Ark. Regulators Want to Hear From Public on River Pipeline

May 2, 2006

The prospect of pouring wastewater into the Ouachita River upstream from the Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas isn’t one that pleases those concerned with maintaining the quality of the wildlife habitat in the refuge.

Years in the preliminary stages, a proposed 23-mile pipeline to carry wastewater from the city of El Dorado and three companies to the Ouachita River gets another airing this month as part of its permit application.

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality will host a public hearing May 18 on the proposal and the restrictions on chemicals and metals that can be discharged into the river.

The route of the pipeline hasn’t been fixed yet but the general plan is to route treated wastewater containing ammonia, trace metals, phosphorus, and other chemicals east to the river, which bisects the Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge.

Involving the river and the refuge has many people worried.

“It’s almost as if you’re taking this pipe and dumping it right in the refuge,” says refuge manager Jim Johnson.

Johnson says Felsenthal is the first significant wetland downstream from the proposed pipeline and the refuge would act as a filter for the river water. Johnson says more data is needed on how the project would affect the water quality of the river and Lake Jack Lee in the 65,000-acre wildlife refuge.

Jason Olive, a fisheries biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission at Camden, says the agency also wants more information on phosphates and nutrient levels in the river and refuge waters.

“We’re really concerned about Felsenthal,” he says.

If built, the pipeline would carry up to 20 million gallons of wastewater a day from the city of El Dorado, El Dorado Chemical Company, Lion Oil Company’s El Dorado refinery, and Chemtura, formerly Great Lakes Chemical Corp. The city would own the pipeline, expected to cost about $18 million to build.

Jack Reynolds, chairman of the El Dorado Water and Sewer Commission, says the city’s two wastewater treatment plants were built in 1977 and water quality standards since then have gotten stricter. The city and the companies are hoping to reach state and federal standards by using the Ouachita and abandoning the smaller tributary streams they now use.

“We’ve known for quite some time we’d have to make modifications to the plant,” Reynolds says. “We’ve had people tell us we need to abandon both plants and start over.”

The pipeline was first proposed in the late 1990s. City voters passed two rate increases that took effect in 2004 – a 20 percent jump to pay for the pipeline or other rehabilitation projects and a 5 percent increase to replace old sewer lines.

In 2004, the ADEQ, the federal Environmental Protection Agency, El Dorado and the three companies began negotiations to ensure that discharge limits would be safe.

“The bottom line is we feel like we have a set of (proposed) permits that will protect water quality in the Ouachita,” Martin Maner, the water division chief at ADEQ, says.

State officials say there are ample safeguards to protect the environment. And El Dorado leaders say the pipeline makes sense because it would be about $1 million cheaper than replacing outdated treatment plants. In addition, it would mean that all four entities wouldn’t have to build separate pipelines.

Reynolds says rebuilding the existing plant would likely drive rates up again and the city would need to consider what that would do to Pilgrims Pride, the utility’s largest commercial customer.

Under the pipeline plan, Lion Oil and Chemtura, which makes plastic additives, would each pay 15 percent of the pipeline’s cost or about $5 million combined. El Dorado Chemical, which makes fertilizer, would pay about $2 million. The city of El Dorado would pay $9 million to $11 million.

Kent Stegall of Save Our Ouachita says the group of about 170 members opposes the project.

“This is not the right way to fix this problem,” Stegall says. “They’re going to ruin the river if they do this.”

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette,

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