Park Service accused by county officials of not publicizing meetings

[The following material is from the Newton County Times
of 9/23/99 published in Jasper, Arkansas]

Governor's Forum Airs Fears of NPS Intrusion

More than once Thursday night, the words "rebellion" and "revolution" came up and were applauded as Governor Mike Huckabee's office conducted a public forum on a proposed Water Resources Management Plan and the Extraordinary Water Resource designation on the Buffalo National River.

The majority of the audience endorsed declarations that they would not take any more government interference with their private property rights. "We've had enough," speakers said.

Present to answer questions were George Oviatt, BNR's chief of the division of resource management; Randall Mathis of the state Department of Environmental Quality; and Mark White of the Governor's staff.

Representative Jim Milium moderated the meeting that lasted more than three hours. The room in the John Paul Hammerschmidt center at North Arkansas College had standing room only as more then 300 People from Boone, Newton, Searcy and Carroll Counties arrived.

One of their complaints was that early meetings about the Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP) had not been made known to the public. "This is what happens when the public knows," said, Elton Rowe, indicating the crowded room. Rowe cited minutes from a September 4 joint meeting of BNR and ADEPC members stating that "public involvement remains uncertain" and a general philosophy statement that said there was a need "to get the people involved that are on our side." "Personally, I'm offended by this language," Rowe said.

John Henley said a letter notifying five of the nine counties of the March 9 meeting was allegedly mailed out but no one had received it. Searcy County Judge Paul Roy Lee said he found out by accident on the day it was to be held and has since searched his office to see if the letter was mislaid but "I still haven't found it."

Leon Summerville said the planning process had been going on for two years and this was the first public meeting. He noted, however, that a big feature article had appeared in the Memphis Commercial Appeal that included interviews with the Park Service hydrologist. "I guess WRMP is for the people in Memphis," Sommerville said.

Extraordinary Water Resource designation opponents alleged the same tactics had applied to it and the designation should be declared invalid because the legal requirements for public meetings had not been met.

There were also complaints about lack of cooperation in providing documents to the public. Lynn Spradley said he had been unable to get documents defining AA stream and ERW stream classifications under the Scenic Rivers Act. Ed Manor said he had been unable to get dates of DEQ periodic reviews of ERW and Elton Rowe said he had requested a copy of the proposed WRMP and was told it did not exist.

Oviatt maintained all through the meeting that the WRMP does not exist. There is a project statement, which is one of several such statements drawn up as part of a resource management plan overview, but no proposed water resource management plan, he said. Oviatt said the project statement was drawn up last year for funding this year.

He added that part of the project was to show interest and activities of other agencies conducting programs within the Buffalo River watershed and Mott "had to show what kind of dollars are being spent now."

That included money spent by DPC&E to assist livestock farmers in waste management plans. Mathis said he was not aware his agency was included in the budget proposal "until it hit the legislature." He said they would continue to do what they have been doing all along but do not have the authority to regulate water quality in the watershed. They do have the authority to require permits for some operations, such as clearing land and have had a moratorium on new livestock liquid waste disposal systems. That moratorium is about to be lifted, however, Mathis said. He told the audience that there has been no finding of water degradation from the properly permitted and maintained livestock waste disposal systems.

The existing water quality was one of the issues that stirred angry comments from the public.

Sam Tinsley summed it up when he said the federal government took the river "because it was so beautiful, so clean" and 27 years later is coming back to say its polluted. "'The National Park Service moves people, hogs and cattle, off the river," Tinsley said, "then brings in how many million tourists?" He said the "stinky" bathrooms of the park were part of the problem and another part of it was the tourists who used the river and its banks for a toilet. He noted that one third of the estimated annual visitors doing that would be 300,000 people more then the largest city in Arkansas.

Oviatt said the Park Service "is here because Congress directed it" and they have a mandate to protect the river. He said their review of water quality recognizes that there are no problems at present, but attempts to define potential problems and work with local people and other agencies to avert them.

But the bottom line with the audience was the distrust between local people and the federal government that has been building since the park was established in 1972. And that distrust was expressed by many despite assurances that the Park Service had no intention of imposing new regulations.

Searcy County Judge Lee said local people were told nothing about the Man and Biosphere designation proposed a few years ago and the Park Service continued to deny it until they were confronted with "overwhelming" proof. He recalled his lack of notice of a meeting about the WRMP in his county seat, yet Park Service insisted notices were sent and phone calls made. "How do you expect us to believe what you tell us?" Lee asked. He also suggested WRMP was an attempt "to come in the back door to accomplish the MAB plan.

Senator Gary Hunter Asked BNR superintendent Jack Linahan to "look me in the eye and tell me this is not a back door approach for MAB and is not the same people involved." Linahan replied that this was a separate issue and had nothing to do with MAB.

Later, when others raised the issue of Oviatt, Mott and others being part of the MAB planning, Hunter reiterated his question, saying he either misunderstood the answer or Linahan misunderstood the question and, apparently, the same people were involved.

'I'm sorry Mott couldn't be here, Frank Floyd said. "He's making all these talks (to media outside the but when it 'comes time to talk to the people, he disappears." Floyd said Mott's comments outside the local. area "make a big point of pollution" but local people were told WRMP was just about money. "Is this pollution going to come back after this meeting is over?" Floyd asked.

David Bright warned state agencies, "If you are going to partner with the Park Service in this end of the country, you picked the wrong partner." Bright said at the beginning of BNR, local people were told the old people along the river would be allowed to live out their lives there and that the government only needed fifty feet above the high water line to protect the river, yet took as much as three miles. "They lied then and they're lying now," Bright said. "They're the worst neighbors in the world. If you need a road access, you won't get it. If you need a power line, you won't get it. They've stolen our county roads. The enabling act said they couldn't do it, but they've done it anyway They said they don't bring regulation. Can I get a hay permit in the Buffalo watershed? I'm already regulated."

Debbie Horton said her husband, a Searcy County cattle producer, was told by state agencies to put nitrate on their land as part of their management practices, but now the Park Service contends nitrates from farm land are polluting the river. "Why do you tell us to put it on?" she asked, "And, when in this water program can they come back to the farm and mandate the 'can'ts'? "

Mathis replied that the Water Resource Management Plan's efforts to institute best management practices within the entire watershed "can not change from voluntary to regulatory unless the state legislature or congress does it."

One other issue was raised by Marshall mayor Sonny Woods and other Searcy County residents was the question of building a reservoir on Bear Creek to provide water for Marshall. The Park Service opposes the plan because of possible decreased flow of water to the river. Woods said Marshall is dying because they cannot attract new industry. "Why? Because of Buffalo National River," Woods said. "Think about what you're doing to this little town. You're killing us."

In summing up the meeting, Representative Milum had a comment and a warning. First, he expressed his interpretation of the mood of the audience, "It would be easier to have it stop raining then to convince these people," and then he warned against failure to be candid with the public, "Don't propose anything that won't stand the light of day." _______________________________________________________________________

Dear Citizens of Buffalo Watershed (and other ERW watersheds),

I'll long cherish the memory of the September evening at JHP center in Harrison last Thursday. It was a pleasure to observe the fervent spirit of you, my fellow citizens and countrymen who so pointedly expressed our proper intention to govern ourselves to the bureaucratic agencies who are attempting to unravel this God-given and Constitutionally guaranteed principle.

For the present time I hope we can receive official word that the Water Resource Management Plan is at least delayed. The Plan was proceeding as a joint effort of the Buffalo Park Service and the state agency DEQ to regulate the entire watershed (your property and mine) of Buffalo River territory. Simply because great numbers of us stood up and spoke out and will continue to such plans cannot succeed quite so readily. Thanks for doing your part.

However, least we rejoice prematurely, it needs to be understood that the vehicle for the Park Service to impose this plan on us in the watershed was going to be the state agency making an agreement with the Park Service to carry out Park Service orders through state agency authority. The state agency, DEQ, has been given authority to "pursue land management of the watershed" because of its antidegradation policy with the Extraordinary Resource Waterbody (ERW) designation. That is why as long as the ERW designations stand, there still remains the danger for the federal agency (Park Service) to join agreement with personnel of any state agency who would be traitorous enough to submit us to another such plan by another name. It was happening, it will happen again, unless we insist on our elected officials finding a way to undo this shameful state of affairs.

There is much controversy surrounding the issue and the only thing that is clear is that no one seems to know how, why or when ERW designations slipped in so quietly. Usually, the EPA or CWA is blamed, but our elected and appointed officials need to take the responsibility to get themselves educated from a Constitutional point of view. State authority is superior to federal authority and County authority is superior to State authority. The wise authors of our glorious Constitution built that into its frame work. We the people, who have been lax in insisting on the right order of things in government and have been baited by federal handouts which have subjected us to their authority now have a reason to shake ourselves, cast off the webs of entanglement, and grit our teeth through the process of weaning ourselves away from government handouts until we can again restore sanity to issues like environmental protection. We need to remind our officials that they took an oath to protect and defend our Constitution, not our environment. We the people can do that on a county by county basis if they will, in their capacity, protect our right to own and use our land, and return those tax dollars (now being misspent by the agencies), back to the counties.

Representatives Laverty, Hathorn, and Milligan have introduced a Study Proposal of this WRMP/ERW issue and it is currently being studied by the Public Health, Welfare and Labor subcommittee. It is your duty as citizens to give them no rest until they fully investigate and effectively deal with DEQ and other agencies involvement with the Park Service in this matter, but especially insist on revocation of the ERW designations to protect us against dangers of this sort. ERW designations were done illegally because the public was not informed, nor given opportunity to protest.

Also keep calling and writing Governor Huckabee. He has not been willing to take a firm position publicly on this. Our U.S. Congressmen and Senators need to make a public issue of this, also firmly stating their positions.

Remember, the Constitution is on our side. But if we don't use it, we'll lose it. Start making those calls today. ERW's must be revoked! Tell the elected officials that it's up to them to figure out how. Bombard the Park Service with calls demanding to know if the WRM Plan is dropped. Leave the message on the recorder if they won't answer. The number is 870-741-5443.


Connie Burks


By Ruth Ann Wilson

Thank your JPs and county officials for their commitment to you shown in their attendance at the Governor's forum last week. Newton County elected officials were so well represented that, as they introduced themselves one by one, the audience was impressed enough to award a round of applause.

There were a lot of other folks from the county there. I was pleased and proud that there were so many of our residents concerned enough about the issues to make the trip to Harrison and give that much of their time to sit through what we all knew in advance would be a long meeting.

There was a bottom-line comment made that speaks to a lot of the doubts and questions that were expressed. Debbie Horton, my counterpart from the Marshall Mountain Wave, expressed concerns about being told on the one hand to apply nitrates to their pastures and on the other hand that the nitrates were polluting the river. She asked when the voluntary programs evolved into regulatory programs and was told it would be whenever the state Legislature or U.S. Congress enacted it. So, yes, trust the Park Service or the other agencies on this - just as far as you think you can drop-kick Congress!


Be informed! Don't allow yourself to be snowed by CARA.

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