Like dominoes, state and private conservation agencies heads fell before a legislative committee last week, renouncing one by one the Blueway designation they'd supported last year for the White River.
Each announcement — from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, the state Game and Fish Commission, the Nature Conservancy of Arkansas, Ozark Water Watch and the Arkansas Waterways Commission — was met with huge applause from 70-plus people packing the hearing room. Many of them were followers of Secure Arkansas, an anti-government group that believes the Blueway was a federal "land-grab" and one more step toward United Nations domination of humanity.
The Blueway designation was designed to create a platform for agencies with diverse agendas — like irrigation for the Grand Prairie in the southern part of the river, the protection of trout fisheries in the northern part of the river, navigation, wetland restoration — to join forces in seeking federal aid for the river and its watershed. The Blueway designation is not regulatory, nor does it affect private property.
Tell that to Secure Arkansas. Jeannie Burlsworth, who testified before the committee and took pains to characterize the Nature Conservancy, which works worldwide, as an "international organization," with all the threat to the nation that that implies, said the Blueway designation would create "a nexus of power that the American public has never seen."
Burlsworth several years ago took on bike-trail funding as a government plot to take away American's cars, and once wrote that "globalist water masters" from the World Bank were trying to seize Lake Maumelle. The committee had no questions for her after she spoke; even the legislators looked uncomfortable with her presentation.
All the agency heads who came before the Joint Committee on City, County and Local Affairs last Wednesday told legislators that the Blueway Designation was a good thing for Arkansas. They pulled back to protect the relationships the agencies have built with private landowners on conservation work.
Randy Young, the director of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, said the "stakeholders," those supporting the designation — including besides those who appeared the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Ducks Unlimited, The Conservation Fund, Audubon, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, the cities of Augusta and Clarendon, Arkansas, local businesses, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior and the Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture — had "heard rumblings for several weeks" about opposition to the designation and decided in the hours leading up to the committee hearing to ask the Secretary of the Interior to withdraw the designation, awarded in January. Blueway foe Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, who had called the hearing to address the designation, did not know until they spoke that the stakeholders were going to step back from it.
The designation of the White River as the second Blueway in the nation was announced with much fanfare in January at a press conference at the Peabody Hotel by agency and elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, who praised the project as making sure the river would be "a great resource" for decades to come. But in the past few weeks, stakeholders were hearing from "from local, state and federally elected officials," Young said in an interview, that private landowners in the watershed were taken by surprise by the designation and irritated that they "hadn't been asked to participate" in the nomination on the front end.
Young called the designation a "no-brainer" that would have allowed groups that don't always work well together because of their varying agendas to share ideas. He said it would have made water projects in the Grand Prairie and Bayou Meto areas "more competitive."
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