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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Natural Resources Commission rebuffs legislative pressure, refuses payment to builder of illegal dam

Posted By on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 3:46 PM

click to enlarge SEN. BRYAN KING: Put hold on agency budget to get money for Clinton man.
  • SEN. BRYAN KING: Put hold on agency budget to get money for Clinton man.
Legislative pressure tactics failed today to persuade the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission to pay any legal or engineering fees incurred by Dan Eoff in Clinton as a result of his construction of an unpermitted earthen dam in Van Buren County. Sen. Bryan King of Green Forest and Rep. Josh Miller of Heber Springs, both Republicans, had pressured the agency to pay the fees and had held up the agency's budget to force the payment.

The issue was taken to the nine-member commission, which considered it in a brief conference call this afternoon. With one member absent, the commission voted 8-0 to reject the demand for money. The Commission stood by its belief that the dam on a tributary of the South Fork of the Little Red River is illegal and it had advice from the attorney general's office that Eoff couldn't win a claim for money from the state Claims Commission.

The Natural Resources Commission wants the dam removed because of concerns that it jeopardizes the flood insurance program for homeowners in the floodway; that it endangers some protected species, and that it is seeping. The Commission had moved in a circuit court suit to have the dam torn down. But a special legislative audit report — Bryan King co-chairs legislative audit — raised questions about a meeting at which the commission decided that course of action because the group had met the night before for dinner without issuing notice of the meeting. Commissioners have said they didn't do business that night, but the action tainted the lawsuit sufficiently that the commission didn't proceed with it. The EPA is still evaluating the situation.

When the Commission resisted pressure from King and Miller to pay Eoff for his expenses, the commission's budget was held up. That led to the meeting today on whether to relent. The vote was speedy and unanimous. No.

click to enlarge 'ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES'': Commissioner's message to Rep. Josh MIller.
  • 'ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES'': Commissioner's message to Rep. Josh MIller.
Commissioner Don Richardson of Clinton commented afterward: "Mr. Miller is my state representative and as I indicated earlier I'm offended by his asking us to do this. Mr. Eoff clearly built a dam illegally and he knew he was doing so. Actions have consequences. I believe Mr. Miller knows as well as anyone actions have consequences. I'm sorry he chose to act this way. I'm sorry it's going to be expensive, but he chose it that way."

Commissioner Ann Cash of Lake Village added: "Amen."

Bill Kopsky of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel complimented the agency and said it was unfair for them to receive pressure not to do their jobs. He said it was critical that it continue to do so and he asked what the consequences were of refusing to pay Eoff. Randy Young, director of the agency, said he couldn't predict how King would react. He said he'd been instructed to report back to King by Monday.

King is one of the biggest bullies in the legislature. He's repeatedly used his post at Legislative Audit to employ the staff as a cudgel against enemies. Josh Miller, you might recall, was a subject of my column this week. He's spoken out vociferously against the Medicaid expansion though he's been a recipient — and continues to be a recipient — of more than a million dollars in Medicaid assistance because of injuries from a vehicle accident 11 years ago. Richardson's comment about Miller seems likely to have been a reference to Miller's personal history. Miller himself talks freely and candidly about his irresponsibility then in being uninsured and driving while drinking, which led to the crash. But he draws distinctions between coverage for his injuries and ongoing personal services and insurance and the program he opposes to expand health insurance for working poor. He questions the ability of the government to pay more than it is already paying for Medicaid recipients.

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