Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

NW conservati­on authority OKs panel to weigh hiring, staff issues


BENTONVILL­E — The Northwest Arkansas Conservati­on Authority started a search Thursday to determine whether to hire a new executive director, a consultant, a lobbyist or make other staff changes, the authority’s board announced Thursday.

Chairman George Spence of Bentonvill­e announced plans to name a three-member committee from the board to explore which, if any, of those options to pursue. He took the action only after giving board members a chance to object. None did, and those who spoke up supported the idea, although no vote was taken. Spence didn’t name the committee at Thursday’s meeting held at Northwest Arkansas Conservati­on Authority headquarte­rs.

The authority runs a regional wastewater treatment plant, completed in 2010. An executive director was needed to get the plant built, to finalize plans and seek money for the project, Spence said. The director was left with little to do after the plant began operation though, according to Spence. Whatever finance, legal or planning duties were needed were done by whoever the board chairman was, he told the group.

Now the authority plans to double the plant’s capacity under an expansion project and replace a pipeline in a combined cost of $55 million, using a state loan that received final approval last month. The authority also has an ongoing legal dispute with a contractor and has other matters that could justify an executive director, at least part time, the board said in discussion.

Another alternativ­e is to hire additional staffing to keep the plant running smoothly so plant manager Mike Neil could devote time to other challenges, board members said.

The authority needs more planning for its future, insisted Bentonvill­e Mayor Stephanie Orman. Orman isn’t a member of the board but asked to speak to the body last month and at Thursday’s meeting. Bentonvill­e ratepayers use most of the plant’s capacity and pay most of its costs.

Orman told the board that she would like Rogers and Springdale to give tentative dates for when they would link to the system. She also said authority member cities, including ones not tied on to the wastewater system yet, should share in the costs of an executive director.

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