Dis­pute pro­posal gain­ing trac­tion

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - DAN HOLTMEYER

BEN­TONVILLE — The dis­pute over whether Lake Bella Vista should be re­stored to a free-flow­ing creek inched closer to a com­pro­mise Thurs­day, though dif­fer­ent sides said they still have un­re­solved dis­agree­ments and ques­tions.

A cou­ple dozen city of­fi­cials, ad­vo­cates and others gath­ered at the po­lice sta­tion for the lat­est in months of meet­ings about the lake,

which sits in a 130-acre park just off of In­ter­state 49 at the north­ern tip of Ben­tonville near Bella Vista.

No de­ci­sion came from the meet­ing, but sev­eral at­ten­dees said they could be open to a mid­dle road that, for in­stance, might re­move the lake’s dam and un­block Lit­tle Sugar Creek while re­tain­ing the ben­e­fit of a lake by ex­tend­ing a smaller, calmer pond from one side of the stream.

“I do hope it’s a pos­i­tive first step to get­ting us where we’ll end up some­day,” David Wright, Ben­tonville’s Parks and Recre­ation di­rec­tor, told the group, adding com­pro­mise could also take some other form. He plans to or­ga­nize an­other meet­ing next month to con­tinue the con­ver­sa­tion.

The oc­ca­sion­ally heated meet­ing also showed en­dur­ing dif­fer­ences. Sup­port­ers of the nat­u­ral creek op­tion have long said its ben­e­fits to the en­vi­ron­ment, recre­ation and the city bud­get are self-ev­i­dent, while op­po­nents point to the scenery and his­tory of the cen­tury-old lake, where many res­i­dents grew up fish­ing and ca­noe­ing.

City Coun­cil mem­ber Bill Bur­ckart of Ward 3, one of at least three mem­bers in at­ten­dance, said he would want to see a de­tailed time­line, cost es­ti­mate and pos­si­ble sources of money for the dam’s re­moval be­fore con­sid­er­ing whether to sup­port it.

“I have not been swayed at this point away from the dam,” he said.

Rain­wa­ter from 90 square miles of land con­verges on the crum­bling dam, said Travis Mat­lock, the city’s en­gi­neer­ing di­rec­tor. Flood­wa­ter has topped it at least five times since early 2008. The city that year be­gan plan­ning to re­place it with a con­crete-cov­ered earthen dam and cover most of the $3.5 mil­lion cost with fed­eral money.

City lead­ers are tak­ing a look at other op­tions af­ter the lapse of a par­tic­u­lar per­mit from the Army Corps of En­gi­neers and op­po­si­tion from the non­profit Friends of Lit­tle Sugar Creek and others. The non­profit group says a free-flow­ing creek would be cleaner and health­ier while sup­port­ing more fish­ing and other ac­tiv­i­ties.

Dam re­moval could cost some tens of thou­sands of dol­lars based on other states’ ex­pe­ri­ences, a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Ser­vice bi­ol­o­gist told the group ear­lier this week.

Dozens of ag­ing dams around the coun­try have been re­moved in re­cent years to re­store fish and other wildlife pop­u­la­tions and save the cost of main­tain­ing or re­plac­ing the struc­tures, ac­cord­ing to Na­tional Ge­o­graphic and other news out­lets.

“We feel like there is just tremen­dous value in Lit­tle Sugar Creek,” said Greg Van Horn with the Friends group. “This failed dam is an op­por­tu­nity for us to con­sider a less ex­pen­sive, more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly op­tion.”

Sev­eral mem­bers of the Friends group said they would sup­port a com­pro­mise, though Ken Leonard said hy­drol­o­gists and other ex­perts should be in­volved to avoid any stag­na­tion or al­gae prob­lems in the side lake.

The park around the lake was given to the city with the un­der­stand­ing the dam would be main­tained, how­ever, said Kent Burger, chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer with Cooper Com­mu­ni­ties.

Cooper, a real es­tate com­pany, gave the land to a non­profit group called the Ben­tonville/Bella Vista Trail­blaz­ers As­so­ci­a­tion in 2000 so the group would clean the area and create its trails. Trail­blaz­ers, in turn, deeded the land to Ben­tonville in 2006.

“This was pri­vate prop­erty that was gifted to the pub­lic for a rea­son,” said Burger, who was also part of Trail­blaz­ers.

Cooper and Trail­blaz­ers didn’t in­tend for the lake to dis­ap­pear or for the dam to be a bur­den for the city, he said, de­clin­ing to take a firm stance on the pro­posed com­pro­mise.

The oc­ca­sion­ally heated meet­ing also showed en­dur­ing dif­fer­ences. Sup­port­ers of the nat­u­ral creek op­tion have long said its ben­e­fits to the en­vi­ron­ment, recre­ation and the city bud­get are self-ev­i­dent, while op­po­nents point to the scenery and his­tory of the cen­tury-old lake, where many res­i­dents grew up fish­ing and ca­noe­ing.

He added Cooper’s will­ing to at least lis­ten to ideas better than a dam re­place­ment.

Tim Robin­son, a coun­cil mem­ber for Ward 2, said the com­pro­mise idea seemed promis­ing even while it could take years to carry out.

“It’s the clos­est we have to a win-win-win,” he said. “I think 10 years is a rel­a­tive blink of an eye com­pared to the fu­ture we could create there.”

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