Parks panel approves $10K for consulting services

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Eureka Springs Parks and Recreation Commission is spending up to $10,000 on consulting services.

On Tuesday, June 15, the commission agreed to work with Sandi Formica of the Watershed Conservation Resource Center (WCRC) to assess how to improve the water quality in all city parks, with an emphasis on Lake Leatherwood City Park.

WCRC provides specialized assistance for watershed resource issues. According to the contract agreement, the commission will spend up to $10,000 for consultation services. That number is based on hourly rates plus reimbursable expenses, the contract says, and allows WCRC to consult on the planning process, water quality monitoring and funding opportunities to make improvements.

During public comments, Christopher Fischer urged the commission to move forward with the proposal. Fischer said he’s heard of Formica’s work in Washington and Benton counties. He hopes Formica can help “Eureka Springs and our troubled waters,” Fischer said.

“What Ms. Formica brings to this ongoing story is a proven track record and is highly regarded in the conservation trade for her teamwork in fixing problematic stream banks and improving the landscape for many communities in Northwest Arkansas,” Fischer said. “I’m hoping … you will understand how vital this proposal is to the future of the park.”

Interim director Scott Miskiel said the contract shows the commission’s “commitment to improve and maintain the quality of the water.” Miskiel said the commission has agreed to pump the brakes on work at Lake Leatherwood City Park until the consultation process is complete. The commission needs to do some planning and get documentation on what to do next, Miscall said.

“That’s an important first step to reaching a comprehensive master plan,” Miskiel said.

Chairman Kevin Ruehle said he met with Formica and was “quite impressed with her knowledge.”

“The real advantage to the commission and to the park is that she will be able to do a lot of the legwork for us in seeking grants and seeking support from both state and federal entities in support of the work we need to do out there to clean up the lake,” Ruehle said.

He said the commission earmarked money for conceptual master planning in the 2021 budget.

“It’s absolutely critical,” Ruehle said. “A lot of the work that has taken place out there over the last 10 years has been haphazard and not really thought out before it was done.”

Before the commission does anything new at Lake Leatherwood City Park, Ruehle said, a complete consultation is vital. Ruehle said the results from the consultation will help the commission decide where to place campsites, what to do about trail crossings in stream areas and more.

“The two will go hand-in-hand,” Ruehle said. “Sandi’s work will need to occur before we get any site planning work initiated. We’re on the right path for being able to put together a plan for decisions made well into the future.”

Commissioner Carmen Burden then moved to approve the consultation agreement and commissioner Sue Hubbard asked what Miskiel thought about the way the contract is written. Miskiel said the contract is “pretty basic.”

“I’ve seen worse, let me put it that way,” Miskiel said. “It’s actually written in a pretty fair manner we would expect of somebody that we wanted to do business with.”

Because WCRC is a nonprofit, Ruehle said, the organization has donor support. That means the $10,000 consultation fee will solely cover Formica’s expenses.

“Fairly early on, she’ll be able to identify grant sources that will not only cover the work that we’re doing but cover her expenses from that point on,” Ruehle said. “This is really intended as a not-to-exceed number, and she will bill against that until we have a funding source to over the project in its entirety.”

The commission unanimously voted to approve the agreement and moved on to discuss how to handle the feral hog problem in the parks. Pat Costner spoke during public comments about her experience with the Arkansas Game and Fish team, which trapped and disposed of hogs on her property.

“I’ve never seen such a well-choreographed series of actions in my life,” Costner said.

The team set up a game camera and returned once they spotted a hog, Costner said. Then they trapped the hogs and killed them, she said.

“I would say they spent maybe three hours total in all of that, and the service is available at no cost,” Costner said. “I just wanted you to know that is available and it works very well.”

Miskiel said Costner gave him contact information for someone who works for Arkansas Game and Fish. He hopes to hear from that person soon, Miskiel said. Miskiel acknowledged that the feral hog problem is especially prevalent this year, saying he spoke with someone who has 33 feral pigs on his property.

“That’s a lot of pigs, and we’ve seen the damage out there,” Miskiel said. “We need to do something.”

Feral hogs have presented problems for a number of years, Ruehle said.

“It does seem worse this year for some reason,” Ruehle said. “It’s always been a problem in the eastern side of the park. It’s really been in the last year that we’ve seen a lot of activity on the western side of the park.”

Ruehle said the commission has hog traps that were purchased by former director Justin Huss by recommendation from Arkansas Game and Fish. Those traps aren’t portable, Ruehle said, and the commission continues to pay maintenance fees on them. Ruehle suggested selling the traps and purchasing a more portable trap.

“We can’t move them to the areas of the park where we know the activity is,” Ruehle said. “It makes absolutely no sense to continue to spend money on them.”

Ruehle said a more portable trap could be moved to the areas where activity occurs. Before purchasing a new trap, Ruehle said, the commission should consult with Arkansas Game and Fish.

“If we can get Arkansas Game and Fish to come in and address the issue as a whole in the park … then we will allow them do it and see if it can mitigate the problem without investing in another trap,” Ruehle said. “But I don’t think the problem is going to go away. There will continue to be problems with herds of feral pigs in the park and we need to address it in a more effective manner.”

Miskiel said he’d like the commission to approve the sale of the existing traps and the purchase of a new trap but wouldn’t take action on that until Arkansas Game and Fish looks at the issue.

Burden moved to authorize Miskiel to purchase one pig trap and sell the two existing pig traps at the next city auction or through any other appropriate means and Hubbard amended the motion to state that Miskiel will ensure the new trap will work in local conditions. The commission unanimously voted to approve the motion.

Also at the meeting, the commission voted to sell a truck and a skid steer. Ruehle said the vehicles have costly maintenance expenses. The commission could sell the vehicles, Ruehle said, and use the proceeds to purchase a dump trailer and a truck that can pull a heavy trailer. If the cost of the new vehicles exceeds $35,000, Ruehle said, the commission will get approval from the Eureka Springs City Council.

Hubbard moved to sell the truck and skid steer, use the proceeds to purchase new vehicles and place any remaining funds in reserves to purchase another vehicle in 2022. The commission unanimously approved the motion.

The commission’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, July 20, at The Auditorium.

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