By BECKY HARRIS

LOG CABIN STAFF WRITER

In the end it was not the habitat of an almost-endangered alligator gar that provoked dissent.

No, it was the habitat of the hard-working, earth-loving folk who enjoy the smell of sweet country air that became the concern of the Conway Planning Commission on Tuesday night.

After hearing residents of Lollie Bottoms voice their objections to a wastewater treatment plant operating near their backyards, commissioners tabled an application from Conway Corp. for rezoning. The rezoning is necessary before the project can proceed.

In the city’s plan, the property is designated for future "light industrial" use. It is now zoned A-1, agriculture.

Karen Cooper, who said she is a third-generation resident on Lollie Road, expressed concerns about her well water, the odors from the Tucker Creek treatment facility and the bright lights from Centennial Soccer Park.

"How many of you would like to have an airport, a soccer park and a treatment plant by your house?" she asked.

UCA Professor Mark Spitzer, author of a book about the alligator gar, said he "wants a sewer plant that is green and works well to serve the needs of the people," but he said "we will be fools to let Conway Corp. build this on faith they will do the right thing." 

"I urge more study, more accountability. If the city decides to bypass this ... our natural heritage is at stake and so is our future," he said. 

Judy McConnell, a pharmacist and former volunteer fireman, said "Praise the Lord we live in a country where people have a choice. We choose to live in the country... . It breaks my heart that this could be shoved down our throats."

However, James Roberts of Lollie Road said "Since we got annexed, my electric bill is half, my insurance has gone from 9 to 2, and I get a lot more insurance at half price. They’ve got to put (the treatment plant) someplace. I don’t know why people don’t want to better themselves."

Kirby Rowland of Garvin Engineers, contractors for the proposed plant, gave assurances that the proposed state-of-the-art facility would defeat and neutralize the odor-causing effluent; earth berms built and landscaped around the treatment plant would hide it from passers-by; and the swift-moving, high-volume Arkansas River would be ideal for carrying off the treated water.

He said the plant’s design has been used successfully in other communities, notably in Fayetteville and for three new plants in Pulaski County, one in west Little Rock.

Commissioner Kim Gardner said she would like to visit the Little Rock plant "to make an informed decision." Commissioner Chris Steplock said he’d like to talk to the residents who live near that West Little Rock plant.

Conway Corp. CEO Richie Arnold said the public hearing became "The NIMBY thing: Not In My Backyard." He said he and Conway Corp. staff will consider all the comments made and respond to each.

The commission’s conditional use committee will have a special meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at City Hall to study the proposal. The Planning Commission will reconsider the application at its next meeting, set for Feb. 23 in the Russell L. "Jack" Roberts District Courtroom.