The Benton City Council Community Services Committee approved a number of items Tuesday regarding Benton Utilities, including the possibility of calling a special election for March.
Benton Utilities is interested in servicing an area located north of Interstate 30 (near Exit 114), but the area is currently being serviced by Entergy Arkansas. The aldermen approved an ordinance that allows for the holding of a special election in March 2020, asking voters if they are for or against acquiring Entergy’s property.
In 2008, the Benton City Council annexed a large land parcel near Exit 114.
According to Benton Utilities officials, the Arkansas Public Service Commission creates maps that define service areas of nonmunicipal electric utilities. The Exit 114 property was split between Entergy and First Electric Cooperative.
According to Benton Utilities, at the time of annexation, the property was underdeveloped and there were no customers, distribution properties or facilities to purchase. Benton Utilities contacted both companies which, at that time, agreed that nothing existed to be purchased and that Benton Utilities would serve the area.
Benton Utilities officials claim now that the area is poised for significant development, Entergy argues that Benton Utilities has no right to serve the property.
The Saline County Career Technical Campus is currently under construction at this location.
According to Jason Carter, a lawyer with the Carter Law Firm who is representing Benton Utilities in the matter, Entergy claims that the individual who told Benton Utilities they had the right to service the area, did so without proper authorization.
“We got notified by Entergy that they intended to serve the territory,” Carter said. “Apparently, representations that were made in the past that they would not serve the territory were unauthorized.”
Carter said that First Electric Cooperative intends to honor the commitment they previously made.
Arkansas law provides for a number of methods to resolve service territory issues including the filing of lawsuits, but Carter and Benton Utilities are concerned about that being the proper course of action
“That can take time,” Carter said. “The appeal that would go through the Arkansas State Supreme Court process would slow development. We’ve got people who are trying to develop property and get things rolling and we don’t know which utility would serve them. That could really hold up the bus.”
Another solution is the process which the committee approved that includes the special election.
Carter says that the election may not be needed as negotiations are ongoing between the two companies and the ordinances and resolutions pertaining to the matter will only be used if a purchase agreement cannot be achieved.
The committee also approved an ordinance and resolution related to acquiring the property. The ordinance, which would only go into affect if the results of the proposed special election show a majority of voters approve the acquisition, states that Benton Utilities has “attempted in good faith to negotiate for the acquisition of customers and property that would be better served by BPUC than Entergy, Arkansas, LLC, but have been unable to reach agreement”.
The resolution requires Entergy to furnish the city with information related to a number of items including reports, rates, classifications, rules applicable to electric utility services to the area in question. It also directs Entergy to supply the city with all books, records and other information pertaining to the business of Entergy in the area in question, along with a verified, itemized and detailed inventory and valuation of all the property.
According to the resolution, if Entergy does not comply, the city attorney will be authorized to instate legal proceedings.
There were no representatives for Entergy Arkansas present at the committee meeting.
Other items approved from the agenda include:
•A new right-of-way permit.
•The amendment of Ordinance 66 of 2013 regarding subdivision rules and regulations.
The Benton Animal Control Committee also approved an ordinance that will allow for the keeping of chickens coops within the city limits provided they are 50 ft. from a business or residence. The current ordinance states that the coops must be 100 ft. from a business or residence.
All items approved during committee meetings will still be required to obtain approval from the full city council during their regularly scheduled monthly meeting.
All meetings are open to the public and attendance is encouraged.