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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The facts on Lake Maumelle

Posted By on Wed, Apr 30, 2008 at 7:18 AM

A while back, I posted a comparison proffered by County Judge Buddy Villines that he said demonstrated the superiority of a proposed  county land use ordinance for protecting Lake Maumelle's watershed over an agreed land management plan worked out by the water utility, residents and developers.

Now comes one of the city's most knowledgeable and dedicated environmentalists, Barry Haas, with an analysis of why Villines' comparison is short on science and long on loopholes for developers. Read on. Some of this is technical, but suffice it to say that, given a choice of opinions, I'll go with Haas'.

FROM BARRY HAAS

 

During a break in the April 22 Pulaski County Quorum Court meeting, county judge Buddy Villines asked if I would be willing to meet with him to talk about Lake Maumelle.  Having worked for over three years along with many others in the community in an effort to protect Lake Maumelle, I could hardly say no to an opportunity to discuss with Villines where and how the proposed county ordinance affecting the Lake Maumelle watershed falls well short of the science-based, comprehensive Watershed Management Plan (the 'Plan').  We met the following afternoon for about 45 minutes.


I started the conversation by asking where the 'science' was in the county's proposed subdivision regulations affecting the Lake Maumelle watershed.  Villines pulled out his comparison chart, the same one he sent to the Arkansas Times last week, and started to go down the comparison list point by point.  His comparison of the Plan and the ordinances- "The Plan is stricter on x number of points, the ordinance is stricter on y number of points."


It sounds good if you don't know much about protecting a public drinking water lake, or don't have a good grasp of why the Plan ended up the way it did after 18 months of 'consensus negotiations' by the Policy Advisory Council.  The Council or PAC was made up of over 20 stakeholder groups representing everyone from Deltic Timber to two Chambers of Commerce, realtors, small landowners in the watershed, government bodies like the L.R. Board, N.L.R. City Council and Pulaski Co. Quorum Court, environmentalists, recreationalists, water users, etc.  There was also a separate Technical Advisory Council to address the science being considered.  I had the privilege of serving as an alternate representative on the Policy Advisory Council during those 18 months, and couldn't help but absorb quite a bit of information on how best to protect Lake Maumelle and its outstanding water quality.


The problem with Judge Villines' 'science' is that he starts with the 'recommended loading rates' in the Plan for phosphorous, total suspended solids and total organic carbon that are part of the Plan and were based on extensive computer modeling of Lake Maumelle, including its specific and unique hydrology and geology, and its surrounding watershed.  Since the 'recommended loading rates' in the county's proposed ordinance are the same as the Plan's, Villines seems to assume that Pulaski County can tinker with and change any and all elements of the Plan without exceeding the Plan's recommended loading rates.  But the Plan will successfully limit overloading of those unwanted nutrients into Lake Maumelle only if all the parts of the comprehensive Plan get implemented.


Real science doesn't support Villines' conclusions in his comparison.  An April 2 Memo by TetraTech, the consultant firm hired to help central Arkansans draft the Plan, says that in addition to buying 1,500 acres as called for in the Plan, Central Arkansas Water would have to purchase an additional 282 to 3,465 acres of land, using best and worst case scenarios under the proposed county ordinance.  Since the most recent purchase of land by CAW was for $27,000 an acre, I'll let you do the math to see how many millions of dollars ratepayers would have to come up with to compensate for the weakened protections offered by the draft Pulaski Co. ordinance.


But wait, it gets worse.  TetraTech, in the same April 2 Memo, also says the following:


"Please note that the analysis does not include the impact of the legacy provisions [these are exemptions for small landowners] since we do not have a reliable means of estimating how much property would be impacted by this proposal.  Additionally, this analysis does not address the increase in risk posed by reducing undisturbed forested open space and substantially increasing expected population and wastewater volume."


So, after studying Lake Maumelle and its watershed for over two years, TetraTech can't even estimate the impact of several key provisions that are in the Plan but left out of or modified in the Pulaski Co. ordinance.  If TetraTech can't analyze these impacts with their expertise, how can Villines tell the public with a straight face that he can?


And when the county makes other changes like reducing the minimum undisturbed area in Critical Area B, the large middle zone of the watershed, from 50% to 30% and increasing the maximum impervious area from a range of 4-8.25% in the Plan to 10% in the county ordinance (items 8 and 9 in Villines' comparison), Villines has no idea precisely how these changes would impact the recommended loading rates.  No science, no modeling, no nothing, just changing major elements of the Plan without explaining where the county ordinance would make up for the increased nutrient loading caused by those changes and others.  This even holds true where Villines claims the ordinance is stricter than the Plan.

The Plan was a compromise among all the stakeholders and was agreed to by consensus.  Developers who didn't get everything they wanted in the compromise Plan are now working to water down implementation of the Plan's assorted elements.  If Pulaski County now compromises the compromise, instead of a 50-50 deal the public ends up with even less and the developers more.  Villines told me the county ordinance would give Central Arkansas Water about 80% of what the Plan would in the way of protections.  Where and how he came up with that figure, I have no idea.  There is no scientific basis for making such a statement.

Villines also said, a repeat of a statement he made at the previous night's Quorum Court meeting, that Deltic Timber had agreed to abide by the terms of the Plan on all their other property in the watershed.  To that I said it would be nice if Deltic would go before the Central Arkansas Water Board of Commissioners and tell them that, since it was not true.  The way I hear it is Deltic may have agreed to abide by the Plan "as they interpret it".  That's hardly the same thing, and until the Plan is implemented there is little or nothing to abide by.  But Deltic has signed no such agreement with Central Arkansas Water to "abide by the Plan".

I also asked Villines about closed meetings between Pulaski Co. Attorney Karla Burnett and attorneys for the large developers (Chuck Nestrud for Deltic Timber and Hal Kemp for Waterview Estates), and that when citizens learned of such a meeting of those parties and wanted to sit in and observe one of their 'negotiation sessions', it was abruptly canceled.  Villines said little in response to that.  That seems to be a sore point with him.  We can't have county residents thinking their business gets done with only the rich and powerful behind closed doors, now can we?

We also discussed the 5- and 10-acre minimum lot sizes that are in the Plan to limit development.  Villines said he "won't do zoning".  I told him every property owner in the watershed knows how much 5- and 10-acres is and can get a surveyor to create such lots, but with the more complicated performance standards approach being proposed in the county ordinance small landowners will have to hire engineers and the like at much greater expense if they decide to develop their land.  Yet Villines still insisted the county ordinance treats small landowners in the watershed fairly.

I suspect that because of last Tuesday's Quorum Court meeting and the continued negative public input on the county's proposed ordinance, Villines decided to be proactive and send out his 'comparison', such as it is, to the Arkansas Times last week.


Bottom line- the Plan is a compromise that allows landowners in the Lake Maumelle watershed to develop their property, but limits development so that the water in Lake Maumelle will be protected for many years to come.  By design the water quality in Lake Maumelle will get worse over time as the watershed develops under the terms of the Plan.  That's a reality, but necessary to protect the rights of private landowners.  It treats private landowners fairly and even grants exemptions under the Plan.  But it does limit how many homes could ultimately be built in the watershed, and thereby the amount of damaging nutrients that could end up in the lake.  The Watershed Management Plan is a compromise, with all that word implies.  Everybody gives something, everybody gets something, nobody gets or gives everything.


Unless Villines and other elected officials, like those running for public office like the Pulaski Co. Quorum Court in November, have enough folks call or e-mail and tell them they will not get your vote unless they truly help protect Lake Maumelle, we will deserve what we get in the way of reduced water quality at a higher cost.  Did I mention Villines can be reached by work phone at 340-8305 and by e-mail at cojudge@co.pulaski.ar.us ?


Barry Haas

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