Coun­cil ap­proves En­tergy ac­qui­si­tion or­di­nances

The Saline Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By Dana Guthrie [email protected]­ton­courier.com

Although ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Ben­ton Util­i­ties and En­tergy Arkansas, LLC are still on­go­ing re­gard­ing BU’S ac­qui­si­tion of En­tergy prop­erty near Exit 114, the Ben­ton City Coun­cil ap­proved two or­di­nances re­lat­ing to the mat­ter in­clud­ing a mea­sure that calls for a spe­cial elec­tion in March

2020 if a set­tle­ment be­tween the two com­pa­nies can­not be reached.

BU is in­ter­ested in ser­vic­ing an area lo­cated north of In­ter­state 30 (near Exit 114), but the area is cur­rently be­ing ser­viced by En­tergy.

In 2008, the Ben­ton City Coun­cil

an­nexed a large land par­cel near Exit 114.

Ac­cord­ing to Ben­ton Util­i­ties of­fi­cials, the Arkansas Public Ser­vice Com­mis­sion cre­ates maps that de­fine ser­vice ar­eas of non­mu­nic­i­pal elec­tric util­i­ties. The Exit 114 prop­erty was split be­tween En­tergy and First Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive.

John Bethel, direc­tor of public af­fairs for En­tergy, ad­dressed the coun­cil dur­ing Mon­day night’s coun­cil meet­ing ask­ing the coun­cil not to ap­prove the or­di­nances stat­ing that ap­proval could jeop­ar­dize the ne­go­ti­a­tions. He pre­vi­ously asked the al­der­men dur­ing the Novem­ber meet­ing to hold off on a vote un­til the De­cem­ber meet­ing, which the coun­cil agreed to do.

“At that time we were mak­ing progress to­ward reach­ing an agree­ment with the Ben­ton Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion on re­solv­ing the mat­ter of dis­pute be­tween the two of us,” Bethel said. “I think that we have an agree­ment in prin­ci­pal. We don’t have that agree­ment pro­duced to writ­ing and ready to pre­sent to you tonight.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ben­ton Util­i­ties, at the time of an­nex­a­tion, the prop­erty was un­der­de­vel­oped and there were no cus­tomers, distri­bu­tion prop­er­ties or fa­cil­i­ties to pur­chase. Ben­ton Util­i­ties con­tacted both com­pa­nies which, at that time, agreed that noth­ing ex­isted to be pur­chased and that Ben­ton Util­i­ties would serve the area.

Ben­ton Util­i­ties of­fi­cials claim now that the area is poised for sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment, En­tergy ar­gues that Ben­ton Util­i­ties has no right to serve the prop­erty.

Al­der­man Steve Lee and City At­tor­ney Brent Hous­ton both ques­tioned Bethel as to why En­tergy op­poses the or­di­nances due to the fact that they can be re­pealed if an agree­ment is reached.

“Ex­plain that if it passed tonight, how would that neg­a­tively af­fect the ne­go­ti­a­tion process be­tween the city and En­tergy,” Hous­ton said.

Bethel an­swered by say­ing that an ap­proval vote would start a “for­mal process.”

“Mak­ing prepa­ra­tions for an elec­tion de­clares the city is, by it’s own or­di­nances, in­tend­ing to act to take our prop­erty,” Bethel said. “Right now that hasn’t hap­pened, but when it does, cer­tainly we have to con­sider what ac­tions we may need to take to pro­tect and de­fend our rights just as you be­lieve you need to do that.”

If the or­di­nances were not ap­proved dur­ing last night’s meet­ing, the city would miss the re­quired dead­line set by state law when call­ing a spe­cial elec­tion.

Bethel also said that by not ap­prov­ing the or­di­nances, the ne­go­ti­a­tions could “con­tinue to be pos­i­tive.”

“We’re on a time frame, the city is,” said Al­der­man Bill Don­ner. “We have to have th­ese doc­u­ments done in order to get it on the bal­lot next year. But, if y’all agree, we can go up to the day be­fore the elec­tion and re­move it from the bal­lot.”

Ja­son Carter, the at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing Ben­ton Util­i­ties in the mat­ter, also ad­dressed the coun­cil.

“I want to echo the point that Mr. Bethel said that we do feel like we are at a point where we have an agree­ment in prin­ci­pal… we be­lieve we are ne­go­ti­at­ing to agree­able terms,” Carter said.

While a spe­cial elec­tion could be held in April, hold­ing it in March re­sults in lower costs for the city.

Public Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion Chair­man Elect Doug Stracener said that it is his per­sonal rec­om­men­da­tion that the or­di­nances be passed.

“I think it’s im­per­a­tive that this is passed,” Stracener said. “We can back out of (the elec­tion) any time up un­til that day… right now (En­tergy) has noth­ing that is push­ing them. If we pass this, they will come to the ta­ble more read­ily.”

BU gen­eral man­ager David Von­dran also stated that the elec­tion can be called off should the com­pa­nies reach a set­tle­ment, but by ap­prov­ing the or­di­nances BU would have a back-up plan in place for the pos­si­ble ac­qui­si­tion.

“As Ben­ton Util­i­ties and En­tergy walk out on a trapeze on a high wire as we ap­proach each other with this ne­go­ti­ated set­tle­ment, we can al­ways reach a set­tle­ment prior to the elec­tion,” Von­dran said. “But, it is nice know­ing that we have this net un­der­neath us. I do be­lieve that this net will en­cour­age En­tergy to con­tinue work­ing with us in good faith to­ward reach­ing that agree­ment.”

Von­dran also stated that he was hope­ful that an agree­ment would be ready to be pre­sented to the Ben­ton City Coun­cil’s Com­mu­nity Ser­vices Com­mit­tee at their next meet­ing which will be held on Jan­uary 16.

All al­der­men pre­sent for the meet­ing voted to ap­prove both or­di­nances. Al­der­man Steve Brown was ab­sent from the meet­ing.

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