Water commission controversy UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Water commission controversy UPDATE

Posted By on Thu, Jun 26, 2008 at 3:49 PM

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A few days back I posted clean water activist Kate Althoff's letter objecting to the reappointment of Rose Law Firm lawyer Jane Dickey (pictured) to the Central Arkansas Water Commission. She's already served 11 years and wants to serve another seven-year term.

Althoff has company, I learned today, and some political fireworks seem likely.

It's simple, from Althoff's point of view. Dickey's law firm represents Deltic Timber. Deltic Timber controls about a third of the acreage in the watershed for Lake Maumelle, the utility's main water supply. Fights have only begun about managing land in the watershed and there are growing concerns that CAW has gone wobbly against entrenched development forces on insisting on the strongest standards possible for preventing pollution of the lake.

Dickey's appointment must be approved by both the North Little Rock City Council (that happened this week) and the Little Rock City Board, which will consider her request for reappointment Tuesday. Though there was no discussion in North Little Rock, there will be opposition to the appointment from a lake protection group, I was told today. Those prepared to speak include former Water Commissioner Craig Wood.

He said he is opposed to the current commission's practices. "They feel they're bigger than Little Rock or North Little Rock and it's time for the City Board to let them know they're not and this [turnng down Dickey's reappointment] would be one way to do it."

Wood said his unhappiness stems primarily from the commission's decision to cut a deal with developer Rick Ferguson for a lakeview real estate development. The utility had condemned his land and that condemnation been upheld. Only the price remained to be fixed when the commission dropped the condemnation and negotiated a settlement with him. Said Wood: "This opened the door for everybody else. People are lining up. They're going to let several hundred people build nice houses and pollute a lake that serves 400,000 people and it's not right."

Wood noted that Mayor Mark Stodola had recently objected to reappointing Larry Lichty to the Airport Commission because he deemed five years long enough to serve. If there's going to be a consistent policy regarding commissioners, Wood said, the mayor should consider it in this case.

Not exactly coincidentally, the City Board has received an e-mail from Jim Harvey, the retired chief of Central Arkansas Water, saying he'd like to serve on the Commission. His e-mail did not mention Dickey. I asked him about that. He said she'd been a "tremendous asset" in the merger of the Little Rock and North Little Rock water systems and he was not opposing her reappointment, but that "if she were not reappointed, I certainly would apply."

Harvey -- who stared Deltic down in a memorable legislative battle in 2005 -- would be a tremendous asset to a utility in danger of being rolled. There'd be no doubt where his loyalties lay and he'd never have to recuse from a watershed issue.

If a rubberstamp of the Dickey appointment is in the works -- and several believe Mayor Stodola has promised Dickey the reappointment -- it doesn't seem likely to happen quietly.

UPDATE: State Sen. Jim Argue has also communicated with city leaders about the Dickey appointment. He said he'd asked Stodola about his plans.

"My question would be whether she is representing her law firm and its clients, or the 450,000 water users who rely on the Central Arkansas Water Commission," Argue said.

UPDATE II: Jim Harvey's e-mail:

After hearing that you oppose reappointment of Commissioners or Board Members who have served a long term (Larry Lichty for example) I became more hopeful of the possibility of my being considered for the Central Arkansas Water Commissioner  position.
I have not applied to the CAW Commission because there is not an opportunity to do so, due to the commission policy of not accepting applications when there is a reappointment up for consideration.
If for any reason the current Commissioner whose term expires July 1, 2008 does not seek confirmation or is not confirmed, I do want the opportunity
to be considered and will apply to the CAW Board of Commissioners.
Jim Harvey

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