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Hot Springs Sentinel-Record
Hot Springs Sentinel-Record
 
By: Mark Gregory, Associate editor
Water study halts highway progress
The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department said recently that the next leg of the King Expressway (U.S. Highway 70/270) is on hold pending the outcome of a federally funded thermal water study.

"There's not a whole lot we could do right now until this study is completed," said Randy Ort, highway department spokesman. "We have to wait on the results of this study. That's it in a nutshell." The Federal Highway Administration has agreed to fund a three-year, $458,700 study of thermal waters found on private land east of Hot Springs to determine whether it is somehow connected to Hot Springs National Park's namesake hot springs. A four-way Letter of Understanding was signed this week between the U.S. Geological Survey Arkansas Water Science Center, the National Park Service/Hot Springs National Park, the FHA and the state highway department.

The state highway department agrees in the L.O.U. to confer with the Park Service on the results of the investigation, and on any decisions about construction, and/or use of explosives, in the area. A resident in the Bratton Drive area off Highway 70 east contacted the Park Service on March 1 after a well on his property began yielding water as high as 93 degrees. The well had never been observed to produce warm water.

The well is about 5.5 miles east of the national park's spring discharge zone on the west slope of Hot Springs Mountain, and slightly more than a mile from the last phase of the expressway, where blasting was used.

"There's not a known connection between the other thermal waters and this well. And that's what needs to be determined. What, if anything, is that connection? And, could the construction process in the area--what impact would that have, if there is a connection?" Ort said. Local officials consider completing the expressway one of the community's top priorities, since it would provide the only connection between the expressway and northern Garland County, and allow a more direct route from Hot Springs Village to Hot Springs- area businesses and medical facilities.

"This is still a good project. It's a needed project. It will provide great benefits for the area. But, the thermal waters are very vital to Hot Springs, as well. And we need to make sure that we're doing the best thing so both can co-exist," Ort said.

"I think that it's very important that the Geological Survey do (its) work for the National Park Service. That information will be used by us to finalize plans for the extension of the arterial," Ort said. Whether the design has to be reconfigured depends on the results of the study, he said.

"We had already selected a line and were beginning to design along that line, but we're going to hold off, now," Ort said. The highway department estimates it will take $85 million to acquire right of way and construct the initial two lanes of the roadway north from the Morning Star area.

The project would construct a two-lane roadway, at least initially, about 5.5 miles in length to extend the roadway north from the intersection of Highway 70 east to the junction of Arkansas highways 5 and 7.

Potential explanations for the recent observation of thermal water in the Bratton well include the possibility that the presence of hot water has been overlooked during years of use of the well, the L.O.U. says.

Alternatively, some recent event could have altered the local hydrology, introducing hot water into fracture sets intercepted by the well, it said.

The recent highway and interchange construction provides a "high visibility mark" in terms of an explanation, it said. The study tasks include:
  • Reconnaissance of other wells in the area to look for other hot water.
  • Measurement of groundwater levels to look at direction of groundwater movement.
  • Collection of water samples to test for similarities between the thermal water from the hot springs at Hot Springs National Park and the water found east of the city of Hot Springs.
© Hot Springs Sentinel-Record  2006
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