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[Archived] Legal Doubt Halts Osage District

| LAWSUITS | April 21, 2017


Attorney To Research Legitimacy Of Nonresident Officials
By Richard Dean Prudenti


The Morning News


The Osage Basin Wastewater District is again at a standstill as board members question representation for Highfill and Cave Springs.


Officials are not sure whether board members Roy Beeler of Highfill and Bonnie Seals of Cave Springs can serve on the board because they do not live in the cities they represent.


Erring on the side of caution, Beeler canceled a Monday meeting in which officials were scheduled to consider transferring a permit to discharge 500,000 gallons a day of wastewater into Osage Creek to the Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority.


Beeler, chairman of the Osage Basin Wastewater District and a Gentry resident, works for Highfill as the city water superintendent.


"I felt that it would be prudent to postpone ... (the) meeting until this question can be fully researched by our legal counsel," Beeler noted in a news release Monday.


"As a board member, yes, I want to be a part of any decision that's made," Beeler said Tuesday.


A lawsuit earlier this year halted operations as officials tried to settle the lawful number of board members serving the Osage district.


Tontitown sued the district to settle matters before joining Highfill and Cave Springs in spending state money for the project.


Beeler said he did not want to risk another lawsuit if he or Seals could not serve on the board.


"These lawsuits, and the threat of future lawsuits, are not only very costly, but also result in unfortunate and ill-timed delays in progress toward the goal of a regional wastewater facility for all of Northwest Arkansas," Beeler said.


This delay is unnecessary because the remaining seven Osage district board members could have met Monday to approve the merger without legal ramifications, according to Mick Wagner, Tontitown representative.


"All Roy had to do is recuse himself from voting -- if he had the best interest of Osage at heart," Wagner said Tuesday. "My goal is to get this permit transferred as quickly as possible."


Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority is scheduled to begin construction of a wastewater treatment plant in 2007 and begin operation in mid-2008.


The Conservation Authority does not have its own wastewater discharge permit and would welcome the Osage permit to jump-start the larger regional treatment facility.


Wagner said he believes a previous legal opinion by attorney James Crouch of Cypert, Crouch, Clark and Harwell of Springdale is sufficient reason to bar nonresident board members.


A letter Crouch wrote to Tontitown shortly after the Osage district formed in 2000 stated, "State law does not really comment on (the residency issue), but I think it is presupposed that (directors) live in the corporate limits of the city which appoints them."


The district bylaws also do not address whether board members must live in the cities they represent.


Despite Crouch's opinion, Jeff Reynerson, who represents the Osage district from the same law firm, plans to research the issue before giving an opinion.


"This board has been through litigation once. The same issues are being raised now. Before I give an opinion, I need more time to research," Reynerson said, recognizing that he and Crouch might have a difference of opinion on the law.