Roland residents split over wastewater treatment plant

2022-06-11 00:47:39 By : Ms. Carol Wen

A community's division over a proposed wastewater treatment plant played out in real-time Wednesday, as dozens of residents from northwestern Pulaski County gathered at the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment office in North Little Rock to weigh in.

The dispute is over a permit for a wastewater treatment plant for a planned subdivision in Roland, near Lake Maumelle, that some residents worry will hurt the environment and discharge wastewater on their property.

The Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment is reviewing an application for the permit for the wastewater treatment plant to accompany the development.

Developer Rick Ferguson has proposed building a 76-lot development off of Roland Cutoff Road, saying there is a growing demand for homes in the area. At the meeting, supporters of the Paradise Valley development argued opponents only wanted to stop the wastewater treatment facility to stall the development.

Local residents against the plant argued it would be an environmental hazard, discharging wastewater into a tributary of Mill Bayou, adjacent to many nearby properties. Some argued wastewater would accumulate as standing water on their properties, polluting their well water and and hurting their home value and quality of life with the stench of the wastewater.

"The plant together with the relentless sewer smell that will emanate from the creek which will now be an open sewer flowing with newly discharged wastewater will destroy our quality of life," said Theodore Hoeh, who lives next to the proposed site of the wastewater plant.

Supporters also said they welcomed development in the area or wished to be able to purchase a home in the Paradise Valley development. Others said they supported Ferguson's property rights to develop on his own land.

"My idea is whoever owns the land can do what they want to do with it," said Butch Penney, a supporter of the development. "I don't like the government telling me what to do with my land, so I don't want other people telling these people what to do with their land."

It was a standing room-only affair at the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment headquarters, with opponents of the development busing in allies to speak against the wastewater plant.

Michael McAlister, an attorney with the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment, chaired the public hearing, which served as an opportunity for residents to air their opinions on the wastewater permits.

While the subject of the hearing was limited to the permit for the wastewater treatment plant, some used their opportunity to voice their opinions on the development as a whole.

"The rights of the people in place, the rights of Pulaski County residents at large are equal to the rights of land developers," said Sarah Garrison, a Roland resident against the development. "It's not one or the other. It's how to do it right so that it works for everybody."

Opposition to the development has been a long and coordinated effort led by an organized group of residents called Pinnacle Mountain Community Coalition. Some opponents traveled to the meeting on a charter bus, clapping and holding up signs after allies spoke at the hearing.

In February 2021, the Pulaski County Planning Board approved plans for the Paradise Valley development, but inconsistencies in the submitted plans -- particularly when it came to wastewater management -- prompted further review from state agencies.

In a letter in January, a Division of Environmental Quality official told Ferguson the agency needed more information before it could approve the permit for the wastewater facility. Bryan Leamons, a senior operations manager with the Division of Environmental Quality, told Ferguson the agency received an approval letter from the Arkansas Department of Health on Dec. 17 for the plant.

But Leamons asked Ferguson for more documentation and that he would extend the public comment period an additional 30 days.

Residents against the Paradise Valley development argued they aren't against all development, just the proposal Ferguson has put forward.

Republican State Sen. Mark Johnson of Ferndale, whose district includes Roland, spoke against the wastewater plant, saying, "when you threaten the safety of our people who live in this area it's very concerning to me."

Kristy Eanes, a member of the Pulaski County Planning Board, said the state needs to conduct an environmental impact study, saying that "avoidance is less costly than damage control."

"The development's sewage will always overflow onto other properties and it becomes an infringement on their property rights," Eanes said.

Some of the supporters of the development said they wanted the opportunity to purchase a home in the area at an affordable price. Members of Ferguson's family, including his wife and children, also spoke at the meeting in support of the development.

Jim Smith, a Roland resident, said he saw opposition as members of what he called a "not in my backyard movement."

"I find it curious as some of those claiming it would ruin our community haven't been here very long -- and that includes me," Smith said. "Yet it's OK for us to move to Roland, but it's not OK for others to move into smaller homes on smaller lots."

In March, the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment reopened the public comment period for the wastewater treatment plant and set a date for a public hearing.

Ferguson said he followed all the regulations when submitting plans for his development and wastewater treatment facility.

"These people make it out like I make up my own rules as I go," Ferguson said. "This is a long, arduous process -- it's very, very costly."

McAlister said he was unsure how long it would take for staff to come to a decision on the permit for the wastewater plant given the large number of comments they have to review.

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