bill runs into solid wall in House
BY JOHN HOFHEIMER
and JOAN MCCOY
___Deltic Timber, the powerful developer
of west Little Rock's Chenal properties, appears stymied for now in
its efforts to build 250 high-end lake view homes on Lake Maumelle,
the source of most area drinking water. Standing in the way are Central
Arkansas Water (CAW) and the House committee on City, County and Local
___ Deltic's bill to strip CAW of its
authority to regulate alterations in the watershed and to condemn
land by eminent domain recently breezed through the Senate with Sen.
Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, and Sen. John Paul Capps, D-Searcy among
the 11 who voted against it. It was previouslyand incorrectlyreported
that Capps didn't vote. "That's not true," he said Tuesday afternoon.
___ "I was strongly against it." The
water utility fears that lawn chemicals, construction runoff and other
pollutants could threaten the reservoir, which provides much of central
Arkansas' drinking water. Rep. Will Bond, D-Jacksonville, committee
chairman, said he'd heard from both proponents and opponents of the
___ He, like other area legislators,
is inclined toward preserving the watershed. "The bill has real troubles,"
Bond said. "It's not back up on the agenda," he added. "There's no
way to force the bill to be heard." The bill has been passed over
three times in committee and, according to the rules, designated "deferred."
If it is not reintroduced, it will die when the legislature adjourns,
he said. "I'm inclined to protect the watershed," said Bond.
___ "A lot of people want it put to bed
immediately. My job is to follow the rules that govern when a bill
comes before the committee. Bond said he was bound by the rules, which
would allow SB230 to be reintroduced in his committee only if the
sponsor, Rep. Jodie Mahoney, D-El Dorado, gave notice 48 hours before
a committee meeting. Deltic Timber is headquartered in El Dorado.
Deltic representatives and lobbyist Joe Bell "are continuing to work
on the bill and on getting the votes," said Bond. "Opponents need
to stay on top of it."
___ Craig Douglass, Deltic spokesman,
disagreed that the bill is stalled in committee. "It will remain on
the agenda," he said Tuesday. "We're visiting with all 100 members
of the House, and that takes time." He said Deltic was continuing
to encourage Central Arkansas Water "to visit with us on the stewardship
agreement we proposed two weeks ago today. It's in their hands."
___ He said no negotiations with CAW
were currently planned. The 720 acres in question are near CAW's two
intake structures located near the dam on the east end of the lake,
according to Jim Harvey, CEO of Central Arkansas Water. Harvey said
both sides were lobbying hard, but "what we're hearing is (the representatives)
are getting many, many phone calls, nearly all in opposition to the
___ Among those opposed to the bill are
the Pulaski County Quorum Court, the Jacksonville Water Commission,
Audubon Arkansas, Sierra Club, Pulaski County League of Women Voters,
Arkansas Municipal League, Arkansas Association of County Judges,
Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods, the mayors of Jacksonville,
Sherwood, Little Rock, North Little Rock, Cabot and six other towns,
and other utilities around the state, as well as 1,762 people who
have signed an on-line petition, according to information provided
by CAW's Marie Crawford. Ratepayers in Central Arkan-sasincluding
Little Rock, North Little Rock, Jacksonville, Sher-wood, Gravel Ridge
and Cabotpaid for creation of that reservoir, but Deltic Timber owns
much of the land surrounding it.
___ Central Arkansas Water, like governments
and other utilities, has the power of condemnation through eminent
domain, and informed Deltic several years ago that it would not allow
construction near its water intake structure. The Pulaski County Quorum
Court Tuesday night joined various mayors, city councils and the Jacksonville
Chamber of Com-merce in opposing SB230the bill that targets only
CAW's right of eminent domain.
___ The bill breezed through the senate,
based on its title "An Act to be Known as the Water Quality Protection
Act of 2005", that fact that it was amended to affect only Central
Arkansas Water and, according to some accounts, rural senators paying
back Pulaski County lawmakers, including Sen. Jim Argue of Little
Rock, for supporting school consolidation last session. It has shown
no movement since being passed on to the house committee Feb. 8. Central
Arkansas Water and Deltic have cooperated and partnered on several
projects in the past, but Deltic was not content to write off the
sale of 250 high-value lots.
___ That's why the $42 million a year
company pushed a bill easily through the state Senate pretty much
stripping CAW of the power of eminent domain. That's when the water
company got its back up, sending fact sheets to news media and legislators
throughout the state. Deltic's bill would allow land-owners to make
"alterations"that is, "engage in activity or changes the quantity
or quality of surface water run-off into a water of the state, including,
but not limited to logging, applying herbicides, pesticides or phosphate
fertilizer, draining, dumping, dredging, damning (sic), discharging,
excavating, filling or grading, or the erection, reconstruction or
substantial expansion of any buildings or structures; the driving
of pilings, construction or paving of roads and other land surface
disturbance activities." SB230 would make the state Soil and Water
Conservation Commission and its executive director the ruling authority
in consolidated water authority land-use matters.
___ Steve Morgan, who represents CAW
on the board of the Mid-Arkansas Water Alliance, an organization of
cities and water associations in central Arkansas that have banded
together to find water for the future, says no one yet knows what
impact SB 230 would have on MAWA. Since the bill virtually kills CAW's
authority to condemn property, Morgan said it could have a far-reaching
effect on CAW's ability to run cross-country water lines.
___ In the past, the utility has been
able to purchase 98 percent of the land needed for waterline rights-of-way,
Morgan said. But the other 2 percent has had to be condemned. It is
not clear what would happen to that ability to obtain land to lay
waterline if the bill passes, he said.
___ That could be a problem for cities
and water associations not included in the bill because many of them
will likely be in partnership with CAW in laying cross-country lines,
___ "We just don't know the full ramifications
of what this bill could do," he said, adding that he is thankful that
opposition from cities, water associations and environmental groups
has it stalled in committee for the present.