Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part CXXII): Locals tangle with feds over roads, cemeteries

Several recent issues of the Newton County Times have mentioned a dispute between a local cemetery board and the National Park Service regarding Shaddox Cemetery, which is contiguous to the Buffalo National River Park.  The most recent issue, from Sept. 25, 2013, indicates that an aide of U.S. Senator John Boozman was in Newton County to meet with members of the cemetery's board.  The dateline is Pruitt, previously home of a post office but now home to just a ranger station and a river put-in point.

Here's the history of the dispute, which goes back six years.  According to the cemetery board, elk (which were transported into the Buffalo National River a few decades ago) damaged the Shaddox cemetery in 2007.  The board sought relief from the National Park Service (NPS), but they declined to assist in any way.  The board proceeded to clean up the cemetery but then were notified by the park service that they must pay the NPS for disturbing an Indian burial ground.   The board later met with park service officials and the board has twice had the cemetery surveyed "to meet park service demands." According to the Sept. 25, report:
The board contends it followed a park service official's oral directions where to build the new fence, but the new fence did not satisfy the park superintendent upon final inspection because he said it crossed into park property. 
Since then the association has tried to buy, lease or trade for the 0.2 of an acre in dispute, but the park service has rejected the proposals, board members said.   
In the last letter from the park service, the association was notified that the park service wants the association to pay $72,000 for the 0.2 of an acre and damages to the park, and $18,000 to move the fence, which cost $14,000 to build.  
The cemetery association went before the Newton County Quorum Court at its September meeting.  The board asked the JPs to individually sign a copy of a Memorandum of Request prepared by the cemetery association.  JPs unanimously and individually signed the document and the cemetery board sent it to the Arkansas delegation in Washington and to the Arkansas General Assembly[,] as well as to the governor. 
The document asks these officials to "inform the Department of the Interior of local, state, and federal laws that protect us pertaining to this matter."   
Since then, a two-strand wire fence has gone up inside the fence built by the cemetery board.  Board members were made aware of this new fence by the person it contracts to keep the grounds mowed. 

Also, board members have photos of an unidentified individual in the cemetery conducting some type of underground scanning of the cemetery.  The Newton County Sheriff's Office was notified and a deputy reportedly escorted that person off the property.  They also said there is a photo of tire marks left on a war veteran's grave.  
Wow!  There is some heavy stuff here--with an Indian grave and a veteran's grave possibly having been desecrated.  I'm glad that Bozeman's staffer came to meet with the cemetery board and to see the desecration of the veteran's grave, which is shown in a photo.  But I'm also really disappointed in the federal government if this story is accurate.  Obviously, it would be interesting to hear the NPS's version of events, and I'm disappointed that the Newton County Times has apparently not sought it.

An earlier issue of the paper, from July 31, 2013, reports on another conflict between Newton County's government and the feds, once again embodied by the National Park Service.  This conflict is over roads, and the report indicates that the county judge (the chief administrative officer for the county, who is elected) has declared that he will not permit the National Park Service to "close or gate county roads," and further that he will not hesitate to have such gates knocked down if they are placed without his authorization.  The story also indicates that the county judge threatened to call the sheriff to escort an apparent agent or officer of the National Park Service off a roadway the agent/officer was blocking.  Here's an excerpt from the story headlined:  "County road work opposed by Park Service," dateline Carver, on the Buffalo National River:
A Newton County road was blocked last week by the National Park Service after the road was improved by the county road department making it easier and safer for large vehicles to navigate. 
Last Wednesday, July 24, Newton County Judge Warren Campbell notified that Newton County Times that the park service had the road blocked and he was in the process of having a park service enforcement officer escorted off the road who was stationed there after the road department removed several large rocks which the park service had placed there across the new section of road. 
The dispute was over a section of County Road 39 that connects with state Highway 123.  It goes past the Carver Cemetery and leads to the Gene Rush Wildlife Management Area.  Campbell said it is a heavily used local traffic route. It is used by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, utility companies, U.S. Postal Service and emergency vehicles as well as residents in the Bass and Cave Creek areas who use it as a shortcut to the highway that leads to Western Grove and U.S. 65.   
* * *  
Campbell cited state laws giving county judges sole jurisdiction over county-maintained roads and [said he] was in contact with state attorneys to seek a remedy to the park service's action.   
He told the park service's enforcement officer that he would have the county sheriff escort the officer off of the roadway where an unmarked white pick up was parked blocking the road.  The officer stated orders were given to write citations to logging trucks that were using the road. 
When the Times called the Buffalo National Park headquarters in neighboring Harrison, Chief Park Ranger Karen L. Bradford told the journalist:
An investigation is in progress and at this time we have no comment other than the road in question is not blocked to through traffic.  
Meanwhile, "Campbell said the park service and he have had issues over county roads since he took office and that he has to be constantly vigilant that the park service does not close or gate county roads."  Campbell cited the example of the closure of the "Blue Hole River Access," near the site of the current dispute.  He said it was popular with locals until the park service closed it at the park boundary.

In other news, the Compton Water Association received a loan for $23,175 from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission Water, Sewer and Solid Waste Fund.  The loan is for 10 years at 2.5% interest and will be used, along with a grant of up to $67.5K from the same fund, to repair and upgrade the Fire Tower Road storage tank.

The David and Jamie Morgan family of Jasper are the Newton County Farm Family of the Year.  They have two sons, aged 12 and 8, both of whom are involved in the 4H Livestock Club.  They live in a home that has been in the Morgan family for 80 years, onWill Jones road, above Jasper.  The land they work has been in the hands of David's family "for generations."  David works off the farm, too, as a lineman for Carroll Electric Co-operative.  Jamie is a stay-at-home Mom.  They farm 208 aces, 90 owned and the remainder rented.  They raise cattle, Boer-cross goats, and hay for their own use.

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