Bethel Heights Avoids Criminal Charge Over Wastewater Issues — For Now

BETHEL HEIGHTS, Ark. (KFSM) — The Benton County prosecutor has, for now, declined to pursue criminal charges against the city of Bethel Heights regarding its ongoing issue with wastewater disposal.

Nathan Smith added that his office reserves the right to pursue a criminal case if the city “doesn’t follow through with an approved solution.”

“The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has informed my office that the City of Bethel Heights has begun taking initial steps to rectify its wastewater issue,” Smith said.

“While additional measures will be needed to solve a problem this long in the making, these are nevertheless steps in the right direction.”

Mayor Cynthia Black didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Smith sent the city a letter on Aug. 1, outlining possibilities for a charge of reckless pollution if the city didn’t find a way to keep wastewater from flowing onto private property.

ADEQ, along with several nearby property owners, has accused Bethel Heights of allowing wastewater to pool in the drip fields; allowing wastewater runoff that could potentially contaminate the Illinois River; failing to maintain compliance with its permit; exceeding permitted effluent limits; and poor record keeping.

Recent testing by ADEQ also showed fecal coliforms too numerous to count in the city’s treated water.

State inspections in February found damaged equipment and piping at the treatment units, which disperses the wastewater into the soil.

Late last month, ADEQ fined Bethel Heights more than $100,000 for violating the state’s air and water pollution laws.

The city has 20 days to appeal the notice, but as of last week, ADEQ hadn’t received a request for a hearing, according to a department spokeswoman.

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