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MIKE MASTERSON: Road through Damascus

Still a speed trap by Mike Masterson | February 18, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Anxious motorists passing through citation-happy Damascus will continue breathing a little easier since Faulkner County Circuit Judge Chris Carnahan ruled the town's constitutional challenge to Arkansas' speed-trap law as "moot."

The community of 400 souls that then-Prosecutor Cody Hiland last year determined had become a legally defined speed trap because of the number and nature of traffic tickets its police regularly awarded travelers along U.S 65 was hoping the judge would find that designation unconstitutional.

But Judge Carnahan was having nothing of that plea. He told Damascus City Attorney Beau Wilcox the constitutional question belonged with our lawmakin' Legislature.

The judge also said if Wilcox wants to challenge whether the Arkansas State Police somehow miscalculated the number of citations written by the town's four full-time and two part-time officers, he'd have to prove that allegation.

The city today is being well-served by two-part-time police and patrolled by state troopers and deputies from Faulkner and Van Buren counties.

Wilcox was questioning calculations that triggered the sanctions even after the state police and legislative auditors examined the town's inordinately large number of fines three different ways over two years between 2013 and 2015. The town still was properly determined a bona fide speed trap.

A news account of Carnahan's finding by veteran investigative reporter Debra Hale-Shelton explained that any city violates the state's speed-trap law if revenue from traffic fines and costs from citations exceeds 30 percent of the town's total expenses (less capital expenses and debt service) in the previous year.

It also reads: "A city also is in violation if more than 50 percent of its misdemeanor tickets issued on a state highway are for people driving 10 mph or less over the speed limit."

Damascus' revenue from traffic fines and costs above the 30 percent level ranged from $77,836 to $298,449, depending on the year examined and the method of analysis, according to Hiland's report.

There's no doubt the two-mile stretch through Damascus has long been an ideal location to soak unwary travelers headed to and from Table Rock Lake, Branson, Springfield and the Buffalo National River.

And, for now, thanks to Hiland, who has since been appointed the U.S Attorney for the state's Eastern District, the major highway through town continues to be patrolled by professional officers who aren't expected to be little more than sworn fundraisers for the town.

Dry litter decision

You may recall the case of the Newton County family whose large dry-litter swine operation called Sanders Farm found itself facing closure two months ago after things got out of hand and began leaking waste on their property that borders the Buffalo National River watershed.

Patrick Sanders found himself dealing with about 3,000 swine (some 600 more than they'd counted on) after illness within the herd prevented him from selling many of them. Instead, they overpopulated and began roaming the property unrestrained.

In the process, the hay/waste combination, designed to be hauled off the property, wound up stacked in the open rather than under a roof. Subsequent rainfall caused a runoff leak toward a tributary of the Buffalo.

A neighbor's complaints about what became a burgeoning pig problem led the Department of Environmental Quality to ask a circuit judge to close the facility. The Sanderses openly admitted their problems to the court and vowed to obey a ruling that gave them 60 days to resolve their problems or face the possibility of losing their livelihood.

Judge Gail Inman-Campbell has now ruled the Sanderses had completed many of the reforms she'd demanded and allowed the facility to remain in operation pending a few other changes to its stock buildings, methods of operating and nutrient management plan.

The Sanderses' attorney, Robert Ginnaven of Harrison, said he felt the judge was fair in allowing the family to keep operating with some improvements. "I've always instructed my clients to be honest in court and the Sanderses were completely open and apologetic about what had happened," he said. "I know the judge could see and appreciate the candor."

I've written previously that if there absolutely, unquestionably, unequivocally had to be a swine factory operating in the Buffalo National River watershed, I'd only accept this version of a properly managed dry-litter facility where the swine are confined and their waste is covered and dry then hauled away from potential harm to the country's first national river.

And while I've always been a supporter of, and advocate for, personal property rights, especially the right to own and operate a farm as one's livelihood, the dry-litter form enables every side to win, including our state's top attraction that attracts about 1.8 million visitors annually who in 2016 spent nearly $78 million in the area.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at

Editorial on 02/18/2018

Print Headline: Road through Damascus


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