Tuesday, July 9, 2013

County opposes "Blueway" designation for White River

The Newton County Quorum Court voted unanimously on July 1 to oppose the designation of the White River and its watershed--including the Buffalo National River--as the "Second National Blueway."  The local governing body noted "especial Opposition to a 'Blueway' Memorandum of Understanding being entered into by federal and state bureaucrats pertaining to lands and waters due to lack of proper notification or invitation, and due to failure to seek approval, involvement or input of any kind from Newton Count." Newton County thus became the 18th Arkansas county to pass the resolution opposing the designation, which was announced January 9, 2013, by the U.S. Dept. of the Interior.

A representative of Secure Arkansas presented the resolution to the Newton County officials.  Secure Arkansas is a "grassroots organization working to ensure state sovereignty and adherence to the Constitution while promoting responsible government practices, fiscal accountability and the protection of personal property rights and civil liberties of all Arkansans."

Several other stories in the July 3, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times report different perspectives on the Blueway designation.  One provides mostly the federal government perspective, including lots of information about the designation.  Here's the lede to that story:
Officials say the National Blueway designation for the White River Watershed doesn't come with enhanced federal regulations, but Boone County Judge James Norton (chief county administrator--not a judge as in a court of law) said Wednesday afternoon that testimony before a joint legislative committee earlier in Little Rock showed some supporters have withdrawn support because of public outcry featuring future regulations.  
The story continues:
The order establishing the National Blueways System sets up "a program to recognize river systems conserved through diverse stakeholder partnerships that use a comprehensive watershed approach to resource stewardship. 
National Blueways will be nationally and regionally significant rivers and their watersheds that are highly valued, recreational, social, economic, cultural, and ecological assets for the communities that depend on them.
The main goals for the White River will be to:
  • Improve water quality through integrated land and water management
  • Support an abundance of fish and wildlife
  • Provide land protection and restoration
  • Support high quality recreation and access
  • Provide for efficient agriculture
A disclaimer in the establishing order reads:
Nothing in this Order is intended to be the basis for the exercise of any new regulatory authority, nor shall this initiative or any designation pursuant to this Order affect or interfere with any Federal, state, local, and tribal government jurisdiction or applicable law including interstate compacts related to water or the laws of any state or tribe relating to control, appropriation, use or distribution of water or water rights. 
Nevertheless, there are skeptics.  One of the other stories in the July 3  issue of the paper reported on skeptics among state lawmakers.  The story, "State Officials Reverse Blueway Support," reports on hearings conducted by the Arkansas Senate Committee on City, County and Local Affairs.  That story quotes an Arkansas legislator who sits on that Committee, Missy Irvin of Mountain View:
It puts elected officials in a difficult position when they don't receive any notice about federal executive decisions that are thrust on the public in such a top-down manner.  It is important for all officials to make informed decisions, but that is impossible when it comes in the form of an executive order without our input.  It is even more important to ensure state and local authority is obtained on matters that affect the areas they represent. 
One foe of the designation, Jack Abrahamson of Mountain View, is quoted as stating that many words in the Memorandum don't carry the same meaning that the general public public typically understands.
River restoration, as an example, doesn't mean cleaning up the river.  Uh-uh.  what they want to do is restore it back to where it was before man so that the fish can go up and down the river without restriction.  This would involve height restrictions on dams that produce hydroelectric power.  
Abrahamson said three dams at Batesville would be affected.

A local woman who attended the Newton County Quorum Court meeting, Lydia Cassilly of Mount Sherman, addressed the local governing body:
What I read I found frightening for our county.  None of the partners named are our local neighbors.  All of them are national government organizations.  They are all government federally funded or they are national conservation, and they don't have any interest in us as living, breathing community. 
Certainly as close as we are to the Little Buffalo River our entire town is part of a flood plain and also would be subject to the regulations they are proposing.  
On the other hand, a story headlined "Conservation groups support the designation" reports that the Arkansas Canoe Club, Arkansas Public Policy Panel and other groups "are urging legislator and county officials to support the new designation."  The story includes this information:
The Blueway Designation provides for partnerships between federal and local governments and groups and individuals within the White River Watershed for voluntary conservation efforts aimed at keeping the land and water within the area safe for recreational and personal use including drinking, swimming, and fishing.  
The designation will also foster economic development of the area by providing funding for fish hatchery, erosion prevention efforts, and additional resources.  
The Blueway designation would affect 17 million acres in Arkansas and Missouri.  Most members of the U.S. Congressional delegations of the two states have written to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell asking a series of questions about the matter, including whether states can opt out of the program.

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