The Fort Smith Board of Directors were updated on where the city stands in a recycling lawsuit and plans for the Gateway Park at the corner of Garrison and Rogers Avenues at Tuesday’s (Nov. 27) study session.
In the lawsuit, Jennifer Merriott v. City of Fort Smith, Merriott’s attorneys, Monzer Mansour and Whit Hyman, asked for about $1.14 million to settle the lawsuit for their clients.
Merriott is the class representative in a lawsuit that wants the city to reimburse anyone who was a Fort Smith Sanitation customer during the time the department dumped residents’ recyclable materials into the landfill. The city took recyclable materials to the landfill from October 2014 to June 2017, though residents were not notified that recyclables were not being recycled. From October 2014 to June 2016 some of the city’s recyclable material was taken to Green Source Recycling in Clarksville, though during that time 89% of the recyclable material was dumped in the landfill.
Recycling services are included in the monthly $13.28-plus-tax solid waste fee that residential sanitation customers pay regardless of whether they recycle. Records indicate the city continued to run recycling trucks at a cost of $52,920 a month even though the trucks were not actually traveling to a recycling center.
The lawsuit states that the city participated in an illegal exaction and the city was unjustly enriched from expenses paid by people who repaid sanitation bills during the aforementioned time period, the city’s attorney, Jerry Canfield said.
He continued to say that the city disagrees with both legal claims and there is no need to take action on the settlement offer at this time.
“I do not recommend that you accept this offer. I recommend that we continue to defend this case and look further into everything and at another time, you can consider some type of offer or not as it may be,” Canfield said.
The board agreed that now is not the time to take action on the lawsuit and nothing about it will be added to the board’s regular meeting Dec. 4.
The directors also got an update on Gateway Park, which will be built within the triangle of land in eastern downtown Fort Smith created by the intersection of Garrison and Rogers Avenues.
The park, estimated to cost $579,770, will be built with private dollars through naming opportunities and other donations.
Jim Spears, who is working with developer Rick Griffin on the park project, reported to the board that a public event for the start of work on the park would be held Dec. 18, stating more details on that event would come soon. Spears also noted that organizers are “down to less than $200,000 left to raise” for park funding.
Demolition of a multi-colored building that once housed AC Taylors Mobile Service Station is set to begin in late January or early February, John McIntosh said. The target completion date with statues in place is Oct. 1, McIntosh said.
The park will include statues of Judge Isaac Parker, John Carnall, and Mother Superior Mary Teresa Farrell. Carnall, born in 1818, was an early leader in the Fort Smith Public School system, and Farrell, who arrived in Fort Smith in 1853, was instrumental in bringing healthcare to the region.
The Gateway Park project will be managed by 64.6 Downtown, the group behind The Unexpected festival, Invest Fort Smith summit and other downtown promotions. They will initially own and develop the park, and then transfer ownership to the city.
Of the total project cost, $237,770 is for construction and $342,000 is for the statues. Spencer Schubert of Kansas City, Mo.-based E.S. Schubert Sculpture Studios, is the statue artist on the project.
The only city cost for the project will be for sidewalks, street lights and moving a water line.