Mayflower aldermen will be tasked later this month with voting whether to pay the engineers in charge of the city’s wastewater improvement project in order to make ADEQ-required repairs in a timely manner and avoid potential fines.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has agreed to once again waive fines (of at least $6,000) after the Mayflower City Council was unable to cast any votes toward paying the engineers with CWB Engineers, Inc. so that they could submit a corrective action plan to the ADEQ for review because the city did not have a quorum during it’s August meeting.
Though attendance was low during the Mayflower City Council’s July meeting, aldermen voted 3-1 in favor of raising sewer rates by 52 percent over a three-year period, with the first rate increase of 20 percent taking effect Sept. 1. Alderman Jennifer Massey voted against the proposal.
Aldermen Andrew Pelkey and Stacin Dawson were absent, and Mayor Randy Holland ultimately stepped in to also vote in favor of the sewer rate increase to keep the improvement project moving along as required by the ADEQ.
Officials expect the rate increase to pay off a $5 million bond debt for a new wastewater treatment facility over a 30-year period. The city is in need of a new wastewater treatment center after the historic 2019 Arkansas River Flood added more damages to the wastewater facility that was already in need of repairs.
Acting in accordance with he federal Clean Water Act and the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act, the ADEQ conducted a review of the certified discharge monitoring reports (DMR) on May 21, 2018, and found 12 – pH (1), fecal coliform bacteria (5) and ammonia nitrogen (6) – violations. These violations occurred between April 1, 2015, and April 30, 2018. Each of the 12 is considered a separate violation and could individually be subjected to fines up to $10,000, according to the ADEQ’s consent administrative order issued against the city of Mayflower.
Arkansas law “authorizes [ADEQ] to asses an administrative civil penalty not to exceed [$10,000] per violation for any violation of any provision of the [Arkansas Water and Pollution Control] Act and any rule or permit issued pursuant to the Act.”
The DMRs were reviewed again following the flood and showed that from May 1, 2018, through July 31, 2019, the city’s wastewater treatment facility had seven more discharge violations.
A review conducted on April 21, 2020, showed the city had its largest increase in violations yet:
- One carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand violation.
- One dissolved oxygen violation.
- One total suspended solids violation.
- Ten fecal coliform bacteria violations.
- Sixteen ammonia nitrogen violations.
The 29 listed violations were recorded between Aug. 1, 2019, and Feb. 29, 2020.
The ADEQ has since ordered the city to create a revised corrective action plan to address the increasing violations including a milestone schedule and a final compliance date of Dec. 31, 2023.
The city council was to vote on an engineering invoice for CWB during its regular meeting in August to keep the project moving along as scheduled. However, the mayor was forced to cancel the meeting because the council did not have a quorum and could not vote on financial decisions.
Aldermen Pelky, Dawson and Brian Williams were absent from the Aug. 25 meeting.
Alderman Will Elder stood up and apologized to those in the audience for “the lack of enthusiasm” on the city council’s side after Holland ended the meeting at 7:08 p.m. Aug. 25.
The Log Cabin Democrat reached out to aldermen Pelkey, Dawson and Williams regarding their absence to the Aug. 25 meeting. Williams apologized for missing the meeting, saying he was out that day due to an injury. Dawson did not return phone calls and the phone number listed for Pelkey is not a working number.
After reviewing attendance records dating back to January 2019, it appears absenteeism is not uncommon among Mayflower aldermen. In 2019, Dawson missed five meetings while Williams missed three, alderman Will Elder missed two and alderman Mark Hickman missed one. So far this year, Dawson has missed three meetings, Williams and Pelkey have missed two and Massey has missed one, according to the city council’s attendance records.
Barbara Mathes, the city council’s treasurer, confirmed aldermen are paid $75 per month for attending meetings. Aldermen still receive a $25 stipend if they are absent from a meeting, she said.
At this point, the mayor said he is not worried about the city’s standing with the ADEQ.
“I don’t think we’re in a real bad problem yet,” Holland said. “If the city council decided not to do anything … we could be in a real problem.”
As long as the council has a quorum and votes in favor of paying engineers and keeping the project moving during its September meeting, the city will not face any fines, Holland said.
The Mayflower City Council’s next meeting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Mayflower Community Center.