Leader Blues

Friday, December 26, 2008

TOP STORY > >Sewer troubles dog Sherwood

Leader staff writer

Sherwood is a community that believes in investing in quality of life. An impressive ballpark complex, a spacious recreation center, and a welcoming seniors’ center are but a few of the amenities that Sherwood residents can point to with pride.

Less of a priority perhaps has been Sherwood’s wastewater system.

Persistent violations of state and federal regulations triggered a visit in December 2007 by investigators from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). When they found that a long list of violations dating to 2004 had indeed not been remedied, the ADEQ fined the city $23,000 – since reduced to $15,500 – and issued a consent order last month to ensure a speedy resolution.

City officials insist they had absolutely no inkling of the violations until late last January.

The mayor and members of the city’s sewer committee say that Michael Clayton, who as former city engineer was responsible for oversight of the wastewater utility, never told them of its problems. Clayton allows that “maybe there was not an announcement from a roof top,” but insists “it was no secret” at city hall that there were problems at the sewage treatment facilities. Clayton says he did not intentionally ignore the citations, but that inadequate staffing is partially to blame for repairs not made.

Mayor Virginia Hillman says that the first she knew of the longstanding violations was two days before Clayton resigned at the end of January to start his own business. She feels blindsided by problems that were brewing long before she took office in August 2007.

“I only found out because I called ADEQ about something else, and they told me,” Hillman said. “It is really no excuse, all that has happened.”

Cecil Robertson, who has served on the sewer committee for 50 years, and Amy Sanders, a committee member for 10 years, say that Clayton never shared any reports indicating non-compliance with water-quality regulations.

“I suppose he decided to not mention it for some reason,” said Sanders, who became committee chairperson a few months ago. “We have been upset about it, but our aim is to comply, and that is what we are working towards.”

Hillman says she fully appreciates the action of the ADEQ and is ready to do what it takes to satisfy the agency.

“It is like when you get onto your kids; the first time, you have a little mercy, but the second time, you are frustrated,” she said.

“This gives the appearanc