Thursday, Jun 27, 2013
State Agencies Change Stance on Designation of White River as National Blueway
LITTLE ROCK - State officials reversed their support for designating the White River as a National Blueway after hearings conducted by the Senate Committee on City, County and Local Affairs.
Senator Missy Irvin of Mountain View, the committee chair, called the hearings in response to concerns voiced by constituents and local officials who felt they had not been informed about the designation and had not been allowed to provide input into the decision making.
"I haven't found a single elected official, at the county level or in the state legislature, who received any meaningful information about this designation before it occurred." Irvin said. "That is very concerning to me because property owners, business owners, farmers have valid questions about the potential impact of this designation."
"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," Irvin said. "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."
In January, the federal Interior Department designated the White River Watershed in Missouri and Arkansas as a National Blueway. Members of the Congressional delegation of both states have written the Secretary of the Interior to ask a series of questions about the possibility of opting out of the designation because of the potential it has to add burdensome regulations on landowners without their input.
Numerous county governments in the White River's watershed have adopted resolutions in opposition to the designation.
The committee hearing called by Senator Irvin is the first action on the state level. At the meeting, officials of the Natural Resources Commission and the Game and Fish Commission rescinded their previous support for the Blueway designation. They pledged to send new letters to the Interior Department outlining their change in position.
"I'm encouraged by the bipartisan nature of opposition to this designation," Irvin said. "This is a case where elected officials from both parties, at the local, state and national levels, are seeking answers about unilateral policy decisions handed down by an unelected bureaucrat in Washington."
"Supposedly the intent of the designation was to foster 'cooperation, collaboration and communication' among various government agencies, and interested stakeholders within the White River watershed, but if that was the goal, the Interior Department certainly failed," Irvin said. "I appreciate the decision by our Natural Resources Commission and our Game and Fish Commission to rescind their previous position. It reflects the cooperation we have in Arkansas amongst our Legislature, our administration, agencies and organizations. We listened to our constituents, and the agencies listened to us and understood the serious concerns with the National Blueway designation. That's how this democratic process should work."
Irvin represents Senate District 18, which includes Cleburne, Searcy and Stone Counties and parts of Baxter, Faulkner, Marion, Fulton, Van Buren and White Counties.