Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Neighbors Frustrated by the Missionary’s Position

Realtor Mike Henry, a leader of the group of big developers who fought the proposed Fayetteville road impact fees, compared the outcome of the special election in April to Bush’s presidential "election" of 2000 and said “Praise the Lord.”

Ward 4 voter Michael Lea, aka Michael K. Lee, whose vote created a 2,015-2,015 tie and killed the Fayetteville road impact fees, is said to be a Christian missionary in Panama who sometimes makes short trips back to town, during which he stays with his parents. His absentee ballot was mailed from a military base in Panama but was not received until a week after the election. His sworn ballot information listed two different addresses and three different zip codes. Like the Lord, he is everywhere, and now his parent's west Fayetteville neighbors are beginning to understand what the prodigal son wrought.

It is now obvious that infrastructure in west Fayetteville, particularly roads, will be overwhelmed when developments currently in planning stages are completed, Ward 4 residents told Fayetteville City Council members and developers Monday night. Only 923 voters of the 10,019 registered voters in Ward 4 on the city’s west side bothered to vote in the special election on road impact fees, but now they’re complaining about the impact that developers are having on traffic congestion in their neighborhoods. Big surprise.

Jim Bemis, who did support impact fees, said that traffic studies conducted by independent developers estimate only traffic for a single project, while the overall traffic load on Wedington and the surrounding area between I-540 and Double Springs Road is never looked at in a cumulative manner. "We've got the potential for some serious traffic issues," said local resident Bob Estes. "We're going to be left with a train wreck." Sondra Smith, the city clerk who is a Ward 4 resident, expressed concern about traffic on Rupple Road, which she said was “going to be a death zone.” At an earlier meeting Ward 4 residents demanded that state highway improvements on Wedington add a fifth suicide turn lane instead of the landscaped median and bike lanes originally proposed.

Ward 4 Alderman Lioneld Jordan said the city only has about $2 million for new road improvements over the next five years. Jordan supported the impact fees that would have generated an estimated $3.4 million a year for additional street projects, and he plans to bring the issue back for action by the City Council to resolve the problem resulting from the tie vote in the April election. Let us hope that the five members who supported road impact fees in the past have the courage to do the right thing.

Quote of the Day

“Already a part of our present-day reality are the tow trucks that prey on those who have broken the rules and parked in one of those private lots without paying. I was having drinks a few weeks ago on West Avenue and watched as the same tow truck searched the same premises on several occasions. He got lucky a couple of times….

“Is this really the kind of town Fayetteville wants to be? People tell me all the time not to worry, that it’s for the best…. Something else I’m fairly regularly told is this: Rich people who own the private lots in the Dickson Street area have every right to get more rich by charging people to park there….

“Even University Baptist Church has gotten in on the act. A few months ago the church decided to convert about 322 spaces to paid parking. Hallelujah! If we’re very lucky, maybe someday all of the public parking spaces in all of Fayetteville will become paid parking.”

--Scott Shackelford, “The Price of Growth,” Northwest Arkansas Times

Sunday, July 29, 2007

NWA's New Charter School Seg Academies

Charter schools are publicly financed schools operated by individuals or non-profit groups that can request waivers of some state regulations. They still get the same state funding as public schools (nearly $6,000 per pupil), but there is no independent research on whether Arkansas’s charter schools are any more effective than traditional public schools. The Legislature intended for charter schools to create special programs to help a struggling demographic in the regular school population, but it hasn't quite worked out that way.

The charter schools in Northwest Arkansas have become the 21st century equivalent of the old segregation academies, providing education for privileged whites and effectively excluding minority and Hispanic students. Haas Hall Academy has a minority population of only 11.1%, while nearby public school Springdale is 47.5% minority and Fayetteville is 25.6%. It is even worse in Benton County where the charter School of the Arts has 7.7% minority enrollment, compared with 40.1% in the Rogers public schools.

These bastions of ethnic segregation are supported by
the $800,000 Walton-financed charter school promotion subsidiary at the University of Arkansas College of Education, headed by a Walton Foundation-nominated director,
Caroline Proctor, formerly of the failed charter school in lily-white Maumelle. So much for the University's supposed commitment to diversity, either on its own campus or in the charter schools it supports for the Walton interests.

Not satisfied with the current drain on area public schools, Representative Keven Anderson (R-Rogers) sponsored a bill in the last session to double the number of charter schools authorized in Arkansas and to give preferential admission treatment to the children of any charter school's founders. The legislation was supported by every Republican legislator from Benton and Washington County and opposed by the three House Democrats. The bill was amended later to keep the limit at 24 charter schools, but the big wigs still got the special treatment in admissions for their children.

These exclusive charter schools, financed with our tax dollars and supplemented with Walton Foundation money, are notoriously inefficient and top-heavy with administrative salaries and expenses. Administrative salaries for the state's public schools averages 6.1% of their budgets. Haas Hall's
budget for the 2004-05 school year shows 36.4 percent of expenditures go toward paying the five administrators' salaries. In 2006, state officials reported that Haas Hall also owed $79,816 in fees and fines to the Internal Revenue Service and about $63,000 total to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration and the Arkansas Teacher Retirement System. Even a public school graduate can tell this is not a good deal for the taxpayers.

There are more charter school applications to come from the UA-Walton education engineers who seem determined to undermine our traditional public schools.
Angela Foster plans to apply for a 2008-09 charter school and get taxpayer funding for a sports-themed charter school run out of her Bentonville-based Aspire Gymnasium to serve about 10 elite athletes who already work out at her gym 20 hours a week. The Aspire Gymnasium also offers cheerleading classes.

Citizens who support public education and equality of opportunity would be well-advised to ask legislative candidates in the next election whether they share those values.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

The Writing on the Wall

Writing on public walls is an ancient means of human expression, dating back 37,000 years to caves in France, but an editorial in yesterday's Northwest Arkansas Times is worth the thought that the writer invested in considering the local graffiti phenomenon. In trying to understand motive, the editorialist suggested boredom, anger, or just being stupid. "The first reaction we had about these attacks against our community was anger. Then it struck us. The people who thought it would be funny to ruin public property were, in some way they’ve learned, trying to communicate with a population that isn’t listening — even if they didn’t consciously think about it that way."

Still, continued the piece in a less insightful way, "we hope the authorities catch them and put them to work cleaning up the various messes they’ve created, among other things. Beyond that natural desire, however, we hope the individuals responsible can be shown that expressing themselves isn’t a crime, but that they need to find a more creative, and legal, outlet for their emotions in the future." That condescending suggestion ignores the shrinking public sphere and the fact that people get arrested for wearing anti-war t-shirts at the mall, that Wal-Mart has people arrested for soliciting signatures in the parking lot or protesting at stockholders meetings, that the UA administration tries to limit religious speakers on campus, that the UA threatened legal action against a joker who designed a t-shirt poking fun at Houston Nutt, that high school students now have almost no freedom of speech on or off campus, and that not everyone who has something worth saying can afford the ad rates in the Times.

It is significant that the editorial hinged on the fact that "Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, J. B. Hunt Transport Services Center, and the Willard Walker Pavilion had all been struck." The editor appears to believe that graffiti on the exterior of UA buildings, unlike wealthy corporate moguls’ names affixed on those buildings, creates an unsightly chaotic atmosphere. If these artists have a message, let them give millions for another business building or pay thousands for space on the Bud Walton scoreboard. Otherwise, STFU.

People way smarter than me have argued that the contemporary graffiti subculture is a system of action that renegotiates the social significance of public space in Fayetteville and on the UA campus. Someone spray painting my house might make me think otherwise, but graffiti is an artistic form of expressing thoughts, wishes, ideas, and peaceful protest -- a subversive form of communication that cannot be handily reduced to simple vandalism.

Even though I can't fully appreciate it, graffiti can perform a valuable symbolic resistance and defend a cultural space by introducing and bringing attention to alternative voices in our community. Whose community? It suggests that our city is everyone's territory, not just the rich and famous Donrey/Hunt/WalMart crowd, the glad-handers at the Chamber, the badged bullies posing as bike cops, the handsomely paid college administrators at the country club, the obscenely compensated coaches on the take for displaying corporate logos, the comfortable residents of Candlewood, or even the local editors in the employ of the corporate media chains.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Your Tax Dollars at Work -- for Someone

After spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on multicolored lights last year as the City of Fayetteville’s Christmas decorations, city employees with the Fayetteville Parks and Recreation Department, who should have been spending their time on city parks but instead were ordered to get involved in the suspect spectacle, have junked the newly purchased lights and decided to go back to the traditional all-white light display.

Jeff Coles, maintenance superintendent for Parks and Recreation, said the colored lights did receive rave reviews, mostly from out-of-towners who came to Fayetteville to spend their money with local businesses, but that ultimately he and his staff believed the white lights were a better scheme. “Our local folks were accustomed to that signature scheme, kind of like a winter wonderland,” he said to a reporter for the Northwest Arkansas Times.

Coles did not say, and the reporter did not dare ask, what will happen to all of those multicolored lights that the city wasted tax dollars on last year and how much will they blow on the new replacement lights. The Lights of the Ozarks festival was the idea of a Northwest Arkansas Times editor who had a financial connection with the company that sold the lights. The Chamber of Commerce bought the lights and sold them at a markup. The City Council needs to audit this program, reign in the spendthrifts, and put an end to the frivolous waste of our tax dollars.

Water Witching and Corporate Welfare

Management skills must be in very short supply at City Hall in Fayetteville, and there is no reason to have any more confidence in David Jurgens, Gary Dumas, and Paul Becker than in their boss. It seems that none of them can understand their jobs or make a decision without wasting taxpayers' money on over-priced out-of-state consulting firms. This time they are paying HDR Engineering to tell them about facts and policies for water and sewer rates; before that they paid thousands to Black & Veatch to tell them something different and apparently wrong.

I suppose this arrangement to enrich multiple consultants gives them someone to blame besides themselves and Greg Boettcher for the $63 million cost overrun and four year delay on the new sewer plant. Why can't these well-paid city employees just do the job we pay them to do and let the Mayor and City Council make the policy decisions?

There are important decisions to be made, and Fayetteville citizens had better be prepared for the coming cost of bad decisions made in the past. Beyond the waste of mismanagement, it is abundantly clear that current water and sewer impact fees are not paying for the required new infrastructure, and not even the additional regressive sales tax approved last year is enough to cover current and future expenses. On top of the 29% sewer rate increase in 2003, the consultant says Fayetteville requires another 20% increase in sewer rates and a 14% increase in water rates just to keep up.

What makes this even worse is that average residential customers are being asked to continue paying even higher rates to subsidize commercial and industrial corporations that place far higher demands on our water and sewer systems. Pay attention to this. Based on cost of service, residential water customers would face an increase of just over 4% while industrial users should pay 27% more. Mayor Coody and his hirelings are proposing that everyone pay an 11% increase to keep water rates lower for the business owners and stockholders. On sewer rates they want everyone to pay an additional 19.8%, although under cost-of-service increases would be only 8% for residential but 25% for commercial businesses and 51% for industrial corporations. Corporate welfare and socialism for the rich, in other words. Industrial and commercial users were told in 2003 that they wouldn’t be subsidized by residents in the future, but Bill Ramsey and the Chamber of Commerce are working vigorously to perpetuate this outrageous inequity.

And will someone please explain why Fayetteville voters are paying for increased capacity and financing water and sewer services for people who live outside the city or even in other towns? The bureaucrats have us paying millions in rebates for sewer service to Farmington, and now they also want to cut the water rates for customers outside the city while sticking it to Fayetteville residents.

Enough of this madness. Anyone who votes for this unfair scheme should be defeated at the polls next year, and we should start now recruiting candidates who pledge to support a fair rate structure and better management. Let's start with flat rates for water and sewer use so everyone pays the same rate, then let's consider a progressive rate structure that encourages conservation.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

FPL Summer Reading Programs

The Fayetteville Public Library has been named the Library Journal Library of the Year. It was named one of the TravelSmart "15 Landmark American Libraries." It was designated a LEED Silver Certified building by the U.S. Green Building Council. But nothing makes me more proud of our library than its magnificent Summer Reading Programs for children and students.

A fine editorial in today's Northwest Arkansas Times takes the occasion of the latest Harry Potter book launch to comment on more than the commercial impact of the book and to focus on the importance of reading -- both for our children and ourselves. "During the summer months it could be especially advantageous to try getting young people hooked on reading. It sparks the imagination. It evokes creativity. And even if our kids fill their heads with all sorts of facts and figures in school, they won’t know what to do with it without imagination and creativity.

"Now is the time to use literature to inspire the imagination, and get children thinking thoughts that might not have seemed possible even a short while ago. We need to get our kids busy dreaming big and, consequently, thinking big, too. Parents should make sure that Taj Mahal of a library downtown isn’t just a symbol, but an actual fountain of knowledge fully taken advantage of.

"Speaking of which, there’s no reason the Harry Potter reading craze need be for children only. That world-class public library gives everyone a chance to open up our minds through reading."

Quote of the Day

"I seriously doubt I would have written one novel about Arkansas, let alone 14 of them, if I had not many years ago read John Gould Fletcher’s Arkansas, a magnificent history of the state which remains a highly readable and exciting book. I can remember as if it were yesterday the thrill of finding out so many interesting things about the people who have made Arkansas unique. Not to require Arkansas history in the schools is a tragedy."

--Donald Harington, "Lost History a Tragedy," Letter to the Editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Our Health Miraculously Restored

Washington County Health Department Administrator Rick Johnson has worked for the state health department for more than 30 years, and he was administrator of the Washington County Health Unit from 1988 until unceremoniously canned by Republican Governor Mike Huckabee and his health Department Director Fay Boozman in 2002. He’s back.

The 2006 election of Democratic Governor Mike Beebe and State Representative Jim House (D-Fayetteville) made a difference. Washington County Judge Jerry Hunton and other local political and health care leaders fought to have Johnson reinstated, but Huckabee ignored them and Boozman wouldn’t budge. The new Beebe administration thought Rick Johnson was well-qualified for the job, given his outstanding performance and his previous experience as local administrator for 14 years, and has reappointed him as head of the Washington County Health Unit.

Politics had no more to do with Rick Johnson's reinstatement this year than it did with his senseless demotion to restaurant inspector in 2002.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rogers Rejects Lower Fees for Affordable Homes

A Rogers City Council Committee killed a proposed ordinance establishing lower development impact fees in the Residential Affordable Housing zone. Under the proposed ordinance, homes of 1,200 square feet or less in the zone would get a 50% reduction in fees for residential water and sewer hookup.

Bill Burckart, member of the Northwest Arkansas Home Builders Association, said he had problems with the proposed ordinance to help provide affordable housing in Rogers. Burckart said the lower fees should not be tied to square footage nor should the proposal be tied to a single zone within the city.

Alderman Jim Clark sided with Burckart against the proposed ordinance. "I don't like the way the ordinance is written. I object to tying the ordinance to zoning," he said but offered no alternative.

Alderman Betsy Reithemeyer agreed and spoke against the proposed ordinance, arguing that all Rogers residents should pay the same higher hookup fees charged in Pinnacle. "If we want to do something for lower income families, then, we need to find some other way to do it." She did not say what that might be or if she wanted to do anything for low income families.

After the ordinance was tubed, Burckart then requested that he be placed on the agenda for the next council meeting to request that he be granted a total waiver of all impact fees for one of his subdivisions. Pretty gutsy, even for a developer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Quote of the Day

"Predictability is good. And impact fees need to be a part of that predictability. Developers need the predictability of knowing that infrastructure will be there to make possible their development. Developers need the predictability of a high quality of life that creates the demand for the projects they develop. I suspect that the “predictability” argument is a smokescreen for the real issue of who shall pay for that infrastructure. Remember that if growth paid its own way, we would be rich. Instead of getting rich, Fayetteville has had to increase sales tax rates in order to continue to subsidize development. The business environment needs to be predictable, but it also needs to be fair. The residents are paying more than their fair share. The developers should either pay their own way or find another way to make a living."

--Steve Frankenberger, “Impact Fees Are Part of the Answer,” Letter to the Editor of the
Northwest Arkansas Times

Lest We Forget -- or Just Get It Wrong

This is the 50th Anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High School, and you'll be hearing and learning more about it between now and September. Some of it will even be true, but, unlike math, history is not an exact science. Arkansas history has been subject to manipulation by those who wish to shape the present. The standard Arkansas history textbook of the 1950s touted the benefits of segregated schools. The Hussman-owned Arkansas Democrat-Gazette routinely overplays the glories of our state's civil war history and consistently offers up revisionist history of the Central High crisis that praises the action of former Governor Orval Faubus.

The Arkansas History Education Coalition recently said that proposed changes to state education guidelines will water down the teaching of Arkansas history in public schools. Led by Dr. Tom Dillard, former Senator David Pryor, and UA History Chair Jeannie Whayne, the group has advocated greater emphasis on Arkansas history. The Hussman-owned Northwest Arkansas Times agrees with them and has editorialized at length about the grave error they felt the Arkansas Department of Education is making in reducing the amount of state history our young people learn in school.

Just yesterday, an editorial in the Times ended a sentence with a preposition and said, "Our young people shouldn’t be allowed to escape 12 years of publicly funded education without first realizing where it is they come from." As if to underscore that point by example, the editorial writer emphasized that our young people need to understand "why the Little Rock Seven ought to be thought of as heroes."

"Make no mistake about it: Ignorance of state history is on the rise," declared the unnamed editor with conviction. How very true. I always thought it was the Little Rock Nine.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Surveillance State Comes to Lowell

There is an unsettling story by Richard Massey in today’s newspaper. Lowell officials are installing a powerful, 24-hour surveillance zoom camera atop a 200-foot cellular tower to cover the entire city, but they say it won’t invade the privacy of local residents or be used to spy on residents as they sunbathe, drink alcohol, or cavort in their backyards.

Mayor Perry Long and Police Chief Joe Landers say the city has had complaints about youths having sex in the park, people defecating in the park’s water fountains, and vandals spraying graffiti on picnic tables, and they say the spy camera also could be used to monitor traffic accidents on U. S. 71B and I-540. Maybe they could even use it to see if city employees are using that expensive rented equipment to build a new park. “It will be used for security, not for observation,” Mayor Long said. “We’re not in the observation business.”

Lowell residents are rightly skeptical about the snooping. “You don’t know what Tom, Dick or Harry is going to be looking at that camera,” Marty Gabbard said. “If you want to monitor the bypass, put a camera on the bypass. …But to be able to watch what I do is an invasion of privacy. If I want to drink a beer, it’s none of their business.”

Eddie Taylor, a Lowell resident of 45 years, is skeptical of the city’s intent for the camera. “They can tell you that it will be used to watch the schools and the parks just to get it through, and then turn it around and watch everything. I think it’ll be used for more than the schools and the parks.”

Chief Landers, who said he has even thought about posting the feed on the city’s Web site, admits the camera will catch local citizens in compromising, though legal, activities. He now says that the dozen or so Lowell employees using the spy camera will be encouraged to keep quiet about whatever embarrassing things they see people doing. Right.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

City Plan 2025 Already in Big Trouble

Fayetteville's efforts to codify goals established in City Plan 2025, the city's future planning guide, appear to be in big trouble. Proposed changes to the urban residential design standards delete many key provisions on how duplexes, triplexes, townhouses, and large apartment buildings connect to public streets. The previous design standards were opposed by developers. Predictably.

Fayetteville planning director Jeremy Pate and long-range planner Karen Minkel said developers were very concerned about the standards requiring them to locate all apartments on city streets, so they are reluctant to do anything that might upset the business community. Many large apartment complexes have most buildings facing ugly parking lots. Minkel proposed moving forward only with minor cosmetic changes, like screening trash cans, but removing all meaningful regulations, such as where buildings are sited, and perhaps try those sometime later if that is okay with developers. Planning Commission members predictably appeared ready to roll over.

"If developers had some concerns, this is a smaller bite for them to swallow," said commissioner Christine Myres. Since Mayor Dan Coody and Alderman Robert Rhoades led the purge of the Planning Commission earlier this year, members have been much more concerned with keeping developers happy than working to implement a predictable City Plan 2025.

Jim Ramsey with Paradigm Development in Fayetteville said removing the requirement for buildings to face public streets is welcome. He said better development can come from letting builders create good projects without disruption and added the city could encourage good construction without city ordinances. Then he got to the point, asking “Why can't they put incentives in place for good developments?" Predictable

The Planning Commission meets at 5:30 on Monday at City Hall, and predictably it looks like a winner for the Free Lunch Club. In addition to the scheme to gut the proposed residential design standards and possibly adding more "incentives" for developers, the Commission will consider two major residential projects out west of the bypass. Woodstock, a mixed-use planned zoning district with 382 residences, conforms to the goals of City Plan 2025 but might face opposition. The Links, a big Jim Lindsey project with 604 apartments, does not meet City Plan 2025 standards but is likely to sail through. Neither of these West Wedington mega-projects will have to pay any road impact fees to address the additional traffic congestion.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Making Sure the Rich Get Richer

Republican Congressman John Boozman is a proud co-sponsor of H.R. 2380 to permanently repeal the inheritance tax paid by the richest 2.1% of Americans. The current law provides that only accumulated estates of more than $2 million have to pay any estate tax, but Congressman Boozman wants to abolish this annoying burden on the wealthiest families in America and shift the resulting national debt to working stiffs.

The tax cuts supported by Congressman Boozman and the record deficit spending that he has voted for every year he has been in Washington have left future generations with enormous debts. Boozman seems to think it okay to run up the national credit card and let someone else pay it off—someone besides the millionaires for whom he seeks even more tax breaks and from whom he receives campaign contributions.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Boozman said of repealing the tax on the wealthy. He did not say what would be the right thing to do about cutting the federal deficit or giving tax relief to middle class working families with less than $2 million in net worth.

Quote of the Day

"Being raised in Arkansas, I was always aware that the invisible glass ceiling for women in this region was thicker than in the rest of the country, but seeing your percentage of women profiled year after year, I am beginning to wonder if the proverbial glass ceiling is more a composite of steel than sand. . . .

"Today’s women are movers and shakers. They not only bring home the bacon and cook it, too, they are actively involved in Northwest Arkansas’ community and its growth. They wear no less than four or five hats, and that alone is a unique juggling act of achievement. The women of this region need more recognition than you are affording us."

--Sallyann J. Brown, "Women's Achievements Not Reflected," Letter to the Editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Developers' Dreams and Our Toxic Nightmares

The Northwest Arkansas Times had an editorial yesterday that contained unquestioned assumptions that need to be addressed. The nut of the editor’s argument was that the former site of R&P Electroplating on Pump Station Road could best be used for business space instead of green space or a city park for residents of south Fayetteville, the neglected stepchild of concern by public officials, the Chamber, and the local newspapers. “The dirty truth, friends, is that sometimes creating space for private enterprise is a smart move that can’t be ignored,” opined the Hussman corporate media scribe.

No doubt the city officials, the Chamber, and the local media thought it was a smart move that could not be ignored when they bragged about the opening of R&P Electroplating in 1977. That was the year they grew the tax base by adding the toxic polluter to foul the land and water of our community--not the year it ceased operation as the Northwest Arkansas Times editorial falsely states and would have you believe. No doubt Fred Hanna thought it was a wise move when he successfully urged the Planning Commission to approve an expansion of the plant in 1989.

Thanks to the fine independent journalism of Richard Drake, we know now that this valued member of the business community was a major polluter and left behind a toxic nightmare for others to clean up after they reaped the profits and ruined the land and contaminated the creek that flows into the White River and Beaver Lake. Contaminants from the facility include an assortment of heavy metals, vinyl chlorides, and other solvents. Specifically, the business left us with significant amounts of 1,1,1 trichloroethane; 1,1 dichloroethene; vinyl chloride; methylene chloride; arsenic; chromium; and lead. For example, in 1994-1995, R&P Electroplating produced or used 12 tons of 1,1,1 trichlorethane and removed less than 2 tons of it from the site for destruction.

The business closed in 1997, after 20 years of quick profits and polluting our community, and the next year we discovered that they left behind 42,081 gallons of liquid waste and 410,200 pounds of solids and sludge for the citizens of Fayetteville to enjoy. In 2001, it was still listed in the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) database, along with other Fayetteville businesses such as Elkhart Products, Kearney, Marshalltown Tools, and Superior Industries.

Why is it left to someone else to clean up their mess? Why does our Chamber recruit polluters? How much did the business owners Frank and Arthur Pummill, the potentially responsible parties, spend to protect the public from their hazardous wastes? What is Vernon Meek doing these days? Who will pay the $44,000 in back property taxes? Who will pay for the $21,000 in damage to Fayetteville's sewage treatment plant caused by R&P intentionally dumping high concentrations of cyanide and heavy metals? Who will pay to clean up their previous business site, also still contaminated, on South School Street? How much is this going to cost taxpayers to protect our children and our drinking water from irresponsible businesses? The dirty truth, friends, is that sometimes creating space for private enterprise is a bad move that can’t be ignored.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Saga of Benton County Political Justice

Benton County Coroner Kimberly Scott resigned Tuesday as part of plea negotiations in a criminal case against her that included three felonies -- two for drug possession and one for obtaining a controlled substance by false pretenses or theft. She also faces two misdemeanors -- falsifying business records and possessing a controlled substance -- and an enhancement penalty for committing the crimes while a public official. The case is set for trial next week.

Scott was arrested 11 months ago, on August 18th, then was reelected as a Republican without opposition in November 2006. In September she had stopped doing her job, agreeing not to attend death scenes while the charges were pending. During this period, she continued to draw an annual salary of $41,062 from county funds without doing anything. Not bad work, if you can get it.

We'll soon learn the full details of what appears to be a plea bargain in the works. It will be interesting to see whether Judge Tom Keith hands her a sentence as severe as the 90 days in jail he gave State Trooper Larry Norman for shooting and killing an unarmed innocent man.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Bobby Ferrell Is a Man of Letters

I once had a client who tried to adapt a breathalyzer ignition lock from his car to his computer keyboard, hoping to prevent himself from sending late night emails to an old girlfriend and embarrassing himself beyond shame when sober reality returned the next morning. Had he been successful, he would have found a ready market among certain public officials who appear guilty of writing under the influence of hubris and making themselves appear foolish.

Fayetteville Alderman Bobby Ferrell is only the latest example. His quoted remarks in the local newspaper coverage do not appear to be enough to make his point or make him feel secure. He has now taken up the asinine and pointless practice of writing Letters to the Editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times in response to citizens who submit letters regarding his public conduct and comments as a member of the City Council. It is becoming an annoying habit, one that might require intervention.

On June 24th, Alderman Ferrell's letter to the editor was in response to comments by William Moeller, who disagreed with Ferrell's position on road impact fees and offered an alternate vision of what kind of community we are trying to create for Fayetteville's future. Ferrell fired back with an ad hominem attack on Mr. Moeller, writing, "let me say it is flattering to be quoted by Mr. Moeller, even if he usually helps carry the water for the current administration. Mr. Moeller asserts 'contrary to what appears to be the mantra of our business community, simply growing the tax base will not solve all of our economic problems.' Most local business people I know don’t have time to meditate and espouse a mantra; they are too busy worrying about profit and loss and making payroll..... I hope my incantations have helped 'enlighten' Mr. Moeller." Rather petty and somewhat arrogant for a public servant.

Ferrell's June 24th letter brought one in response from another citizen, Jim Bemis, on July 11th. Mr. Bemis charged that Alderman Ferrell "all too predictably" responded "by firing a few cheap shots at Moeller" and avoided the "central point that impact fees 'put the pain right where the problem is on the new construction.'" Mr. Bemis quibbled about Ferrell's choice of the word "incantations," then asked, "Does Bobby somehow believe that his 'incantations' will summon the powers of darkness to silence his critics, as dictionary meanings suggest, or is this just another reminder of his own pious predictability in serving the interests of a few of the town’s special interests?"

Unable to resist, Alderman Ferrell today has yet another juvenile Letter to the Editor, apparently responding to Mr Bemis with "Hardy-ha har har." Ferrell wastes good ink citing dictionary definitions of "mantra" and "incantation," then concludes with an attack on the original Northwest Arkansas Times news story of June 10th and
asserts, "At this point I am declaring myself victorious in this volley and will try not to respond to further attempts to raise my ire on this subject from you, your surrogates, etc."

Alderman Ferrell, get a grip. And get help. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Fayetteville City Council on High School Location

The Fayetteville City Council will consider on Tuesday a Resolution urging the Fayetteville School Board to endorse the "current central location" for any expansion or new construction of the high school. Steve Percival, President of the Fayetteville School Board, said if the city passed the Resolution it would be considered by the board as would all input and opinion from district patrons.

Alderman Nancy Allen, author of the Resolution, notes that the central location near the University of Arkansas campus, the Walton Arts Center, and the Fayetteville Public Library has certain educational advantages, and it would be consistent with City Plan 2025 that discourages sprawl and the associated costs of infrastructure construction.

Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody said the school board's decision on the high school's location will be very important to the growth of the city and that the school needs to be accessible to all areas of the town and district. He added that he had not "heard any people at all" in favor of building a new high school on the Deane Solomon Road location on the far western edge of the city.

At a recent public hearing on the issue, district patrons overwhelmingly endorsed the central location. Only Bill Ramsey of the Chamber of Commerce and Steve Rust of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council advocated selling the current central campus to developers and building an entirely new high school at a new location. They have considerable influence, even for such a disastrous idea that serves developers at the expense of sound educational practice and community support. Watch closely tomorrow night to see if Aldermen Bobby Ferrell and Robert Rhoades support City Plan 2025 or throw in with the Chamber's love for sprawl.

The City Council should take a position on this very important issue facing the community's future, and it should unanimously support keeping the high school in the current central location. School Board members should give the Council's position significant weight, knowing that additional city taxes would be required for infrastructure at a new location and that public opinion makes it unlikely that Fayetteville voters would support a millage increase to build a new school plant out west of I-540.

The Duped Responds to the Deceiver

Greg Harton, Executive Editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times, didn't take kindly to the deliberate deception by Steve Rust and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council. He was further humiliated (or should have been) by an email that Steve Rust sent bragging about how easily he had misled the reporter for the NWA Times and how little effort the newspaper put into pursuing the story about an alleged corporation considering locating in Fayetteville.

The Fayetteville Economic Development Council was intentionally set up to operate in secret and keep the public in the dark. The membership includes corporate representatives, an appointee of UA Chancellor John White, Mayor Dan Coody, Alderman Robert Rhoades, and Chamber of Commerce officers who don't want citizens to know what they are doing. Editor Harton does not seem to have any problem with this group dodging the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act and deciding the future of our community in their secret meetings, yet he does ask, "Precisely whose vision of Fayetteville is being advanced?"

What Harton objects to is being misled by Steve Rust. Rust decided to give the newspaper false information and just enough of it to shut them up. He called Rust and asked, "Is such purposeful misinformation ethical?" Unphased and unapologetic, Rust stated that he would "do any tactical deception I can do" to keep the press from getting the full story.

Naively, Harton wonders, "But when the FEDC’s public comments are so few and far between, isn’t it reasonable to suggest that those comments should be trustworthy and accurate instead of manipulative and deceptive? Such “tactical deception” will only increase skepticism about every utterance coming from FEDC. Citizens will ask: Is he shooting straight in this story, or has he decided to manipulate and try to divert attention through created information?"

Yes, and they'll ask whether Harton will be duped again so easily and whether the newspaper's reporters can be led to such superficial reporting by a lying huskster dishing out false information.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Rep. Jon Woods Investigates Illegal Immigrants

Republican State Rep. Jon Woods of Springdale has asked the Legislature’s joint committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs to study the impact of illegal immigration on various areas of state government. Hearings will begin on August 13, with witnesses from the state departments of Education, Correction and Health. No witnesses are scheduled from the building contractors and poultry companies who hire illegal aliens.

After the failure of the Bush Administration to secure our borders and the defeat of the President’s amnesty legislation, Woods said anyone who thinks it’s only a federal issue “is out of touch on the topic.” The construction industry and chicken processing firms in Northwest Arkansas rely heavily on immigrant labor for low-paid jobs, so it is clearly a political issue in this part of the state. Most employers do not provide health care for their Arkansas workers and their children, so they either go without treatment or turn to state agencies.

The written proposal from Woods calling for hearings acknowledges that there might be costs in providing public education and emergency health care to the children of illegal immigrants working for Northwest Arkansas businesses and corporations. “Illegal immigration imposes a burden on state agencies charged with providing benefits and services to residents of this state, which could hamper those efforts to provide needed benefits to lawful citizens.”

“We’re not doing this to get ammo or to do anything that could be used as threatening, or mean-spirited,” Woods said. “This is something we need to know. We need to know the numbers.” Woods did not indicate whether he would work to increase education and health care funding for immigrant children or would demand increased criminal penalties against corporations and businesses that employ illegal immigrants. Even if he does nothing except get publicity for himself, he will score political points with some of his Springdale constituents. It worked for Jim Holt.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Getting Decked on Dickson Street

A Fayetteville city committee, led by Director of Operations Gary Dumas, has decided to ask for proposals from commercial developers Signet Development and Performa Entertainment to building a parking deck. The planned parking structure for visitors to Dickson Street will be south of the Walton Arts Center along West Avenue and Spring Street. Preliminary plans are for 200,000 square feet of commercial space and 500 parking spaces. This raises three questions for local citizens to consider before the bureaucrats get too far along.

First, why does the city want to build the deck in that location? Wouldn’t it preserve the sense of community and make much more sense to build up on the huge expanse of a parking lot west of the Walton Arts Center at West and Dickson? The present plan will wipe out Grub’s and other structures. Why not just deck the existing space instead of taking up even more of prime downtown commercial and residential real estate with parking?

Second, what will this 500 space parking deck look like? Will it be a giant concrete eyesore like the one the University of Arkansas built recently? Will it be one that enhances the built environment, like the one pictured above in Staunton, Virginia? It does make a difference.

Third, although it appears too late to do anything about it, why did the city decide to exclude local businesses from the process and go with out of state firms? Local companies Dixie Development, Haynes Limited, and Flake & Kelley Commercial all submitted preliminary proposals but were rejected outright. The Chamber of Commerce and the Fayetteville Economic Development Council have made no public comment on the decision to outsource jobs. It is amazing that with a Community Design Center and numerous local architects and contractors that none are deemed competent for the task by the city administration.

If any of this matters to you, contact Mayor Coody (575-8330) or Alderman Adella Gray of Ward One (442-4958). Gray is Mayor Coody’s appointed voice on the committee that includes five unelected city employees who will continue making the decisions. Although the proposed parking deck is in Ward Two, Aldermen Kyle Cook and Nancy Allen are not on the committee that will be making decisions having a significant impact on their Ward.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Rogers Environmental Day this Saturday

Jered Sigmon of Main Street Rogers is taking the lead on organizing an Environmental Day in Rogers this Saturday. The activities tomorrow morning will be centered around the Frisco Stage and Frisco Park, located at 1st and Elm in downtown Rogers (near the caboose and RR tracks). Don and Derry Berrigan of Design Center in Downtown Rogers will serve as emcees for the event.

Stage speaker schedule:

09:30am—Designing an energy-efficient home—David Stitt of Stitt Energy Systems

10:00am—Solid waste disposal—Serina Wilkins of BC Solid Waste District

10:30am—Water quality and pollution control—Van Banks of the Cooperative Extension Office

11:00am—Environmental assessments and training solutions—Reagan Jones of Mid-America Environmental Solutions

11:30am—Developing a unified Rogers trails system—Rick Stocker and Merissa Spicer of Rogers Greenways and Trails

12:00pm—Disposing of household hazardous waste— Shannon Weathers of HAZ-MERT

12:30pm—Litter control, recycling, and community education—LaDonna Meredith of Keep Benton County Beautiful

Thursday, July 12, 2007

If You Can't Sell It in Siloam Springs....

The Siloam Springs School Board at its meeting this week unanimously rejected Gentry resident Logan Reed's request to teach an elective course on the Bible as literature and history for two semesters credit to captive high school students. The curriculum touted by Reed is one developed by the right-wing National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. It is the same scam for getting a particular religious viewpoint into the public schools that was earlier rejected by the Fort Smith School Board.

If the conservative school boards in Republican-dominated Siloam Springs and Fort Smith won't fall for this sure-fire loser lawsuit, where can Reed find a taker? Undaunted, Reed said he intends to push his Bible curriculum scheme to other area school districts in Benton County and in Oklahoma. Maybe the Virtual Charter School will bite.

The only school district in the state to fall for the NCBC religious indoctrination proposal has been Texarkana, where Paul D. Human is in charge. Human once lost a lawsuit in federal court when it was found that he was trying to introduce mandatory Bible stories in the public schools of Benton County in violation of the First Amendment. Although the litigation cost taxpayers thousands of dollars to defend an obviously unconstitutional practice, Human was rewarded by former Governor Mike Huckabee with appointment to the Arkansas Early Childhood Commission, where he will serve for yet another year.

Local Experts Debunk Global Warming Hoax

Mayor Dan Coody proudly wrote on his Blog this week, ''We should proclaim this the Summer of Sustainability in Fayetteville. We have received a very prestigious award; we are hosting an international conference on climate change; we are already seeing evidence of energy savings resulting from minor behavior modifications among city employees and major changes such as the transition to bio-diesel.''

Not everyone thinks this is a good deal. Local expert Valerie Biendara, a new member of the Fayetteville parks advisory board, called the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives a ''leftist organization'' and referred to Coody's conference as ''Fayetteville's 'Global Warming' Kookfest.'' According to Biendara, the bogus threat of global warming is a result of alarmist manipulation. "The fad is to jump on the bandwagon," she said. "It's scientists looking to get grant money and politicians looking to win awards." Global climate change occurred long before humans industrialized, she stated.

Another local expert, Timothy R. Smith, agrees with Biendara. ''What I find so interesting about living here in Fayetteville is the inconsistent thinking found in the crowd of earth worshipers which appears to drive much of the local political process. These folks are the ones who trample on individual property owner’s rights by enacting laws about which trees can be cut down,'' he said.

Expert Smith also shares Biendara's disdain for Fayetteville's sustainability efforts. ''This same group talks about CO2 levels and global warming along with how the city can spend more money to save the earth. They hire a sustainability coordinator to go around and tell city departments directors to tell their employees to turn off lights they are not using. They push for purchase of a hybrid city vehicle so we can feel good about doing something. They ignore the evidence that global warming is directly related to increased sun spot activity and has no correlation to increased industrial activity of the 20th century.''

I'm just a country lawyer, but I have to go with Mayor Coody on this one. Sounds like Biendara and Smith have been drinking the Kool-Aid or watching too much Fox 'News'.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Double-Secret Developer Double-Talk

Steve Rust, president and CEO of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council (FEDC ), gave aldermen a short history on the development council and a lesson on how economic development works, using the example of Project Shining Star, the super secret code name he gave to his biggest project failure so far. Perhaps it was the only project attempted, since all information is kept secret from the public and the city council.

Rust claimed the project would have included an investment of $200 million and the creation of 400 jobs, but he maintained that he still does not know the name of the company. Earlier Rust told the Northwest Arkansas Times that company would have employed 200 people, but now he claims he lost 400 jobs.

The city doesn’t have its own master plan for economic development. Rust told aldermen that the competitive nature of economic development requires a private organization, such as FEDC, that can operate outside the public eye and is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. That way, nosy citizens, public officials, and reporters could have no information about what the group is trying to do in our community. In an email, Rust bragged that “our decision to give ‘some’ information to the local paper in an effort to keep them from digging, has worked.” Everyone should expect more deceptive actions like that in the future.

Rust said the governing body of the FEDC includes Mayor Dan Coody, Phillip Stafford for the UA, and Matt Bodishbaugh, of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. Other board members are those who pay enough money to get a seat on the board. All seem to agree on keeping the public in the dark. The FEDC said they were having trouble attracting a major industry because of impact fees that require businesses to pay their fair share for infrastructure and the lack of land that the city could offer to a major industry. They didn’t say who should pay for the infrastructure or the land given to a corporation, but you and I know who would pay.

By the way, I almost landed a major employer with 600 high tech jobs. I don't know the name of the corporation, and I wouldn't tell you if I knew. Keep paying me.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Farmington Is the New Fayetteville

Joe Bailey, Farmington Chamber of Commerce president, brags about one of the town’s most recent new businesses, Tractor Supply Company, stolen by Farmington and taking jobs from Fayetteville. Bailey says Farmington is business friendly and has its advantages as a place to do business, citing the recent addition of a Collier’s Drug and an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store. "As time goes by, I’d like to see us get something like a Smokey Bones or O’Charleys," Bailey said, referring to two restaurants near the Northwest Arkansas Mall that went belly-up in Fayetteville. "We’re only on the ground floor when it comes to potential," he boasted in true Chamber lingo and drooling over those $2.63-an-hour new jobs as food servers.

All of these job creation efforts and attempts to grow the tax base in Farmington are in danger, because the city government is displaying an "unfriendly attitude" and getting a "reputation as unfriendly to business."

City Administrator Melissa McCarville says fees on business have not been increased since 1995, and she advocates dramatic hikes in charges to businesses. The Farmington City Council is considering raising the cost of a new business license by more than 100% and the cost of renewal by 500%.

More telling is the planned crackdown on individual entrepreneurs. Three years ago, Farmington started requiring permits for garage sales, and now they want to slap on a $10 permit fee. Code Enforcement Officer Dan Ledbetter says leftover garage sale signs are a major problem for the city.
Instead of just giving the suspects a warning, he says, "If they leave their sign up, I think we ought to automatically fine them." City Attorney Steve Tenant agrees. "There are umpteen ways you can add to enforce this," Tenant said. "You can put all kinds of provisions on it if you want to."

Next thing you know, the Cardinal Drive-In will be moving to Fayetteville's much more "business friendly" atmosphere. Bill Ramsey and Steve Rust are probably working up an "incentive" package right now and planning a ribbon-cutting ceremony to take credit for those new jobs.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Conference on Local Environmental Initiatives

The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives and the City of Fayetteville are hosting a four-day national workshop starting tomorrow at the Town Center on the “Saving Energy and Saving Money: The Economic Benefits of Local Climate Action." It is primarily an information exchange event designed to showcase and exchange ideas among local officials in cities around the nation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make their cities more sustainable.

Mayor Coody is to be commended for bringing this conference to Fayetteville and for making sure that local citizens can attend the sessions for free on Wednesday and Thursday.
Here is a copy of the program. Presentations are planned by local, state and federal officials ranging from long-term global warming solutions to how to expand public transportation. It would also be a good idea to record the sessions for cablecast on the Government Channel 16 and Community Access Television Channel 18. This is an excellent chance for public information and education to increase citizen awareness and to build public support for the city's sustainability initiatives.

This would also be an excellent opportunity for Mayor Coody to explain how the Lights of the Ozarks fits within his
mandatory energy reduction program. It is unclear how burning over a million incandescent lightbulbs for a month-long public spectacle, increasing vehicle traffic, devoting the time of city employees to install and take down the lights, and sticking the taxpayers with a huge electric bill is a good idea for a local government that preaches energy conservation and sustainability. Some people might think it is just another scam in which the Chamber of Commerce and the Northwest Arkansas Times duped the city into making taxpayers pick up the tab for another pointless commercial orgy, so here's the chance to explain how that's not true.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Impact Fees and Affordable Housing

The Rogers City Council approved development impact fees for new water and sewer hookups, but they did so with a plan to protect low-income homebuyers seeking affordable housing. There will be a lower fee structure for smaller homes built in the city’s affordable-housing zone, but overall impact fees will still provide the needed resources for the continued infrastructure demands on the city.

The ordinance will reduce the fees for homes smaller than 1,200 square feet in the affordable-housing zone, which was created to allow for the building of smaller structures on smaller lots, increasing density and lowering the overall cost. The lowered fees will be $350 for water service and $1,100 for sewer service, a fee more sensitive to a home’s actual impact on the overall infrastructure, instead of the standard combined cost of $2,900.

Fayetteville should consider this approach to road impact fees, designating an affordable housing zone in the city center to encourage infill and applying larger impact fees on new construction that creates traffic congestion and enormous infrastructure costs at the outer edges of the city. It advances City Plan 2025, makes sense for smart growth, and assures that everyone pays their fair share. All we need are a mayor and city council with the courage to stand up to the developers' Free Lunch Club and do the right thing.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Quote of the Day

"You’d think we’d have a little more success than we do at bringing in new business. I just want to know that they’re doing something. It’s always shush. As they say, economic development issues are not for the public, so they sure as hell aren’t going to tell somebody like me."

--Alderman Kyle Cook on the mysteriously unproductive Fayetteville Economic Development Council, quoted in the Northwest Arkansas Times.

The Race Is On!

The filing deadline is not until August 6, but already the race has been joined for the Zone Four position on the Fayetteville School Board. Mary Lynn Mantooth of 6430 W. Wheeler Road and Becky Purcell of 2369 Yorkwood Drive have filed for the seat currently held by Christine Bell, who is not running for reelection. Both women have family connections to the University of Arkansas faculty, and both have been active as volunteers at the public schools attended by their children. Fayetteville is fortunate to have such dedicated and involved citizens seeking positions on the school board.

This is an important election, but voter turnout historically has been quite low for the September school elections. The evident concern about the location of the high school could increase interest and participation, and it is certainly an issue about which all candidates should be asked and required to take a firm position.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Delightful Downtown Developments

Ignore the Chamber of Commerce siren song's Call for Sprawl and the joys of five lanes of asphalt with a suicide lane. Instead celebrate the sensible development going on in downtown Fayetteville and be thankful that it doesn't require additional tax dollars for new roads, water and sewer lines, or fire stations. The new Renaissance Marriott and the refurbished Cosmopolitan hotels will be joined by a new restaurant in the Old Post Office, one in the remodeled E.J. Ball Building, and another on the street level of the Bank of America condo project. Smart growth.

Not everything in Rogers is about Ronnie Floyd's self-aggrandizing tabernacle and the Pinnacle Promenade, an equally lavish commercial bazaar. This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Applegate Building in downtown Rogers, and it is enjoying a new life as Poor Richard's Art, the consignment shop for local artists owned and operated by Clarice Moore and Mary Schopp. Not too far away,
Moe Torabi has rehabilitated the old Rogers Vinegar plant for an eclectic collection of shops now called Traders Market, but it still serves as a reminder that in 1901 Benton County produced more apples than any other county in the nation, and over 300 varieties, too.

In Springdale, there is more to the city's soul than West Sunset and the Supercenter. Plans have been announced by the Shiloh Museum to restore the 1871 Shiloh Meeting Hall, the oldest building in downtown Springdale, to its 19th century design under the direction of
Clements & Associates Architecture. A $69,448 grant from the Department of Arkansas Heritage will pay for repairs to the exterior of the building, but it will become an active facility for the museum, not just a monument to the quaint past. Adaptive reuse at its best and much better than those metal buildings on the bypass.

John Lewis always stressed the preservation and transmission of our heritage. Downtown development can do that better than almost anything, and it builds the tax base without the additional drain on taxes for building out infrastructure. These developments are a fitting tribute to the vision that John Lewis shared with us--and a refutation of the modern Babbitts at the Chamber.

Volunteers Needed for Seven Hills Rain Garden

Please show up at the new Seven Hills facility at 9 o'clock on Saturday, July 7th, to help build four rain gardens. The new facility is on the south side of East Huntsville Road between Morningside Drive and Erika Avenue. For more details, contact Katie Teague at kteague@uaex.edu or 444-1755 to participate or just show up and help with the planting!!

This is important. You can learn how to construct a rain garden at your home or business, and you get to help protect our drinking water sources. Most of the rain that falls on cities lands on impervious surfaces, such as roads and parking lots, where it absorbs pollutants before it finally drains away with fertilizers, oil and, particulates reaching storm drains, but a shallow depression in a garden containing bark mulch and shrubs can remove up to 99% of toxins.

Rain gardens are landscape features planted with water-tolerant, perennial, native plants and are a way for homeowners as well as businesses to participate in the reduction of nonpoint source pollution from urban runoff, simply by planting a specialized garden. These beautiful gardens are planted in depressions or low areas which are designed to capture and filter pollutants in storm water runoff. In addition to filtering stormwater, rain gardens recharge groundwater, increase wildlife habitat, enhance aesthetic values, protect from flooding, reduce peak flows in local streams and reduce municipal storm water treatment costs.

Here is additional information about rain gardens and here is a manual to build your own.