'Mistrust of Park Service is too high,' says Buffalo River watershed planner
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 16, 1999


JASPER -- A year ago David Mott started work on a project he knew was doomed to fail.

The hydrologist for the Buffalo National River Park was charged with developing a plan whereby farmers, cattlemen and other landowners in the river's watershed would work voluntarily with the National Park Service to maintain the Buffalo's good water quality.

But a small group of opponents exerts such imposing influence that it will likely block such an effort, Park Service officials said.

With a bent for conspiracy theories and playing on public mistrust of government, these opponents have convinced people that the plan is just another example of the government being too intrusive, Mott said.

"So far they're having great success, which is pretty much what we predicted," Mott said Wednesday of opposition to the Water Resources Management Plan, which is still in early research stages. "We've tried to work with folks, but the animosity level is too high.

"Mistrust of the Park Service is too high."

Ed Manor, who heads the Newton County Land Use Commission, is a leading opponent of the plan. He said the Park Service is wrong and his fight has nothing to do with conspiracy theories. Manor said he doesn't even like to be called an activist.

Like Mott, Manor said he wants to keep the Buffalo River clean, but he said the debate isn't about clean water and cooperation -- it's about control over what private landowners can and can't do within the river's 840,000-acre watershed.

Manor said Mott's as-yet unwritten plan is a vehicle for the Parks Service to go outside its borders and control development in the watershed, 60 percent of which is private property.

The Park Service has "tunnel vision," Manor said. "They truly feel that they have one goal in life, and that is to get the Buffalo River back to a pre-industrial age and keep it there."

There will be a public forum today about issues concerning the Park Service plan. Sponsored by Gov. Mike Huckabee's office, the forum is set for 7 p.m. at North Arkansas Community College in Harrison.

According to the Park Service, the watershed plan would identify sources of river pollution and try to address those problems before they become severe.

"The water resources of the Buffalo River watershed are, generally, in excellent condition. While problems do exist, they are such that current efforts and programs are adequate," the Park Service said in a release.

The plan will focus on future efforts, encouraging local communities to work with government to preserve the river's water quality.

The Park Service said there would be no land acquisition, no zoning, no new regulations and no infringement on private property rights.

While focusing their criticism on the Park Service, Manor and other opponents contend that state agencies are part of the effort to control development in the Buffalo watershed.

According to literature that Manor has been distributing, the Park Service and the state Department of Environmental Quality are working together "to seriously control all private property ... by using state agencies as a tool to regulate lands outside the park boundaries.

" 'Watershed' is their password," the literature states, "so be wary every time you see that word in print."

Randall Mathis, Environmental Quality Department director, said he hasn't been approached about the Park Service plan.

"This was not a joint plan," Mathis said. "It appears to me that the [Park Service] included some work that we had already done and work that we will do sometime in the future in their plan."

Manor said the Park Service has the authority to implement the plan because the state designated the Buffalo an Extraordinary Resource Waterway years ago under the federal Clean Water Act.

"Once the [plan] is implemented on the Buffalo watershed, it will be one short step to extend it to all ERW watersheds in Arkansas," Manor said.

Manor said that the Extraordinary Resource Waterway designation is illegal because the state failed to hold the required public hearings when it developed the designation, as well as other required public reviews since that time.

Mark White, Huckabee's regulatory liaison, said the designation was properly adopted. White also said the Park Service plan is a federal project, not a state one.

Manor also raised the specter of the "Man and Biosphere," fighting words in many parts of the Ozarks. He said the plan is a way to make the river and its watershed a Biosphere, an international research reserve managed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

Efforts earlier this decade to designate the Ozark Highlands, including the Buffalo, a Biosphere failed after opponents said it would hinder private property rights.

"I think this is another approach at the Biosphere," Marion County Quorum Court member Jessie Adams said earlier this month.

"Our biggest concern is that both the federal and state governments are adopting plans that sound innocent but in reality are takings under the private property rights," Adams said.

Besides urging quorum courts to oppose the Park Service plan, Manor has advised them to pass their own county land-use plans. Under those plans, state and federal agencies must contact county government about any potential use of county land, he said.

More than a dozen counties have adopted their own land-use plans, including Searcy, Newton, Marion, Fulton, Carroll, Garland, Izard, Lonoke, Montgomery, Pike, Polk, Sharp and Stone, Manor said. Quorum courts in Baxter, Boone and Yell counties have asked him for information and are considering adopting their own plans, he said.

Manor said one of the biggest concerns people have about the Park Service plan is the lack of public notice. He said the Park Service has done little to inform the public about the plan.

"We all want clean water, but we're tried of people sitting around in their office and deciding what's best for us," Manor said.

Mott said the Park Service has tried to get public input. He said he mailed letters to county judges inviting them to an informational meeting last November in Marshall. He met with soil conservation officials in Searcy, Newton and Marion counties. He sent news releases to area newspapers about the plan.

"The problem in the watershed is getting people who do care about the Buffalo River to stand up," Mott said. He said many have been intimidated by Manor and others who oppose the plan.

Mott said formal opposition to the plan by Newton, Marion and Searcy county governments will probably make it impossible to fulfill the plan's primary goal -- to obtain funds that local property owners could use for land practices that would benefit their property and protect the Buffalo.

He said Manor and other opponents have limited the private property rights they want to protect, since landowners can't improve their land-use practices if the money isn't available.


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