Written comments from a couple of the signers of an on-line petition opposing SB 230:
“We should leave the protection of Lake Maumelle in the hands of the people that know what they are doing. They have protected our water for years. Shane Broadway will not get my vote next election.”
“I am extremely disappointed in Senator Faris, who is my representative in the Arkansas Senate, for his sponsorship and support of this legislation, because I know the citizens of my district are very much against it. I implore my representative in the House, Representative Dewayne Mack, to vote for the citizens he represents, and AGAINST this so-called Water Quality Protection Act.”
There are many more statements like those on the petition, which had 2,000 signatures as of Monday, Feb. 21, and Sens. Shane Broadway of Bryant and Steve Faris of Malvern were not the only senators mentioned critically by name.
A Pulaski County politician observed that the petition is significant not only for the number of signers and the vehemence of their opinions, but for the variety of signers. The usual suspects are on there, true — evironmentalists and community activists. But so are Republican businessmen, and wealthy doctors. Everybody wants to protect their drinking water, it seems.
SB 230, backed by a big land developer, Deltic Timber Corp., would make it harder for Central Arkansas Water, a public utility, to defend Lake Maumelle from pollution. The lake is the principal water supply for some 360,000 Central Arkansans. Deltic wants to build a subdivision on the lake, and says it has been unfairly thwarted by CAW.
Rather amazingly, 22 senators voted for SB 230. Some said privately they had to vote for it because Deltic owned massive acreage in their districts. Sen. Robert Johnson of Bigelow, the lead sponsor of SB 230, told legislators that his family owned property in the Maumelle watershed and he didn’t want the property condemned by CAW.
Some rural legislators indulged a distaste for Little Rock that deepened during the school consolidation fight last session.
The bill slipped through the Senate quickly. Then the public outrage erupted. Besides the on-line petition, opponents held a rally on the steps of the Capitol, and indulged in a fair amount of fiery oratory. This is Ken Smith of Audubon Arkansas:
“Senate Bill 230 is the most serious threat to the public’s well-being I have ever witnessed. It pits corporate greed against public health. The soils, forests and streams flowing into Lake Maumelle are fragile and no amount of prevention proposed by Deltic or any other large-scale developer in the Maumelle watershed can stop chemicals and sediment from washing into our water supply.”
CAW hired a couple of former legislators as lobbyists, to offset Deltic’s effort, which was led by Joe Bell, one of the top lobbyists at the Capitol. CAW also bought full-page advertisements in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and the Arkansas Times. An impressive number of groups and officials announced their opposition to SB 230 — the Arkansas Municipal League, the Association of Arkansas Counties, the mayors of Central Arkansas, water utilities around the state, the Little Rock Board of Directors, the Hot Springs Board of Directors.
By mid-week SB 230 was becalmed in the City, County and Local Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, apparently without enough votes to escape.