Berryville tackles phosphorous levels in Osage

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

BERRYVILLE ---- The city council approved giving Mayor Tim McKinney the power to negotiate a new contract for engineering services with USI Arkansas Inc. of Springdale.

The issue is one of the most important facing the city, as it is hoped that USI Arkansas can bring the city's wastewater treatment plant into state compliance regarding phosphorous levels in Osage Creek that have been found to be high at some locations downstream from the plant.

Northwest Arkansas, and especially the agriculture community, is in the process of studying the source of high phosphorous levels, and is facing new laws, regulations and possible lawsuits from surrounding states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Three new laws were passed by the Legislature last year that specifically regulate the use of phosphorous, which is used widely as a fertilizer in chicken litter.

Groups such as the Kings River Watershed Partnership have formed to monitor the issue, and though the state has said that the phosphorous issue is mostly an agricultural problem, it has also been shown by University of Arkansas scientists that cities' wastewater and development in general are also contributors to the phosphorous problem.

Phosphorous causes high concentrations of algae, which can cause large fish kills, studies have shown.

The Berryville plant has already been upgraded to an ultraviolet cleaning process, but after the meeting Mayor McKinney said the issue is going to have to be dealt with by cities, or the state will impose its own levels of phosphorous restrictions.

"It's a sludge and phosphate issue," McKinney said. "We need to go ahead and upgrade our system" by 2007 or sooner, to meet state standards.

USI has already helped the city switch over from chlorination to ultraviolet, which is believed to be a more efficient cleaning system.

Lawsuits were filed last year by Oklahoma, Missouri and the EPA to force Arkansas to reduce its output of phosphate into the Kings River and White River watersheds.

McKinney said he will negotiate with USI Inc. to get the best system possible. There were three companies bidding for the work: USI; McGoodwin, Williams and Yates and McClelland Engineering.

He said the quality of the three companies' work, was a "toss up," but Public Works Director Kirby Murray suggested USI as the best.

While the new Arkansas laws target agricultural runoff as the major source of the pollution that gets into the White, Kings, Osage and Table Rock Lake, McKinney sees a time in the near future when cities are going to be held responsible for their phosphate, and other pollution sources are going to have to be dealt with.

"We'd rather do it ourselves than have the state tell us what to do," McKinney said.

The council voted unanimously for McKinney to pursue negotiations with USI Inc.

In other business, the council:

  • heard a report from Police Chief David Muniz that the department's community oriented policing program (COP) is doing well, with officers putting in 55 hours in April by getting out of their patrol cars and meeting face-to-face with people on their beats. Muniz also said that the donation of two new police bikes has had several benefits, such as being a more friendly way to approach youth, a silent way to sneak up on criminals, and a way to save gas. The officers have been training with other departments that use bikes, and Muniz said the bikes have many benefits and are a much more relaxed way to approach working a beat (See the April 27 Star-Tribune for a feature on the community policing and bike patrol).

  • McKinney noted that sales tax receipts were up more than $3,000 over the month of April last year.

  • McKinney also suggested that the public attend the Saturday morning farmers market on the square, which is now under way. "There's some good stuff to eat, and it's a good way to spend a Saturday morning," he said.

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