Arkansas Online

Further checks needed

Commission orders more study for wastewater plant plan.


A state commission on Friday remanded a permit that had been issued for a wastewater treatment plant at a proposed 76-home subdivision near Pinnacle Mountain, agreeing with an administrative law judge that more study was needed on the potential impact on a public drinking water well.

The Pollution Control and Ecology Commission’s decision came in response to an appeal of the permit issued by the state Department of Energy and Environment’s Division of Environmental Quality in June 2023 for the Paradise Valley subdivision in Roland in western Pulaski County.

On March 29, Administrative Law Judge Charles Moulton recommended the permit be partially remanded back to the Environmental Quality Division for further study on the potential for the treatment plant to contaminate a Maumelle Water Corp. well that serves about 1,200 households.

The commission on Friday adopted Moulton’s recommendation along with particulars outlined by Vice Chairman Doug Melton on the types of analysis that

should be conducted.

“I would like to specifically ask for this [permit] to be remanded and request a site specific hydrogeologic study addressing the probability of aquifer contamination,” as well as additional analysis, Melton said before the vote.

He also responded to a statement by Mark Allison, an attorney for developer Rick Ferguson, that “if there are issues that come out down the road with possible impacts on the well, those can be addressed.”

“If we’re presented with something later on down the road, damage is going to be done,” Melton said.

“And I have all sorts of reservations about what your client is proposing here,” he added. “If there are concerns, wouldn’t the permitting sequence be the proper time to address these rather than wait till we have an issue that we have to deal with?”

Moulton said an additional hearing would be held on the permit once the analyses have been conducted.

Ferguson said he and his team would “just stay the course,” following the commission’s decision.

“We’ll be respectful of the commissioners and of course of Judge Moulton and do what they tell us to do,” he said after the vote.

During the hearing, Richard Mays, an attorney for Maumelle Water Corp., said the Environmental Quality Division had found that the treatment plant was downgradient from the well, assuring that the discharge would pose no risk, but an expert hired by the utility found the opposite.

The expert, John Czarnecki, an assistant professor of hydrogeology at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, testified at a November evidentiary hearing that the proposed discharge point for the treatment plant is upgradient from the well and that the sewage from the plant would eventually make its way to the alluvial aquifer.

Basil Hicks, an attorney for the Environmental Quality Division, asked the commission to approve the permit in full, noting that the discharge would have to meet water quality standards.

“The effluent limits that are protective of Arkansas water quality standards are protective of the applicable designated uses, including the use of drinking water. The fact that it then filters down into the ground to get to the aquifer doesn’t change that when it’s at the surface, the discharge is protective of the drinking water.”

The permit had been appealed by the water utility as well as the Pinnacle Mountain Community Coalition, a nonprofit group of property owners in west and northwestern Pulaski County.

“We are very pleased that the APC&E Commission has asked the ADEQ to review these issues thoroughly,” the coalition said over email Friday.

The commission’s decision was the latest setback for the development, which is the subject of two lawsuits by the Pinnacle Mountain Community Coalition.

In one suit, filed in September 2022, 18 property owners in the area along with the coalition argue that the construction has caused uncontrolled stormwater runoff to flood many of their properties and that the treatment plant in a Mill Bayou tributary could lead to degradation of water tributaries and water contamination.

In September 2023, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright dismissed and transferred the case to County Court — where County Judge Barry Hyde, the county’s chief executive, is the judge — saying matters relating to, “county roads, internal improvements, and local concerns,” are under the County Court’s jurisdiction.

The plaintiffs have appealed Wright’s order to the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

In the most recent suit, filed last month, the coalition is appealing the county Planning Board’s decision to take no action in response to complaints by the coalition that the preliminary plat for the development violated subdivision codes and that its Dec. 21, 2021, certification by the Planning Board director had expired.

Also, on Jan. 18, Ferguson received a notice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating that it had “received reports that ground disturbing activities within the Paradise Valley Subdivision … had resumed without a Department of the Army permit,” a violation of the Clean Water Act.

The Corps ordered Ferguson to “cease and desist from further work below the plane of the ordinary high water mark within Waters of the United States associated with the proposed Paradise Valley Subdivision.”

Ferguson said earlier this month he had asked for a meeting with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the matter.

Front Page