A disturbing glance at what Little Rock’s water supply may become
Driving out Highway 10 toward Pinnacle Mountain conjures either visions of either money or suburban sprawl, depending on one’s views of development in West Little Rock.
Following the city’s annexation of Deltic Timber Corporation’s 4,700-acre Chenal Valley development (2,180 acres in January 1989, 615 acres in January 1991, 712 acres in July 1997 and 1,230 acres in November 1999), Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist John Brummett called the debate a culture war between those wanting Little Rock to grow for the sake of growth and those convinced that “westward expansion serves the elite and represents cultural, political and economic neglect of the troubled old city.”
Until recently, growth beat nay-sayers hands down as expansion has been viewed as inevitable due to money flowing into city coffers. In November 1999, city developers claimed that for a little more than $276,000 annually, the last Chenal Valley annexation would generate nearly $1.5 million annually.
The city Planning Commission voted 7-3 against that annexation because of impact analyses lacking details of future effects on everything from property tax revenue to public transportation problems. Abiding by Arkansas Code Annotated 14-56-412, the commission took seriously its duty to “make comprehensive studies of the present conditions and the probable future growth of the municipality and its neighboring territory.” Not that it mattered.
Right before Thanksgiving that year, the Little Rock Board of Directors voted 7-4 to approve the annexation, following a trend of disregarding the Planning Commission’s recommendations. A month before the vote, Mayor Jim Dailey commented to the Democrat-Gazette about the fourth Chenal Valley annexation in particular, though he could as easily have been talking about any Little Rock annexation.
“It’s going to take some sort of revelation from heaven to make me change my mind on (annexation),” Dailey said.
Apparently, God called.
Water rights …
Dailey recently took the forefront in a legislative fight against Deltic’s planned 225-house subdivision, The Ridges at Nowlin Creek, on 1,170 acres between Arkansas 10 and Lake Maumelle, which provides 60 percent of Central Arkansas’ drinking water. Deltic planned to sell lots for between $250,000 and $500,000, some within walking distance of Little Rock financier Warren Stephen’s 350-acre Alotian Golf Club that sits on 875 acres of land purchased from Deltic for $ 2.1 million in 2001.
Framed as a fight over Central Arkansas Water’s right to use eminent domain to condemn land to protect Lake Maumelle’s purity, Senate Bill 230 drew the ire of many central Arkansas governments, the Arkansas Municipal League, civic groups including the Sierra Club and CAW officials who claimed development would harm water quality in the 87,000-acre watershed and endanger the primary drinking water source for 360,000 customers in central Arkansas.
“I can’t think of anything more important than the quality of water we have,” North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays told the Democrat-Gazette in April 2004.
While SB230 sailed through the state Senate, it bottomed out in the House of Representatives’ City, County and Local Affairs Committee, which passed a “do not pass” provision that effectively stifles the possibility of the bill’s re-emergence during this legislative session.
On April 1, CAW exercised its imminent-domain authority to obtain 300 acres from developer Rick Ferguson, who had planned the Waterview Estates subdivision of 85 to 87 homes near Lake Maumelle’s northeastern shore. Although CAW has a go-ahead from the utility’s governing commission to buy Deltic’s land as well, the utility is waiting to deal with Central Arkansas’ largest land-owner, which owns 58,000 acres west of Little Rock, including about 25,000 acres of the 88,000-acre Lake Maumelle watershed.
Following CAW’s action, Deltic spokesman Craig Douglass told the Democrat-Gazette that the company will work with the Central Arkansas Water Commission to prepare a comprehensive watershed management plan. At least one Ferndale resident doesn’t think that’s such a good idea.
… forgotten in Ferndale?
Philip M. Baldwin knows these parts, having grown up in the Ferndale area as the great-grandson of Edward B. Blanks, the former Little Rock police judge who cut Confederate spy David O’Dodd out of a tree and buried O’Dodd in a family plot.
Baldwin’s grandfather bought the Garrison dairy farm when Philip was 5 years old. As a founder of Baldwin-Shell Construction Co., Philip W. Baldwin constructed the Pulaski County Courthouse, 50 hospitals in the state, buildings at Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas), Hendrix and Hall High School, as well as Hot Spring’s Arlington Hotel and Little Rock’s Frederica Hotel, which became the Sam Peck Hotel.
In 1956, Philip W. Baldwin also built the 10-acre Baldwin Lake, which according to Philip Baldwin is the first lake built in Arkansas under the guidelines, engineering and stocking of the state Game & Fish commission. Philip W. Baldwin then turned a cinder-block building into a glass house overlooking the lake, which was used for recreation and enjoyment by the Baldwins and some of their neighbors.
Philip Baldwin looks at Baldwin Lake now and wonders if he’ll ever get to fully enjoy it again. Originally between 25 and 30-feet-deep when built, he says the lake now only reaches 11 feet due to run-off from an adjacent subdivision engineered by White-Daters & Associates, which happens to be Deltic Timber’s engineering firm.
“This lake used to look like Lake Tahoe,” Baldwin says. “It was crystal-clear water that you would’ve loved to paddle around on or been lucky enough to fish on before it got fucked up.”
Baldwin explains that home-builder Wayne Moore asked White-Daters to develop Somersett Estates on more than 120 acres adjacent to Baldwin’s land and Baldwin Lake. White Daters began work in 1997 without a permit.
“They ran out into the woods with a bulldozer and pushed trees over for 45 days, until it started raining,” Baldwin tells a couple of visitors wanting to fish. “The lake filled up with mud and turned upside down.”
Tom Johnston and Josh Gosnell, both of Goodson Road, recall visiting the lake since childhood. Johnston’s brother Shawn has an 8-lb. bass hanging on his wall caught from Baldwin Lake.
“It’s the prettiest bass you’ve ever seen,” Johnston says.
Gosnell agrees, but notes times have changed.
“It used to be the best spot in the world,” Gosnell says. “Last time I was here, we didn’t catch a fish.”
Between the 600 root balls of trees that he counted and the mud that covered the bottom, Baldwin says the fish did not have a chance. The fish that survived have parasites, but most of the original fish population suffocated, he says.
“The water deoxygenates because the plant life cannot get sun and oxygen, so they die,” Baldwin tells his guests. “The fish would sink and the turtles would get them. The turtles took over. Every stump had 10-to-15 turtles on it. I brought in fish farmer’s experts. All they could get was turtles and catfish. Catfish don’t need as much oxygen. Other fish suffocate, sink to the bottom, and the turtles eat them. Then the beaver came in. I’ve killed 12 beavers about 40 pounds each.”
Baldwin promises a bounty for any beavers prior to leading his guests out to the dock.
According to a March 6, 1998 letter from Baldwin’s attorney to Moore, White-Daters and Harper Construction, construction of street, drainage and utility improvements at Somersett Estates began in January or February 1997 a) without having a Storm Water Permit from the Arkansas Department of Pollution Control and Ecology; b) without having first obtained, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, either a designation of wetlands and other Waters of the United States or a permit for discharge of drudge or fill materials into the Waters of the United States; and c) without having first developed and implemented a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan, all of which amounted to violations of state law and the federal Clean Water Act.
The letter states that, “After construction commenced, severe erosion of and stormwater runoff from disturbed areas in Somersett Estates caused the discharge of huge quantities of silt, sediments and other pollutants into wetlands located on the Baldwin properties … (which) seriously diminished the lake’s water quality, clarity, aesthetic beauty and fitness for fishing, swimming and other recreational uses.”
Baldwin says work continued for more than 50 days without the proper permits. He filed a complaint with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, which sent out engineers who noted a lack of a pollution prevention plan, erosion control and permits.
“Harper Construction got fined. All they did was the earth moving for White-Deters,” Baldwin says. “Whenever the heavy equipment bogged down because of rain – some up to the axle, oil and hydrolic fluids leaking into the lake – there was an oil slick on the lake.”
Baldwin says he believes the actions were intentional as he had spoken with Moore prior to construction, first offering to provide his 30 years of development planning experience at cost then later for free to ensure Somersett Estates would be developed without impairing Lake Baldwin. In the presence of witnesses, Baldwin says he told Moore about the results of a Corps of Engineers’ wetlands determination (file ID #13903) that included both Baldwin’s and Moore’s properties, and about the probable consequences of unrestrained construction in the area.
“All of what I told him would happen, happened but a lot worse,” he says. “They thought they were so far out in the woods that they’d get away with it and wouldn’t get caught.”
Baldwin called ADEQ, but says he did not receive adequate help, noting only one enforcement fine of $350 was issued from 1992-1998. For months the runoff continued unabated on rainy days and a day after, Baldwin says. He contacted the Environmental Protection Agency, but was told ADEQ was handling the case.
After the EPA stepped in on a similar problem with construction causing run-off into Piedmont Lake, Baldwin spent more than $1,500 on more than 20 aerial and satellite photographs from the Arkansas Highway Department and the U.S. Geological Survey. Infrared photographs from the USGS showed a clean lake prior to construction, then filled with silt after construction. Baldwin drove from Little Rock to the EPA Region 6 office in Dallas to file EPA case # AR-11, only to be told that although there was no place else that the silt could have come from, they did not see “any active inundation” and could not do anything about it.
Baldwin says although the EPA was not legally allowed to pursue the case, it recommended Baldwin sue the state agency under a writ of mandamus for not enforcing its laws. That case is still in pursuit in federal court, though Baldwin now plans to sue for criminal trespass in hopes of having the accused drain the lake, remove the 11 feet of mud, re-concrete the bottom and restock the fish.
Not the only case …
Baldwin notes that his is not the only active case against White-Daters. Maumelle Water Management sued Deltic Timber Corp., White-Daters & Associates, Harper Construction Co., Chenal Valley Municipal Property Owners Multi-purpose Improvement District No. 7 and the Little Rock Planning Commission over damage done to a water pipe and its easements.
Pulaski County Court 13th Division Case #IJ-00-1463 claims Deltic intentionally left a 16-inch, cast-iron raw water pipe and its easements off preliminary maps given to the city Planning Commission for Chalamont Place Subdivision south of Arkansas 10.
“The proper and required disclosure of the existence of the pipeline and pipeline easement on the preliminary plats would have prevented Deltic and White-Daters from obtaining the approval of the City of Little Rock Planning Commission of the preliminary plats as they were submitted,” the lawsuit states. A Little Rock subdivision and zoning ordinance states buildings cannot be constructed over or in an easement.
According to the lawsuit, Roy Sturgis executed an easement deed in favor of the United States in conjunction with the U.S. operation of Maumelle Ordnance Works during World War II. (Sturgis later sold Deltic 55,000 acres of rolling Pulaski County hill country, 7,000 of which became Chenal Valley).
“That pipeline had been there since World War II,” Baldwin says. “It was built to get water from Lake Winona to the armory in North Little Rock. In a few places it rises above ground.”
Attorney Stewart Hankins not only prepared a 1998 public notice stating the pipeline and easement had not been abandoned, but also wrote White-Daters to remind them of the pipeline and easement and to ask about Deltic’s interest in getting all or part of the line for its sewer project. The lawsuit states that Maumelle received no response.
“When easements are placed on map or surveys, they’re part of the document,” Baldwin says. “They stay there and don’t go away. It’s like a landmark. A 50-feet wide easement is not hard to find. They erased the pipeline from the drawings; that’s fraud.”
Baldwin claims it gets worse because White-Daters’ errors and omission insurance paid for damages to the pipeline.
“White-Daters would have had to defraud its own insurance company rather than admit that it deliberately deceived anybody,” he says. “But they’re caught red-handed because they received two documented letters noting the pipeline is there. White-Daters defrauded the city of Little Rock, defrauded their insurance company, and now they’re going to try to develop Lake Maumelle?”
Connecting the dots …
Baldwin brought up case #IJ-00-1463 during the March 22 Pulaski County Quorum Court meeting, but says none of the 12 members on the commission knew of the lawsuit. A Deltic Timber attorney followed Baldwin, but refused to comment on the case.
“He didn’t say a single word,” Baldwin says in amazement.
Baldwin says he believes any Deltic Timber development around Lake Maumelle will result in the same thing that happened to Baldwin Lake, especially since Deltic’s engineers (White-Daters) are involved.
“You can’t possibly disturb land around a lake without disturbing the surrounding ecosystem,” Baldwin says. “It’s a physical impossibility. You can’t disturb the land and claim it won’t affect anything.”
According to the Democrat-Gazette, Deltic’s consultant Munsell McPhillips, a scientist with Florida-based Intuition and Logic, told the House City, County and Local Affairs Committee that her firm created a plan, which includes several storm-water runoff controls and strict covenants – including a ban on fertilizers and pesticides – for homeowners. Another consultant, Andrew Earles of Colorado-based Wright Water Engineers, told committee members that not only could the outlined storm-water management plans could keep Lake Maumelle’s water clean, but CAW’s quarter-mile buffer surrounding the lake is “unprecedented” nationwide, as many utilities only own buffers of about 300 feet around drinking-water sources.
However, the Democrat-Gazette noted a state Health Department report written at Deltic’s request but released by CAW calls Deltic’s plan “fundamentally flawed.”
“The entire approach does not take into account the cumulative impact of even minimal changes in runoff water quality, which when occurring over the entire watershed from additional projects, can have a significant impact on the overall water quality of the lake,” the report said.
Count Baldwin among those who believe “the genie can’t be put back in the bottle” if development is allowed around Lake Maumelle. He points to Baldwin Lake as proof.
“Now it’s not a lake; it’s a marsh,” he says. “There’s never been a lily-pad in that lake for 50 years. Now they surround the lake 20-to-30 feet from the shore. We sounded it with a fish finder and came up with 9 to 11 feet. I didn’t believe it. We went back and got a string, rod and weight and found it was no deeper than 11 feet … There’s no place else the watershed can come from. It’s not like a helicopter came in and dumped it.”
And so Philip Baldwin continues the fight to clean up his lake, and to keep the same thing from happening to Lake Maumelle. He keeps his father’s ashes in the glass house overlooking Baldwin Lake for a day he hopes will come soon.
“I promised dad I’d put his ashes into the lake once it’s cleaned up.”
Author’s note: A Lexis-Nexis database search of the key words “Deltic Timber” in U.S. News found in Southeast Regional newspapers yielded 242 articles between 1996 and April 2, 2005. These articles primarily appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and were used for background information in this article, combined with interviews with Philip M. Baldwin.
This article originally appeared in the April 1-31, 2005 issue of the Little Rock Free Press.
Word Count: 2,850 words