Most members of the Fort Smith Board of Directors aren’t yet sure if they will approve an ordinance requested by Whirlpool Corp. to ban water wells in a residential area that has been polluted by runoff from Whirlpool’s shuttered manufacturing plant.
When the Fort Smith Board of Directors met on Feb. 12 for its regularly scheduled study session, members were greeted with a proposal by Fayetteville attorney Robert Jones III, working for Whirlpool, to ban drilling of groundwater wells in a neighborhood north of the manufacturer's former facility on the south side of Fort Smith.
The ban was requested after the company discovered trichloroethylene (TCE) in the soil in the residential neighborhood in question, which goes from Ingersoll Avenue to Brazil Avenue. TCE had previously been used by the company at its Fort Smith manufacturing plant in equipment degreasing operations from 1967 to 1981, according to information provided by ENVIRON International Corp.
Jones told the Board that TCE could be a carcinogen, or cancer-causing, if ingested orally, according to some studies.
After asking questions of Jones and environmental consultants from ENVIRON hired by Whirlpool, the Board voted to bring the ordinance banning the drilling of groundwater wells to a vote of the board at its March 5 regular meeting.
Two weeks have passed since the Board's study session and The City Wire asked all members by e-mail the same question: Will you vote in favor of the ban. If yes, why? If no, why?
Each Board member's response is included in its entirety.
Keith Lau, Ward 1 Director:
"As I stated in the study session last Tuesday, I see the health/safety reason to vote for such a ban but I want to make sure the ordinance does not provide any mechanism to allow Whirlpool to escape liability for the contamination of ground water and or the effect of the contamination on property values in surrounding neighborhoods. I am against the ban because the proposed ordinance provides Whirlpool with a do nothing option to the problem which is ultimately an escape from the liability of cleaning up the problem."
André Good, Ward 2 Director:
"I am in favor of the ban from well-water drilling on the polluted properties that contain the hazardous substance that originated from the Whirlpool property. I am in favor of such to protect the health of our property owners, current or future; not to release Whirlpool from any responsibility of monitoring the chemical plume or properly dealing with the ADEQ and the property owners. The city has no authority to release Whirlpool from their liability. The board has been asked to asked to adopt an ordinance that addressed the possibility of people ingesting the contaminated ground water.
“The question was asked at the Board's last study session if this ordinance would affect the property owners ability to seek legal action if they feel that their property was negatively effected by Whirlpool's chemical leak. The board was assured at that time from one of the attorneys that the action before the city board would not affect such.
“Our primary concern in this matter is dealing with the public health. There may be other steps that the city can take to preserve public health, but I still hope to hear more from our constituents from the view point of both current occupants and future residents."
Mike Lorenz, Ward 3 Director:
"When initially presented, I was in favor of the ban based on the fact that it should simply be to protect future and present owners of these properties from the contamination. However, my opinion has changed after last week's presentation at our study session, some questions have arisen that must be answered and cleared up before a decision is made on the ordinance. While we have the duty to protect citizens from potential contact with contaminated groundwater in the future, we also must be sure the current property owners rights' are not jeopardized along with their ability to remediate financial damages to the value of their property. There is a long list of questions that must be addressed by Whirlpool prior to my supporting this ordinance at this time."
George Catsavis, Ward 4 Director:
"I have not decided yet which direction I am going to go at this time, there are still a lot of unanswered questions that need to be looked at. And I also have more questions for there attorney I have been researching this chemical and I fell there is more study needs to be done."
Pam Weber, Director-at-Large Position 5:
"I have not made a decision on my position on the groundwater well ban requested by Whirlpool. I am in the process of reviewing the data presented and will be submitting a list of questions for additional information and reviewing data requested by other Directors."
Kevin Settle, Director-at-Large Position 6:
"I have requested more information from Whirlpool and ADEQ about this issue. I would like some information from them prior to making a decision on this matter."
Philip Merry, Director-at-Large Position 7:
"I am in favor of the well dig prohibition for the good of the whole to protect all from further harm, but not to interfere in any way with legal remedy options that may evolve for the property owners in that area.
“I am very hopeful that the ultimate ordinance will be vividly clear that our prohibition of water well digging is in no way to construe that we wish to prohibit any legal or other remedy that is now or may become available to the property owners in the effected area."