Officials with the city of Fort Smith and the office of Arkansas Attorney General are expected on Thursday (Nov. 6) to renew talks with federal officials in Dallas about the city’s efforts to respond to alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act.
It was announced in early October that negotiations had broken down between the city and the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Justice. Fort Smith Attorney Jerry Canfield said during a special meeting Oct. 2 notifying the Fort Smith Board of impending legal action that he expected a lawsuit to be filed as soon as Oct. 3. The Feds never filed a lawsuit.
Since1993, the city has invested more than $201.2 million improving the city's wet weather system. The city of Fort Smith has invested $201.2 million since 1993 on wet weather sewer improvements and another $150 million or more could be poured into improvements before the city atones for violations of the federal Clean Water Act – bringing the grand total for compliance with the law to $351.2 million.
Federal officials have said the city is not addressing the problem with the right priorities and/or enough money. The office of Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack would not comment on the meeting, and instead referred comment to the office of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel.
Aaron Sadler, spokesman for AG McDaniel, issued this statement: “I requested that the parties come together one last time to attempt to avoid costly litigation against Fort Smith. I will do everything I can to assist the parties, but ultimately this is a dispute between the city and the EPA. I hope that the city recognizes this is its last chance to come to terms with the federal government and prevent a lawsuit.”
When asked if McDaniel would attend the meeting in Dallas, Sadler said the office would not comment on who or how many from the AGs office would be at the meeting.
Fort Smith City Director Keith Lau said the city did inform the Board that another round of negotiations would take place between the city and EPA. He said it was his understanding that McDaniel’s pushed for the meeting.
“I’ve heard that Dustin (did not sign off on the authorization on the lawsuit) and encouraged the DOJ to resume negotiations,” Lau said. “I think Dustin McDaniel deserves kudos for helping us stave off a lawsuit and getting us back into negotiations.”
Lau was not sure why the public was not notified of the meeting, and said he is not sure of the status of the meeting.
“I really don’t know if negotiations are close or are far apart. … I haven’t been told if this is a last ditch effort,” Lau said. “But am I positive that it will change the outcome? No.”
When asked about the meeting, Fort Smith City Administrator Ray Gosack said the city has communicated with the Feds through the office of Attorney General McDaniel
Gosack has said the city has made significant progress toward compliance, eliminating four of five overflow problems in the city since 2007 and said in spite of the Justice Department's planned lawsuit, the city would continue with projects aimed at bringing the city into compliance with federal law.