Conservation Easement Could Earn $500,000 for Planning Commissioner

LITTLE ROCK, AR – A land deal brewing between Central Arkansas Water and a Pulaski County property owner could cost CAW customers half a million dollars.

That property owner sits on the Pulaski County Planning Commission.

As the Pulaski County Quorum Court works out the Lake Maumelle Watershed land use plan to protect our drinking water, a county planning commissioner has been working out a deal of his own. It is a conservation easement, which is a deal allowing him to give up certain property rights to CAW while potentially earning thousands of dollars.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea, I mean, he’s gonna end up with the property any ways. Why are we paying it if we don’t need to,” says Jerry Bratton who is a CAW customer.

CAW tells FOX16 it has never entered into a watershed conservation easement before. If approved, this will be the first.

“We think that the use of a conservation easement anywhere in the watershed is a cost effective and appropriate tool to use as we protect that water quality for forever for the people living here as well as generations to come,” says CAW Watershed Protection Manager John Tynan.

Documents obtained by FOX16 show the 335 acre land deal has been in the works for several years.

“Mr. Vogelpohl was engaged in the development of the watershed protection plan in which conservation easements were discussed by a number of individuals as a viable tool for watershed protection in a cost effective manner. It is my understanding, I was not here at the time, he approached us with some questions about, you know, how this process works. What opportunities there are for protecting his property, but still being able to use and enjoy his property, as well,” explained Tynan.

In its 2013 budget, CAW allocated $500,000 for the easement with Pulaski County Planning Commissioner Ray Vogelpohl.

So, where does the money come from? You, the customer.

But Tynan tells FOX16 this has nothing to do with the current rate increase proposal.

“There is no increase in that watershed protection fee in the recent proposed rate changes. That’s staying at 45 cents per bill per customer,” he says.

CAW is interested in talking with more landowners about conservation easements even after the county land use plan is in place. That plan is expected to be passed by the full quorum court later this month.

Nothing is set in stone. CAW’s board has to approve any budget request of more than $50,000.

Vogelpohl responded to interview requests with an emailed statement. “Since this is a purchase by CAW, and they are responsible to their rate payers on how the money is spent, it would be best for the information concerning this proposal be obtained from CAW.”

If you have questions for Central Arkansas Water about conservation easements, the CAW board meets next Thursday at 2 p.m. The meeting is open to the public.

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