Monday, March 2, 2015

Seven-year-old story from March 2, 2008, NWA Times features varied opinion on use of wetland west of Arkansas 112 Drive-in

Developer proposes change to Arkansas 112 roadway
BY MARSHA L. MELNICHAK Northwest Arkansas Times
Posted on Sunday, March 2, 2008

Rerouting Arkansas 112 on the west side of Fayetteville may be a good solution as far as traffic flow, but city and state officials are wondering what that solution would cost.
Some city residents are also concerned about the environmental cost.
Park West developer Tracy Hoskins of Paradigm Companies is sending up a test balloon. He wants to know if city officials are interested in rerouting Arkansas 112 west of Interstate 540. He said the proposal will cost the city less overall than fixing the existing highway and that he has met or exceeded environmental requirements.
"We specifically designed the route to avoid every single solitary environmentally sensitive feature," he said.
The alignment he proposes would cut across Park West, a 106-acre development approved by the city in 2006.
Beginning at the bridge over Clabber Creek just north of Sam's Wholesale Club and sweeping northwest for about a mile, it would connect into the existing Arkansas 112 at the northwest corner of the Belclaire Subdivision. (Heading southbound, from the north, this is the first curve coming into Fayetteville on Arkansas 112. )
"We're just improving dangerous conditions," Jim Ramsey, architect for Paradigm Companies, said.
He said the proposal would remove two 90-degree turns: one dangerous intersection of Deane Solomon Road and the east-west portion of Arkansas 112 and the other at the 90-degree corner of Arkansas 112 and Howard Nickell Road.
"Anybody who's driven out there knows just how dangerous that is," Ramsey said. Hoskins also argues that the change offers an economic development advantage to the city because of the possibility of more commercial development on both sides of the new roadway. The developer presented his proposal at a Ward 4 meeting and again at a city Street Committee meeting last week.
Is it worth it ? Lioneld Jordan, Ward 4 Alderman and chairman of the city Street Committee, brought discussion to a quick halt after learning no cost estimates were available for committee consideration.
"It's worth looking at again," he said but not until there are numbers to go with the proposal.
Jordan and other committee members asked city staff to bring cost estimates to the next Street Committee meeting in about a month.
"I think it looks like a viable solution as far as traffic flow. I just want to really compare the cost," Ward 1 Alderman and Street Committee member Brenda Thiel said.
"I think it's certainly something we ought to look at. We need to look at, if it's going to cost us a lot more, is it really worth it ? "she said.
Gary Dumas, director of operations, said city engineers will come up with a preliminary estimate for the Street Committee's next meeting.
"The issue is going to be how to pay for it," he said.
Jonathan Barnett, chairman of the Arkansas Highway Commission, too, saw a safety value and a cost question.
"It looks like a good proposal, and it certainly has merit," he said. "I think we're all trying to figure out how we're going to pay for it, but it's definitely a good proposal."
Barnett said he thought it looked good because "it straightens out a couple curves "and would widen the road.
He also thought it would help the city.
"Hopefully, they're looking at some potential development out that way - maybe a school system, maybe some other things - and obviously that would be good for the city of Fayetteville as economic development," he said.
$ 4 million Dumas estimated the city has about $ 4 million programmed for future improvements on Arkansas 112 from north of I-540 to Van Asche Drive. He anticipates the proposed roadway would cost more because it is longer and wider. "I think it's definitely more, but we don't know what that number is," Dumas said. But, Hoskins argues that the $ 4 million is slated only for the section of Arkansas 112 between Sam's Wholesale Club and the first 90-degree corner at Van Asche. In future stages of the bond program, there will be several million dollars more that will need to be spent from the corner at Van Asche east to Arkansas 112 at Howard Nickell Road.
"If they keep (Arkansas ) 112 as it is, 100 percent of the cost will be borne by the taxpayers of Fayetteville, where, in my proposal, it would be a public-private partnership.
"Probably, in the long run, not only is this a much better idea, it promotes economic growth, it costs the taxpayers considerably less money and it will be done sooner," he said.
Environmental costs Not everyone agrees. Aubrey Shepherd, a Fayetteville resident, said Hoskins should give the property to the state or to some conservation entity rather than build anything on it. "This is land of a quality that should not be paved over or developed over," he said. "I'm very much against the road. "Joe Neal describes himself as a biologist and a longtime crusader for seasonal wetlands. "It (the Arkansas 112 proposal ) makes engineering sense if you already buy into the idea that the seasonal wetlands are disposable," he wrote in an email after seeing a drawing of the proposal.
In an earlier tour of the land, Neal told Hoskins none of the property should be developed.
"Every bit of it is seasonal wetlands - every bit of it except the upland portion by Deane Solomon," Neal said, admitting that his idea of no development is pretty unrealistic. "Every bit of it you can save is good."
Dot Neely of the Ozark Headwaters Group of the Sierra Club said paving the area could cause changes in stream flow and other hydrological changes.
However, she said that to be realistic, growth is inevitable.
"The best thing to do is to do nothing and walk away from the site and to donate it as a wetland prairie area for educational purposes. But, if the powers that be are going to insist on making changes out there, that it is done with the utmost sensitivity," she said.
Getting advice from environmental experts and following it would be important.
"The question becomes how to minimize the impact while making it economically viable and still protected," Neely said.
Hoskins said he is being sensitive to the environment.
"We have already delineated the wetlands, and we have Corps of Engineers approval," he said.
The proposed road crosses a drainage area for the pond on the property to the north of Park West at a position previously approved by the Corps of Engineers for an earlier Park West design.
He said the "bottom" (or south side ) of the site, which is just above the Audubon Arkansas wetlands will be used for parks, bioswales, rain gardens and walking trails.
"Contrar y to popular opinion, the only perennial wetlands on site are at the far southeast corner of the site. They lie between the previously described ditch and the existing (Arkansas ) 112 along the south property line," he said.
Letters from state and federal agencies support his statements.
A March 18, 2005, letter from the United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, states," This ditch does not support an Arkansas darter population. "It defines, among other factors, where springs arise, what buffers must be incorporated into design and what management practices, such as silt fences, will be necessary.
"This protection, enhancement and construction of wetlands and buffer zones will not only minimize threats to the Arkansas darter and water quality but should increase the aesthetic values of the project area," the Fish and Wildlife letter states.
Hoskins also has a permit to discharge stormwater from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and a permit from the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers for Park West property.
Jordan said he has concerns about the environmentally sensitive nature of the property.
"I want to be sure that ever ything is just so-so because that's been a pretty controversial piece of property up in there," he said. "At face value, it could be OK, but I want to be very careful. I want to be sure we're not getting into any wetlands, just to be sure."

"We have to all come together. Quality of life has to be factored into the economics of growth," Neely said.

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