Cities Suspend Valley View Building Permits
SEWER PERMIT EXPIRED IN JANUARY
FARMINGTON — Farmington and Prairie Grove are not issuing building permits for new houses in Valley View Estates because the state permit for the sewer system that serves the area has expired, according to officials from both cities.
Rick Bramall, Farmington’s building official, said the city decided Feb. 1 not to issue building permits based on a directive from city attorney Steve Tennant. Since then, Bramall has received one request for a building permit from Rausch Coleman and turned it down.
“They have an unapproved sewer system,” Bramall said. “We cannot give one knowing that they don’t have a permit. The plumbing code says you have to have an operational sewer system.”
Farmington has about 25 potential building lots in Valley View, Bramall said.
Larry Oelrich, director of administrative services and public works for Prairie Grove, said there are only two or three lots available for houses in Valley View within Prairie Grove’s city limits. These are located in Highland Green subdivision.
Oelrich said Prairie Grove will not issue building permits for any of these lots because the sewer system is an “unpermitted utility.”
Washington County Property Owners Improvement District No. 5 owns and operates the wastewater treatment system for Valley View Estates and adjacent subdivisions. Joe Stewart is chairman of the district’s commission. Other commissioners are his wife, Jennifer Stewart, and his fatherin-law, John Lipsmeyer.
The Improvement District’s discharge permit expired Jan. 31, according to an email from Katherine Benenati with Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. She wrote that the district submitted a renewal application on Aug. 3, 2015. ADEQ responded to the district with a deficiency letter, requesting the district reply to these deficiencies by Oct. 15, 2015.
Benenati said the district failed to respond to numerous requests for additional information. On Nov. 20, 2015, the permit renewal application was placed in the inactive category.
“It is not necessarily ‘normal’ for this to occur,” Benenati wrote. “A facility will normally continue to operate under their old permit while the renewal is being processed. We are currently pursuing this specific permitting matter with the Washington County POID #5 in Circuit Court.”
Two lawsuits are pending against the Improvement District, one filed by ADEQ in August 2015, and another one filed last week by Washington County, cities of Farmington and Prairie Grove, Rausch Coleman LLC and Valley View Estates Subdivision Property Owners Association. The county lawsuit also lists Valley View Golf LLC and the three commissioners as defendants.
The publ ic on l ine file between ADEQ and Improvement District No. 5 goes back to March 21, 2007, when the agency investigated a complaint about a raw sewage overflow at Valley View Golf Course. The inspection report notes there was evidence of a sanitary sewer overflow in a drainage ditch and road ditch off County Road 264, but it was not overflowing at the time of the inspection.
The report states that Joe Stewart informed ADEQ the overflow had been cleaned up and line had been spread on the area.
Since that time, ADEQ has received multiple complaints about the sewer system and conducted numerous inspections. During spring 2015, for example, ADEQ inspectors found sewage overflow occurring for about 10 days from the system’s aerator pond near its lift station.
ADEQ filed a complaint Aug. 14, 2015, in Washington County Circuit Court seeking $420,000 in civil penalties against the Improvement District and asking the court to compel the district to comply with ongoing issues identified by the state agency.
Issues identified by ADEQ in the lawsuit include that Stewart has not provided information as required by the agency, has not notified ADEQ within 24 hours, as required, of sewer overflows, and that the district has not submitted annual reports as required for years 20102014.
The lawsuit is currently in the discovery stage, according to Benenati, with a trial date of Sept. 26-27. In a response to the lawsuit, the Improvement District denied allegations made in the ADEQ complaint. The district is represented by attorney Audra Bailey of Farmington.
Doug Szenher with ADEQ said the agency could not comment further because the matter is in litigation.
“We are actively responding to any complaints we receive and are also conducting inspections on our own initiative,” Szenher wrote in an email last week.
Despite repeated calls, Joe Stewart could not be reached for comment last week. Bailey on Thursday said she could not comment on pending litigation.
The latest violations noted in ADEQ online information come from inspections on Feb. 1 and Feb. 3.
A complaint from an anonymous person stated sewage was observed on the ground and in a creek near a manhole on Giles Road.
Matt Holden, an ADEQ inspector, reported Feb. 1 that he observed waste on the ground around the manhole and near an adjacent creek. He did not see evidence of wastewater overflowing at the time of the investigation but noted there was evidence of an overflow from the manhole and running off into a nearby creek.
“Waste was observed along a path leading from the manhole to the creek,” Holden wrote.
The complaint on Feb. 3 was made by Oelrich, who reported he had been contacted by a Prairie Grove City Council member about an overflow at the holding pond on the Valley View golf course near the club house.
Holden investigated the complaint. His inspection report shows water was overflowing from the south side of the west holding pond. The flow, which was minimal, was moving into a drain.
The grass in the overflow was dark brown and black and solid waste was observed in the area of the overflow, according to the online inspection report. Holden also noted that he observed solid waste and four dead fish in the west holding pond.
The suit filed by Washington County and others asks the court for a temporary restraining order against the Improvement District, temporary and permanent injunctions and the immediate appointment of a receiver to take over the system. It also asks that the commissioner offices be declared vacant and that the contract for the district to operate a sewer treatment system to be declared null and void.
ADEQ inspectors found four dead fish in the west holding pond on Valley View golf course near the club house. This photo is from the public online file with ADEQ for Washington County Property Owners Improvement District #5.