Thursday, April 26, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (XCIX): Federal-local tensions

Newly sworn in U.S. Senator John Boozman visited Jasper in January, when he discussed a range of issues with constituents and local officials.  These included U.S. Postal Service cuts, reductions to Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) to the county, U.S. Forest Service issues, and lack of federal funding for the new jail.  As I belatedly read through the issues discussed during that visit (as reported in the January 12, 2012 issue), I noted a common, persistent theme:  tensions between federal and local officials over how to manage land, roads, wildlife and crime.

In particular, the County Sheriff Keith Slape told Boozman that the county has yet to receive any federal funding for its new jail, though it has made several applications, including to "Rural Development" (presumably USDA) and the U.S. Marshal Service.  The Sheriff said, "It will make me take a hard look at federal arrestees from the park and forest service when they come into the jail."  Slape said the county will need $170,000 "to make all the finishing touches" to the facility, beyond the funds already secured from a sales tax levy and a $65,000 grant from the state.

The County Judge (chief administrative officers) Warren Campbell discussed with Boozman relations between the county and the National Park Service.  Campbell said that the Park Service wants him to close about 20 miles of county roads in relation to elk habitat, but told Boozman "We're not going to do that."  One Justice of the Peace (county commissioner) complained that the Park Service had money to pave a much used road to a popular destination in the park, Steel Creek,  but did not do so.  He commented, "If they would make some good sense every now and then it would help us to respect them."  While the U.S. Forest Service will pay some of the costs of maintaining county roads within its boundaries, the U.S. Park Service will not.

Sheriff Slape told Boozman of a "five day rescue operation on the river last year where some conflicts arose.  'It got pretty ugly a couple of times.'"

Federal-local conflicts were also manifest in other news in that January 11, 2012 issue of the paper:
  • The Newton County Quorum Court heard opposition in January to the U.S. Forest Service's proposed expansion of elk habitat into the Bearcat Hollow area.  Shawn Porter of Parthenon said his opposition was due to the absence of any environmental impact study of the elks' impact on the native forest ecosystem.  Porter asserted that the forest service is using the elk "to justify increased forest clear cutting, bulldozing, herbicide use, and burning of tens of thousands of acres in the Richland Creek and Buffalo River watershed."  He stated:  "It's stupid to bring big game in an area that won't support it without making pasture," adding that the relevant government agencies "have to grow crops for elk to survive here."  The Quorum Court did not act on a proposed letter that Porter presented to them.  Porter noted that the Bearcat Hollow Project is also opposed by the Newton County Wildlife Association, the Headwaters Group of the Sierra Club and the Buffalo River Chapter of the Ozarks Society.  
  • Local officials are discussing the need to clean up the Little Buffalo River where it runs through the town of Jasper.  The concern is that "unchecked growth of trees and brush that have grown int eh middle of the river channel where gravel has washed in recent years" could cause or aggravate flooding.  The "Game & Fish consultant" told local officials that gravel removal would not be allowed without clearance from, among other agencies, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
In other news:
  • Western Grove's City Council voted to increase water rates by $2 per 1000 gallons.  Within the city limits, the new minimum rate will be $10.25 per 1000 gallons.  Rural customers will pay $11.25 per 1000 gallons while commercial customers will pay $21.75 for the first 6000 gallons. 
  • The Jasper School District received a $4000 grant from the Midwest Dairy Council as part of its Fuel Up to Play 60 program.  The program is designed to help schools jump-start and sustain healthy nutrition and physical activity improvements.   

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