Oct. 21, Hardy Mayor Nina Thorton cut the water supply off to the Biggers Bluff community after two years of non-payment. The decision to take this action was voted on by the city council -- a unanimous vote.
The person responsible for paying Hardy for the Biggers Bluff water usage is the manager of Biggers Bluff Corporation, Clifton Johnson.
The homeowners pay their water bill to Johnson on a yearly basis, and Johnson is supposed to pay the usage charges to Hardy. No one knows what was done with the money paid by the residents, but it was obvious on Oct. 21 when the water was shut off, it was not being paid to the city of Hardy.
Biggers Bluff was developed by Wayne Watkins who is now a fugitive. Watkins has several cases pending against him as well as a Sharp County warrant for his arrest. In June, the attorney general filed suit against Johnson, Watkins and two others for violation of Arkansas' Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Watkins sold and received money for several lots in the Spring River Beach Club area, but before ownership was transferred to the new owners, Watkins put many of the lots up as collateral for a loan. When Watkins defaulted on his loan, the property many people thought they had purchased, ended up in the bank's possession.
During the development of Biggers Bluff, Watkins made an agreement with the city of Hardy to tap into their water supply and pay for the usage. Watkins had a pumping station installed that provided water from the Hardy waterline to the homes and lots in Biggers Bluff. Hardy reads the commercial meter attached to the system to determine the monthly water usage charges.
Residents who purchased lots in Biggers Bluff were given a bill of assurance stating there was rural water provided and each homeowner paid Johnson $300 per year for water usage.
Biggers Bluff Bed and Breakfast owner David Bathrick, said he had a water meter installed to determine his usage charges each year, because he uses much more water than the residents. The remainder of the charges come from the R.V. park located within the community that is run by Johnson.
Hardy Mayor Nina Thorton said Johnson stopped paying the water bill regularly two years ago. "He (Johnson) was caught up when the flood (2006) came, but just stopped paying after that," Thorton told the Hardy City Council at the council meeting Oct. 21. "He (Johnson) made some small payments after the flood but the bill just got higher and higher."
According to Thorton, after the November usage charges are added Biggers Bluff Corporation (Clifton Johnson) owes the city of Hardy $21,700 for water usage. Thorton said Clifton showed up Tuesday morning when the water was being shut off and told her he does not have the money to pay the bill.
Marlene Miller, a homeowner in the Biggers Bluff subdivision, attended the Hardy City Council meeting Tuesday night after she and several others had their water cut off. "Why are you not punishing Clifton Johnson instead of us (Biggers Bluff residents) who have paid our water bill?" Miller asked the council.
"You didn't pay the water bill to us, you're not our customer," Thorton told Miller. Miller then asked why the city let the bill get so big and Thorton explained the city has tried to work with Johnson to keep from having to take this action.
Thorton said she had taken several calls but there is just nothing she can do until the debt has been paid. "I do feel for the people. If it was me, personally, I would not be happy either," Thorton said. "But, I am under a legal obligation to not give free services."
"We (Biggers Bluff residents) are just tired of people putting Bandaids on the problem," Bathrick said. Bathrick said the water system has always been a problem for the community and this time the only solution may be for the homeowners to pay for their own wells.
It is also discomforting to the citizens of Biggers Bluff to know Johnson, the man who took their money, is the president of the Highland Water Board.
Bathrick said while this is not the first time the community has been without water, it is the first time the city has ever cut-off the water supply. Bathrick said the community was without water for 15 days a couple of years ago due to the pump station breaking down.
Being a business owner, Bathrick had to have a backup water system, so, he had a well dug on his property last year. The well cost Bathrick $11,500 to install but due to the current water outage he will have to spend additional money on the well to bring it up to Arkansas Health Department regulations.
Bathrick said he contacted the Arkansas Health Department about the situation and the health inspector checked the restaurants water supply. The state requires a business to have chlorinated water and Bathrick's well is not chlorinated. He will have to pay to put a chlorinator on his well to comply with the law and keep his business open.
Bathrick had his well water tested and it is pure and healthy, he said. The Health Department has allowed him time to have the chlorinater installed which he said will be done by Oct. 31.
"The men from the health department sat right here in my home and told one of my neighbors there is no law in Arkansas stating residents have to be provided with water," Bathrick said.
Even though Bathrick's business was never closed, he did lose business because there were reports that he had been shut down. "I had several people call and cancel reservations because KAIT Jonesboro reported I had been shut down," Bathrick said.
The only source of water the residents currently have is a 2,000 gallon water tanker Judge Larry Brown sent over for them. "It (the water) is not drinkable, it is only usable to flush the commode," Sue McKinney, another resident without water said.
Sam and Sue Oakley are residents of Biggers Bluff as well. They are both disabled, and like the others, without water. "Say we have to put in wells, but what about in the meantime?" Sam said. "We don't want a handout, we'll pay."
Oakley said even if it comes down to all of the homeowners having to pay for wells to be dug, things like that take time. "All we're asking is for Hardy to sell us the water. We're willing to pay for it," Oakley said.
A small group of Biggers Bluff residents met Oct. 24 to discuss their options. "We are not mad at Nina or the city of Hardy," Sue Oakley said. "We understand Hardy needs their money but where is their compassion, what about the people?"
"I bet if any one of the council members lived up here the water wouldn't have been shut-off," Miller said.
Residents of Biggers Bluff have contacted several government departments trying to find out what their options are. The lawyers they have consulted have told them it would be a waste of their money to go after Johnson. "We could sue him (Johnson) but we'd have to stand in line and that doesn't provide us with water," Miller said.
The Oakleys are looking into doing a reverse mortgage to pay for a well and Miller has talked to her accountant about cashing in her last annuity. Miller said the estimate given to her for well drilling was $10,000. The company who gave Miller her estimate said it is high because of the clearing that would have to be done to get the equipment in, and in her case, the water would have to be pumped up hill which requires a larger pump.
The group wonders why the city of Hardy can't file suit to take ownership of the Biggers Bluff water system for the debt they are owed. "We would all be more than happy to buy our own water meters which would save Hardy that expense," Sam Oakley said.
No one knows what the next couple of weeks will bring for the citizens of Biggers Bluff but they are sticking together as a strong community and trying to solve the problem for everyone.