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BENTONVILLE -- A recommended solution for what to do with the Lake Bella Vista dam was not presented Tuesday to the Bentonville City Council.

"There's just a lot of moving parts to this project," David Wright, parks and recreation department director, said Friday. "When I say moving parts, maybe it's different opinions on where we're at."

How we got here

• 2000: Cooper Realty Investment transfers Lake Bella Vista to Bella Vista/Bentonville Trailblazers Association (now known as NWA Trailblazers) at zero cost so the organization would develop a trail around the lake and maintain the property as a park.

• 2005: Trailblazers transfer Lake Bella Vista to Bentonville.

• 2008: The Association of State Dam Safety Officials declared the dam “failed” after it was topped during a storm. The association cited “hydrologic deficiencies (and) faulty materials” as the cause.

• September 2015: The Federal Emergency Management Agency commits $2.7 million to help replace the dam.

• December 2015: City Council approves 7-1 a $478,800 contract for CP&Y to design the new dam. John Skaggs was the only council member who opposed the contract.

• March 2017: The Army Corps of Engineers permit for a new dam expires. The issue of what to do with the lake and surrounding 135 acres was also transferred from the Engineering Department to the Parks and Recreation Department.

• October 2017: Walton Family Foundation gives the city $98,960 for Ecological Design Group and the Watershed Conservation Resource Center develop three solutions for Lake Bella Vista.

• May 2018: A task forces created to vet options votes to recommend a hybrid model where a stream flows past a man-made channel lake.

• June 2018: Parks Advisory Board upholds the task force’s recommendation.

• September 2018: Plans to present the recommendation and the other two options to City Council are postponed.

Source: Staff report

How to fix the failed dam has been a point of contention among city officials, previous land owners and environmental advocates for at least a decade.

The city announced Aug. 8 officials would present three options, including one recommended by a task force and the Parks Advisory Board, to the council at Tuesday's meeting.

"We thought we were closer to the solution than what we were," Wright said Friday. He's uncertain when the item may be brought to the council but the public will be notified, he said.

Friends of Little Sugar Creek, a nonprofit organization, has and continues to back removing the dam and restoring the stream. City plans adopted in 2015 to rebuild the dam crumbled after the permit expired. A clause in conveyance agreements between current and previous land owners leaves lingering legal questions.

A task force was created to evaluate three options for the lake and surrounding 135-acre property. It recommended 7-2 in March an option to remove the dam, restore the creek and create a side channel lake next to the creek. The estimated cost was $9.2 million. The Parks Advisory Board upheld the task force's recommendation in June.

Wright said at the June meeting about $6.2 million is available for the project through various government agencies and private grants. The additional $3.1 million to $3.6 million could be raised but only if the community is in agreement and willing to work with each other.

All three options were "dependent and materially driven" by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, Mayor Bob McCaslin said Friday. He said they've decided to hold the grant since there's disagreement on a solution.

"We can't go to council and vote on something if we don't have the money to pay for it," he said about why a recommendation won't be on Tuesday's agenda.

The property was transferred from Cooper Realty Investments to Bella Vista/Bentonville Trailblazers Association in 2000 and then to the city in 2005.

The Trailblazers Association has since become the NWA Trailblazers, a nonprofit group that develops cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in Northwest Arkansas.

The conveyance agreement from the Trailblazers to the city stated the city "shall maintain the dam and in the event of damage or destruction replace or repair same."

The agreement was mentioned in public meetings a few times the past two years, but was never discussed at length.

It was a focus point in a letter John Cooper III wrote to Mayor Bob McCaslin and council members.

Cooper is president of Cooper Communities, the parent company of Cooper Realty Investments.

The letter states the Trailblazers intended to honor Cooper Realty's request the lake would be preserved and insisted the clause be included in its agreement.

The letter is dated Aug. 7 and stamped that it was received Aug. 9.

Cooper goes on to explain Cooper Communities told city officials Sept. 13, 2017, it would keep an "open mind" concerning the lake's redevelopment but it was "highly unlikely" it would support an option to remove the dam.

Cooper Communities can't support a free-flowing stream because of its more than 36,000 Bella Vista home sites, many in the immediate area of the debated property. Residents expect the lake created by the dam to be preserved, Cooper wrote.

Cooper also contends a free flowing stream will "include a series of small pools encased by gravel and sediment bars" and not have enough water flowing to provide recreational opportunities.

"Preservation of Lake Bella Vista was, in absolute fact, a material consideration and inducement to CCI's (Cooper Communities) conveyance of the property to Trailblazers," Cooper wrote. "CCI expects both that this provision will be honored by City and that Trailblazers will enforce the agreement, as City would not own this amenity if such dam maintenance provisions were not included in the agreement. The agreement was fully negotiated by the parties and binding upon all."

Friends of Little Sugar Creek had Cal Rose, a lawyer with Wright Lindsey Jennings in Rogers, write an opinion about the legality of the conveyance agreement.

He argues it's unlikely the agreement can be enforced because it lacks several requirements of a binding contract, including the property's legal description, the purchase price as well as the time and place of closing.

Rose also argues the debated provision in the conveyance agreement wasn't included in the deed -- which reflects the final terms of agreement -- that transferred the property from the Trailblazers to the city.

Greg Van Horn, member of Friends of Little Sugar Creek, said his organization sent the legal opinion to council members midday Friday.

He said Cooper's letter was a "move of desperation" and doesn't see a valid reason for removing a recommended solution from Tuesday's agenda.

"What they should be doing is what the people want and what the Parks Board voted for," he said.

Wright said he's aware of the conveyance agreement but is trying to not let it be his focus. Rather, he said, he's working with the involved parties to find a solution.

"We're trying to work together to find a peaceful compromise," he said.

General News on 09/12/2018

Print Headline: Discord delays Lake Bella Vista dam discussion

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An exercise in power politics executed by John Cooper III. I dislike petty political machinations like this. He could very easily brought this to the attention of Bentonville 4 years ago but chose now, instead.

Posted by: SteveHold

September 15, 2018 at 2:22 p.m. ( | suggest removal )