Cities Sus­pend Val­ley View Build­ing Per­mits

SEWER PER­MIT EX­PIRED IN JAN­UARY

Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn Kut­ter

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.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

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.

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