SILOAM SPRINGS — A discussion on a possible land sale led to a debate among city directors Sept. 20 during the City Board meeting.
The discussion centered around an offer from the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment Department on behalf of the Grand River Dam Authority to purchase land in Oklahoma owned by the Siloam Springs Water Resource Co., according to a staff report prepared by Phillip Patterson on Sept. 13.
In April of this year, Patterson briefed the board on an offer from the Oklahoma secretary for 317.18 acres of the roughly 450 acres the city owns in Oklahoma for $375,000 or $1,106 per acre, the report states. The land is undeveloped and is in a 100-year floodplain, the report states.
Patterson said during the meeting the board discussed it again July 5 and based on those discussions the city administrator took away that the if the city was interested in selling anything it should be at a market rate price.
The city also needed to confirm with the Arkansas Department of Health that they would agree to the sale of any part of the required buffer zone around the water intake, Patterson said.
“I also felt like it was worthwhile to ask the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy and Environment if they were interested or would be interested in purchasing a lesser amount of acreage,” Patterson said.
Patterson proposed three parcels consisting of just under 100 acres further south in three sections of the land. In April Patterson contacted the health department to determine their extent or to ask them to confirm the exact extent of the buffer zone.
“The minimum required buffer zone the way it’s worded in their regulations is 300 feet on either side of the river’s edge a quarter mile upstream and a quarter mile downstream of the intake, but that’s the minimum,” Patterson said.
On Sept. 1, staff received a revised offer from the Oklahoma secretary offering to purchase the property for $2,250 per acre, Patterson said.
Based on the information Patterson said the board had three options to consider. The first option is sell all 317.18 acres for a total of $713,633 subject to a conservation easement and a first right of refusal if GRDA were to ever propose to resell the property, Patterson said.
The second option would be to sell a total of 95.85 acres for a total of $215,662 subject to a conservation easement and a first right of refusal if GRDA were to ever propose to resell the property, Patterson said.
The last option was to reject the latest offer and retain ownership of the entire property in Oklahoma, Patterson said. City directors — except for director Mindy Hunt, who was absent — gave mixed reactions to the proposal.
Director Marla Sappington was the first to comment on the issue. She said she was against selling any portion of the land owned by the water resource company.
“I don’t care if it’s a floodplain,” Sappington said. “That’s not an excuse to sell. I think we need to keep it, and I’m very adamant about that.”
Sappington also brought up a lawsuit which occurred in 1995 where WH Langley successfully sued the water resource company for 135 acres of land and said that GRDA had initially offered too little for the land the city owns.
Director David Allen said he was aware of what was discussed at the meeting on the Langley lawsuit but did not know the precise details.
“I don’t know anything about it,” Allen said. “But I do know the first time that I believe this happened where the city was sued and there was a settlement made where the city lost property that it owned. That was a citizen-owned asset of the city in the state of Oklahoma.”
Allen also brought up a second lawsuit by Bob Farley for 38 acres east of Watts, Okla., saying he was not aware of this suit until he was reelected to the city board.
He asked Patterson for a history of all lawsuits or settlements where the city or water resource company lost property in Oklahoma going back as long as the city held it.
Farley sued the city in 2008 for ownership of the 38 acres upstream of where the city draws water from the Illinois River, according to an article in the Siloam Springs Herald-Leader newspaper on June 13, 2010.
The lawsuit was settled in 2010 where the city retained ownership of the land, but Farley would be able to cut hay on the property, the article states.
Following Allen’s comments director Brad Burns spoke about the history of the land as well as Lake Francis Dam. Burns then said he did a little bit of research and produced minutes from the board of the Illinois Water Development Co. hero on Jan. 2, 2001.
Burns listed the attendees of the meeting, which included Allen. Burns also produced minutes from the meeting on Jan. 4, 2000, where a motion was seconded by Allen to nominate Mayor Judy Nation — then a city board member — as president.
Then Burns presented an email from June of 2009 from then-Mayor David Allen asking for information on one of the lawsuits. Burns did not specify which lawsuit it was.
“So we can’t sit here and act like we didn’t know and there’s innocence,” Burns said. “It’s not director Allen’s fault. It’s not Madam Mayor’s fault. It was the hand that was dealt. Those are the facts.”
Burns also said the city has an opportunity with the upcoming WOKA Whitewater Kayak Park, which will open in 2023, where people will come to Siloam Springs to buy food and supplies for camping and believers the land sale will offset increasing taxes and will increase revenue for the city.
“It’s an opportunity for us,” Burns said. “It’s not about the money. It’s about preserving that land that is not in Arkansas that’s out of state.”
Allen asked Burns what was the point of introducing the minutes and email. Burns replied that Allen said he had no knowledge of the lawsuit. Allen said he did not say that and that he was aware of the first lawsuit but not the second lawsuit.
The email on June of 2009 was Allen’s attempt to get clarity on the second lawsuit and does not understand the point of naming the other board members.
Allen also said he does not see the point of selling land that is currently being protected to another entity that will protect the land.
Director Lesa Rissler suggested exploring whether or not the National Resource Conservation Service offers conservation easements for cities and maybe placing an conservation easement on the Oklahoma property.
“I can see us looking into conservation ourselves,” Rissler said. “I can see us managing it ourselves.”
Director Reid Carroll said he is not concerned about selling the land, but if the city plans to keep it it needs to be managed properly.
“If it’s a detriment to us then we need to do alternatives,” Carroll said. “We need to see that it’s able to be maintained and taken care of properly no matter whether we own it or someone else.
Director Carol Smiley said she did not have a problem with selling the three parcels of land to the south but would want a conservation easement.
“I think as the WOKA park takes hold and we have a lot of tourism, it’s going to take more effort to manage that land,” Smiley said.
Patterson summarized the board’s input and said he will discuss the matter with Hunt in a few weeks. Depending on if she agrees to selling the three parcels he would come back with a resolution to negotiate the sale. At that time, the directors can vote it up or down if this was the board’s pleasure.