Five will be questioned about damage to plant

Thursday, June 17, 2004

The five persons directly involved in the destruction of the trickling filter at the Eureka Springs wastewater treatment plant will be subpoenaed and their stories taken under oath by staff members of the Carroll County Prosecutor's Office late this week.

Eureka Springs Police Chief Earl Hyatt said the investigation of the damage to the plant now involves the prosecutor's office.

He does not anticipate the filing of any charges before next week, at the earliest.

Public Works Director Robert Forrest filed an incident report with the police department June 1, accusing former treatment plant Rick Clark of cutting a hole in the concrete wall of the trickling filter, taking the armatures off the center post of the filter, removing the filtering plastic media and placing it on the ground nearby, starting May 12.

According to the report filed by Detective Morris Pate, Clark cut a 12-foot by 6-foot hole in the wall and drove a backhoe into the tank to remove the plastic filter media.

Forrest has estimated the damage and replacement cost at $1,000,500, although he says the concrete tank will not be part of the new plant's operations.

The trickling had gone out of service in early May because of its age and inability to properly treat the liquids passing through it.

"Losing the trickling filter affected our ability to treat the water by 60 percent," Forrest explained. "We have several treatment systems in the plant. We have switched to an activated sludge aeration system and everything is working.

"Actually, the water we are discharging into Leatherwood Creek is better now than it was."

Forrest told this reporter May 24 the tank was being emptied so it could be repaired, relined and used to hold rainwater from large rainstorms so it could be slowly processed through the treatment plant.

Pate's report says there was contaminated water in the tank that spilled onto the ground when the wall was opened. Water in the media also got onto the ground.

"Bruce Kirkpatrick of Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) was here June 4 and inspected everything," Forrest said Monday morning.

"The plant passed his inspection with no violations. ADEQ has been aware of this situation from the beginning."

In a story in the June 10 edition of The Lovely County Citizen, Clark is quoted as saying he was following instructions of consulting engineer/project manager Marilyn Kelley Still and consulting engineer Ron Tracy when he dismantled the filter.

In Pate's report, Forrest is said to have told Clark his position as wastetreatment plant supervisor was discontinued on May 21, but he would resume the duties of a Class III operator.

Pate's report says Forrest brought Clark into his office May 28 and discussed his "paranoid behavior."

"Forrest told Clark he was going to pull him out of the treatment plant and put him to cutting grass.

"He also told Clark to go to the Ozark Guidance Center for four days of visits to help with his mental status. He told Clark not to go back to the plant and gave him the rest of the day off."

Pate's report quotes Forrest as saying Clark "apparently went back to the plant May 28 at 12:08 p.m. and typed out a letter of resignation on the office computer and left it up on the monitor screen."

In the Citizen interview, Clark denies writing a letter of resignation.

Forrest fired Clark on June 1.

Carter is implicated in the situation because Forrest believes he knew about Clark's activities and didn't tell anyone, according to Pate's report.

Pate also says, "Forrest suspects Clark of sabotaging several other plant systems by turning off valves to pumps and lines that move the influent into the plant for processing.

"He stated this action could have burned out the pumps and caused major damage to the entire treatment system. He also said this action could have become a major environmental safety issue."

Still and plant employee D. J. Fox are monitoring plant operations. Still has an Arkansas Class IV wastetreatment license and Fox has a Class III license.

Forrest said there is an alarm system in the plant that will page the operator on duty if anything goes wrong.

He is anticipating completion of the engineering plans for the new plant within 30 days. The "SBR" system eliminates the need for sludge drying beds, a trickling filter and several other pieces of equipment at the plant.

A belt press which uses polymers to remove water from the sewage sludge is already in operation. When the sludge becomes "cake," it can be put into a dump truck and taken to the city's composting site.

The material breaks down or "cooks" at twice the speed of most composted material.

"We are in no danger of discharging bad water into the creek," Forrest said. "ADEQ is monitoring the situation and we are doing our routine laboratory tests. The plant is operating."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: