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[Archived] Osage Basin Wastewater District Moves Forward

| Environment | January 03, 2015

Judge Rules For Equal Representation

Osage Basin Wastewater District Moves Forward
By Richard Dean Prudenti
The NW Arkansas Morning News

FAYETTEVILLE -- The Osage Basin Wastewater District is free to do business without wondering how many directors should serve on the regional sewer board.

Washington County Circuit Court Judge Kim Smith lifted a temporary injunction Wednesday preventing the board from meeting.

Smith ruled that participating municipalities must have equal representation on the board, despite a section of state law requiring nine board members proportional to the populations of participating cities.

Tontitown, a member of the regional wastewater district, sued to settle an apparent contradiction between state law and a court order establishing 12 members in January 2000.

Smith noted that, when he issued the order, he had in mind three representatives for each of the participating cities -- Tontitown, Highfill, Cave Springs and Elm Springs.

Elm Springs dropped out by court order in 2002, leaving the district with nine board members.

Cave Springs planned to drop out of the district but never officially withdrew, although the city didn't attend meetings for several months.

In what appears to be a change of direction, Cave Springs officials, according to Justin Eichmann, city attorney, would like to remain a part of the district and benefit from a future regional wastewater treatment facility.
"Obviously, it's inconsistent ... It's obvious the court had read the law," Smith said, noting he had to decide between various contradictions in the law.

"This court chose three members each because that's what the participating entities (originally) wanted," Smith said, noting that requiring equal votes is also in the best interest of those living in the district.

Smith's earlier judgment has the force of law because no one appealed the decision within the required 30-day waiting period after the ruling, said Tom Kieklak, an attorney representing Highfill.

Jeff Reynerson, attorney for Osage Basin Wastewater District, was not surprised by Wednesday's ruling. He said his opinion all along was that the court ordered the cities to be on an equal footing.

Tontitown officials wanted the majority vote on a nine-member board based on a section of state law and because the city is responsible for a majority of the district's debt.

"The district should govern itself. It's up to the district to work out the appropriate share of liability," Smith said.

Whether Tontitown appeals Smith's ruling is not certain. The matter will be brought to the Tontitown City Council for a decision, noted Steve Gunderson, the city attorney.

"The City Council will have to decide whether to stay in (as a member of the district) or not," said Mick Wagner, chairman of the Tontitown Sewer Committee and a representative on the Osage Basin Wastewater District board.

Karen Digby, a Highfill district board representative, is pleased by the ruling because she said it means the Osage Basin Wastewater District can move forward with plans to build a sewer treatment facility.

"This is good for the area," she said.