Bentonville City Council passes resolution to back removal of Lake Bella Vista dam


BELLA VISTA, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Bentonville City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night to support the removal of a controversial dam that forms Lake Bella Vista. A lawsuit stands in the way of removal.

Bentonville has operated the Lake Bella Vista dam since the 1990s, and a series of floods since then have caused significant damage to the dam. April flooding breached the dam and washed it out, and the bridge has been closed to the public.

Tuesday, city council nearly unanimously passed a resolution backing the removal of the bridge. Greg Van Horn is a member of “Friends of Sugar Creek,” a group that’s publicly called for the removal of the dam. He said he hopes the resolution is the first step in making that happen.

“Now, we have the ability to reclaim this stretch of a beautiful Ozark creek,” Van Horn said. “We’re just very happy and grateful for the decision last night.”

Van Horn said the April breach opened an opportunity to permanently address the dam controversy.

“It opened up a new urgency to remove the dam,” Van Horn said. “Now, we have this dam with a 50 or 75-foot hole in the middle of it. It’s very unstable, and in the last rain event, another big chunk fell off the dam.”

A resolution isn’t legally binding, so Van Horn said he and others would continue to push through appropriate avenues to complete the removal process.

There’s a lawsuit brought by in Arkansas’ court of appeals regarding the dam. The suit was filed by former dam owner Cooper Communities. Neff Basore is a part of the Cooper management team and said the group wants the dam to be rebuilt and maintained.

We have tried to refrain from airing this disagreement with the City regarding the Lake Bella Vista dam and surrounding property in the media but since there is a lot of inaccurate information being published perhaps a historical prospective might be in order. I do so from a good memory of the matter but without a file to confirm dates and numbers. Suffice to say they are close.

Cooper Communities worked enthusiastically with the Trail Blazers group between 1997 and 1999 to establish a park and trail system around Lake Bella Vista and other recreational facilities downstream of the dam which is now the location of the soccer fields.  The result was the donation of around 70 acres of land and including lake which was valued at $5,000,000.  Cooper’s major condition of that contribution was that the lake, dam and land be maintained as it had been by Cooper.

During the time the Trail Blazers owned the lake Cooper participated in maintaining the dam and monitoring the dam’s condition during heavy rains. Cooper had maintained the dam continuously since 1965 without difficulty.

In early 2003 the Trail Blazers group approached us, at the suggestion of a community leader, to ask for approval to transfer the property to the City of Bentonville who was in a better position to maintain the amenity.  Cooper agreed as long as the maintenance and repair conditions were assigned, and the City agreed to them.  In November of 2003, the Trail Blazers made a power point presentation to the Bentonville City Council and in mid 2005 Mayor Terry Coberly signed the conveyance agreement on behalf of the City which agreed to those conditions.  For a period of years, the City maintained the land, and otherwise used the property for various recreation activities, but with apparently little, if any, attention to the dam.

People like to say the dam failed over the years however the only issue ever experienced in the almost 40 years Cooper maintained it was the occasional topping.  The soundness of the dam was never questioned until the lack of maintenance became obvious. It almost seems the conscious lack of monitoring and maintenance was purposeful.

When the City became concerned about the lack of maintenance a few years ago they were able to qualify to receive a federal grant that would have easily brought the condition of the dam back up to standards. For some reason they delayed doing anything until the grant expired.

Today we hear that the City passed a resolution to remove the dam which is interesting considering the pending appeal of the legal actions brought by Cooper to require the City to honor its obligation.  I trust they will wait until final disposition of the case, but I suppose we will see.

Neff Basore, part of Cooper Communities management team

The lawsuit is unlikely to be completed before the end of the year.

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