Landowners Confront CAW Board about Potential Land Deal

Thursday afternoon, a group of landowners from the Lake Maumelle watershed wanted to know why Central Arkansas Water is in negotiations to potentially pay a Pulaski County planning commissioner hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Three property owners confronted the water agency’s board of directors asking why the only land deal on the table right now is with a county planning commissioner who could end up getting half a million dollars out of this deal.

“In my opinion, it’s obvious that commissioner Vogelpohl is receiving payment for services rendered,” says Barbara Penney who owns land in the watershed.

“Why are you buying with half a million dollars land that’s not going to be able to be developed in the first place? I think that is a waste of the rate payers’ money,” added property owner Lori White.

Thursday, landowners who live in the Lake Maumelle watershed reacted to a story they saw first on FOX16 after property owner Lori White uncovered documents revealing Central Arkansas Water is in talks to buy Vogelpohl’s land. It’s called a conservation easement.

The deal could cost rate payers hundreds of thousands of dollars without raising rates because the money would come from a fee customers already pay.

Vogelpohl would still live on his land, but CAW would own and protect it.

“This conservation easement, I think, is an under the table deal kind of thing. I don’t believe that the zoning ordinance will supersede the conservation easement because the conservation easement is excluded in the zoning ordinance,” explained White.

White is talking about the proposed Lake Maumelle watershed zoning ordinance which she thinks would restrict property owners’ rights. She feels Vogelpohl would get a sweetheart deal, allowing him to do more on his land than everyone else.

CAW says that’s not true.

“The landowners today brought up some great points and some great things that we may want to consider when we’re looking at how to revise the terms of that easement,” said John Tynan with CAW.

CAW also told us anyone can enter into a conservation easement , although angry landowners say no one ever told them.

“Would you be interested in doing a conservation easement?” asked FOX16’s Kelly Dudzik.

“Oh, heck yeah! In a heartbeat. I mean, I live on Bringle Creek. It is my backyard. It goes into Lake Maumelle. Of course, I’d be interested in it. No one ever contacted me in the 18 months I’ve been working on this,” says White.

Vogelpohl has turned down FOX16’s requests for interviews, and instead he directed our questions to CAW.

The Lake Maumelle watershed zoning ordinance is meant to protect our drinking water. The final vote is supposed to happen in twelve days, but of course, as we’ve seen in the past, that could all change.

Some property owners have said the ordinance restricts their rights.

CAW budgeted $500,000 this year for conservation easements, and so far, Commissioner Vogelpohl is the only person negotiating one. He started the process five years ago.

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