Public Speaks Out About Waste Treatment Plant
By Joseph Askins
The NW Arkansas Morning News
BENTONVILLE -- A state decision to deny Centerton a wastewater treatment permit garnered praise and protest during a public hearing Thursday evening.
Representatives from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality held the hearing at Spring Hill Middle School in Bentonville to explain why they did not give Centerton permission to operate a proposed wastewater treatment facility and to receive public comment on the decision.
Centerton Mayor Ken Williams said "unprecedented growth" and the cost of pumping wastewater into Bentonville's sewer system have forced his town to consider new treatment options.
But some Benton County residents in attendance, such as Scott Libby, said Williams and other Centerton administrators were missing the point.
"Why are we worried about costs when it comes to our kids and our environment? It only takes one problem, folks, and they can't just dig it out," Libby said.
Libby thanked Martin Maner of the Department of Environmental Quality's Water Division for denying Centerton's permit. Maner said he based his denial primarily on Centerton's plan to discharge treated water into Spavinaw Creek.
Spavinaw Creek is a losing stream, or a stream distributing more than 30 percent of its water into an underground aquifer, Maner said. Arkansas' environmental regulations only allow facilities to discharge treated water into losing streams if all other disposal options are proven to be environmentally or economically unacceptable.
The creek flows into Lake Eucha, which provides drinking water for Tulsa, Okla. Jim Cameron, chairman of the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority, read a letter from Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune calling Maner's denial "the only correct decision from a public policy point of view."
A lawsuit Tulsa brought against Decatur and poultry companies in Benton County resulted in strict regulation of phosphorus levels in Spavinaw Creek, and Cameron said keeping treated water out of the creek was "the right decision for the greatest number of people" in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Maner's draft decision also said Centerton's application and a study conducted by Fayetteville-based McGoodwin Williams & Yates both indicated "continued treatment of Centerton wastewater by the city of Bentonville has the lowest cost per volume of wastewater."
Centerton City Attorney Howard Slinkard said Maner "unfairly" accepted the McGoodwin data into his decision. The study, Slinkard said, was not part of the city's application and was commissioned by opponents to the plant.
"It seems clear that the department made this decision based on information it shouldn't have had," Slinkard said.
Slinkard said the state "has placed a burden" on Centerton to explain every potential environmental problem posed by a treatment facility and argued the decision was "not fair and consistent with the department's own regulations."
Maner said he will issue his final decision on the permit after June 16.