Ferguson went to Little Rock Mayor Jim Daily for help. Daily, knowing that Metroplan Director Jim McKenzie was already on the technical committee and had a history of helping with large, multi-jurisdictional projects, asked him to consider the situation. Mc-Kenzie said the time was long since past that CAW could have afforded to buy all the land in Critical Area A.

Harvey said nothing in the Metroplan recommendation conflicted with the Tetra Tech proposal. Tetra Tech recommends creation of a new CAW position for an administrator to monitor pilot projects, lake degradation and construction, Harvey said.

Specific water quality standards and management recommendations make up much of the 122-page Tetra Tech proposal.
“The plan says for this to work, if they build in Critical Area A, we have to acquire 1,500 additional acres of developable land off the plan. It could be in zone A,” he said.

Tetra Tech’s long-term management plan recommends or requires direct surface discharges of wastewater, paving of roads and driveways, best management practices during road and home development and a total buildout in the entire watershed of 6,590 houses, leaving about 50,000 acres undisturbed.

It would require a watershed administrator, a Lake Maumelle Stewardship Council and a full-time monitor. Management of undeveloped portions for brush control or other purposes would be done by hand or with tractors and bush hogs, not with heavy equipment like bulldozers that could further compact the soil and increase erosion.