Polluting our water source


___The Arkansas legislature never stands taller than when it stoops to help a rich private interest.
___ We were reminded of that cynical maxim last week when 21 members of the state Senate sponsored a bill to give private real-estate developers a virtually free rein to corrupt municipal water supplies.
___ Every homeowner and business in the area should take notice of this little bill, SB 230, introduced on behalf of Deltic Timber Corp., the spin-off real-estate subsidiary of Murphy Corp., the global oil and gas exploration company. Deltic developed the Chenal Valley subdivisions and proposes more luxury developments in the watershed of Lake Maumelle. Maumelle is the chief source of the region's water.
___ Jacksonville and Cabot soon will receive all their water from Central Arkansas Water, the regional water utility that is trying to keep Maumelle waters pure. Deltic, which owns some 400,000 acres of high-value timber and speculative land in Arkansas, much of it in western Pulaski County, wants to build a 225-home subdivision called The Ridges of Nowlin Creek on the south shore of Maumelle at the mouth of the watershed.
___ Central Arkansas Water wants to stop that and another upscale development in the watershed. It wants Deltic to keep the land in its pristine forested state or else sell the land to the water company, which would keep the land in its natural state and prevent contamination.
___ Otherwise, Central Arkansas Water will have to spend $60 million or more in treatment facilities to keep the waters safe. Water customers like you – who else? – would bear those costs. Deltic's bill would make it nearly impossible for water companies to exercise the power of eminent domain to protect water supplies, which is the last resort if a developer refuses to sell the land or sell it at a reasonable price.
___ Instead, under SB 230, developers could voluntarily work out agreements with the state Soil and Water Conservation Commission to solve any contamination problems that the developers might foresee. The state commission has been friendly to development interests. Developers in effect would determine when they were causing a problem and what they would do about it.
___ The water company and the public would be mere bystanders. Deltic's spokesman says it's a fairness issue. Developers ought to have a stronger hand in preserving their property rights against the assertion of the public interest. It's a matter of balance between public and private interests, he said. The waterworks is not asking too much when it seeks to keep pivotal parts of the watershed in its natural state.
___ Deltic, after all, calls itself a timber company and it could harvest the timber at regular intervals. Deltic and the other development interests in those valuable hills and valleys assess the real estate as timber land, which means it is on the tax rolls at a value of $165 an acre when undeveloped lots are going for tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. ___Deltic and the other owners are paying about $1.67 an acre a year in taxes to the schools and county government. Have you looked at the tax bill for your home?
___ Don't shed any tears for the developers who might not get the maximum profits from their speculative ventures if they must yield to the public's interest in clean, affordable water.
___ With 21 of 35 senators already signed on as sponsors, the bill is greased in the Senate. Call your legislators – representatives and senators – and ask them to stand up for the public.