BV council OKs salary of $26K for city attorney

Friday, November 9, 2018

The Berryville City Council voted Tuesday to approve Ordinance 1043, which sets the salary for the city attorney at $26,000 per year, effective Jan. 1, 2019.

Mayor Tim McKinney said the council had raised the salary a year or two ago and wanted city attorney Clint Scheel to know they appreciate his work.

“We went 10 years without a city attorney,” McKinney said. “The salary when I took office was $20,000 per year. Clint is doing a good job. Everyone wants to keep him.”

Mayor Miller of Jacobs Inc. presented a report to the council on the city’s wastewater treatment plant. As part of the city’s permit with the state, Miller said part of the routine testing of the plant is the biomonitoring of water fleas and minnows.

“Historically, that test is done quarterly,” he said. “Last year, we passed all the tests, and the state gave us a reduction, saying you only have to do this test twice a year. Right off the bat in February, we had a failure with the water fleas where they wouldn’t reproduce.”

When testing the water fleas, Miller said they are checking to see if the animals reproduce and if they stay alive. Water fleas, or cladocera, are small crustaceans that live in

freshwater habitats. Several testing methods use water fleas to screen and evaluate the toxicity of chemicals or environmental pollutants in the water supply.

“After that, pretty much every retest the entire year we’ve had issues with the fleas,” he said. “The minnows are fine.”

The issue is consistent enough, he said, that the regulations outlined in the permit require Jacobs Inc. to do a toxicity reduction evaluation to figure out where the problem is coming from and what is causing it and to present a solution to the state to get rid of it.

“It’s a very difficult process,” Miller said. “It’s not always fruitful. A lot of times when they embark down this path the problem goes away, or they can’t find it by the time the problem goes away and there’s a lot of money and time spent testing and sampling.”

He continued, “There is a problem. It’s consistent, so the state said we need to start looking into it more and come up with a solution.”

Alderwoman Linda Riddlesperger asked if Jacobs Inc. tested at different sites. Miller said for the water fleas and minnows they test the water that goes directly into the creek after being treated by the wastewater plant.

“They’ll test the fleas, and if the fleas fail then they’ll do some more specific testing of that sample,” he said, “for either metals, pesticides or soaps. Then they try to get an idea of what’s causing it there first before they start to branch out to the system. If you did the shotgun approach just sampling for everything all over the city, it’s super hard and super expensive.”

“So you have to isolate what’s causing the problem first basically?” asked alderman Max Nichols.

“Yes, once they get some families of types of issues that are causing the problem,” Miller said, “they’ll branch out and look at the higher-flow areas first. If the city has some advice on where they think we should look, then we’ll target those areas first.”

McKinney said the city is considering sending letters to some of the wastewater treatment plant’s commercial accounts to explain the situation and ask if they have changed anything.

“It’s not to catch anybody and persecute them or prosecute them or anything like that,” he said. “It’s just to identify the problem and see if they’ve changed any of their processes last year. We’re sure it’s not happening consciously.”

“Do we know for sure it’s not anything that Tyson Foods has changed?” asked alderwoman Cindy George.

McKinney said the city has had quite a few discussions with Tyson Foods and Mid-States Specialty Eggs (MSSE).

“The egg plant even stopped using one certain chemical for a month, but it made no changes,” he said. “It could be pesticides. It could be anything.”

McKinney continued, “These water flea tests are kind of like the canary in the coal mine. You’re not getting ready to die, but when the canary starts acting weird you need to do something.”

George said the big question is how much the toxicity reduction evaluation will cost.

“It depends on how ugly it is and how difficult it is to find,” Miller said. “The problem is consistent, so we should be able to track it down faster.”

He said Jacobs, Inc. works with environmental consultant FTN Associates in Little Rock for the test.

“The worst case yearly number that FTN, who we recommend working with, for 12 months is like $89,000,” he said. “They see a lot more in the $30,000 range per year. It kind of takes some time to get it going, but when you start branching out into the city and doing a lot more specialized tests that’s when it starts to add up.”

He said the problem could be caused by anybody, but it makes sense to look at the big customers first.

“The first thing to do is identify what we’re looking for,” McKinney said. “When we’re testing these water fleas, that is water that has been all the way through our plant and is totally treated.”

One good thing, he said, is that Jacobs, Inc. already has a contract with FTN Associates.

“Since we have a contract with [Jacobs, Inc.], they can just contract with FTN directly,” McKinney said, “and we don’t have to go through the request for quotation (RFQ) process. They’re not cheap, but they have been around for a long time. I think they’re pretty good at what they do.”

“Something definitely has to be done no matter what,” Nichols said.

McKinney said Nov. 28 is the deadline the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) set for the city to present a plan how it is addressing the problem.

“We’ll probably send a letter out in the next week,” he said. “I just want to emphasize to the public that we’re not looking to get anybody. We’re just looking to fix the problem. There’s not going to be any repercussions if somebody comes to us and say they’ve been dumping insecticides or something like that.”

“It would be nice if we sent that letter and someone said ‘We started doing this around the first of the year. Could it be this?’ ” George said.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 20, at City Hall.

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