Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday announced that state five agencies will create a committee, intended to study environmental conditions and come up with a management plan for the Buffalo River watershed.
The departments of environmental quality, tourism, health, agriculture, and the natural resources will form the “Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee.” Hutchinson emphasized that the committee is “not a regulatory body,” but it is meant to educate.
“When the information is out, that maybe there’s a road that has too much erosion and that it’s draining into the river and creating sediment, well once we know that information, then counties or landowners can take voluntary appropriate action,” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said the committee will work with landowners in the area.
“It will receive public dialogue and public comment. And then it will also have a scientific evaluation to actually know what science is telling us, verifiable facts that we can then measure that and take any action that’s necessary,” Hutchinson said.
The governor was joined by Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Director Becky Keogh, Department of Health Director Nate Smith, Natural Resources Commission Director Bruce Holland, Department of Agriculture Director Wes Ward and Department of Parks and Tourism Director Kane Webb. He said other state agencies, like the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, will participate in committee activities. Holland and Keogh will co-chair the committee.
Keogh said the committee would be an opportunity to address various environmental concerns in the 800,000 acre watershed.
“We are on the road to an Arkansas-led solution to proactive engagement rather than sitting back to passively await the development of an inflexible federal regulatory mechanism that would produce uncertain potentially often indefinite outcomes,” she said.
Although the National Park Service, a sub agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, has jurisdiction over the Buffalo River itself, the committee’s efforts will focus on surrounding lands.
The announcement came a day after the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality announced that drilling by an independent consultant near C&H Hog farms had concluded. Soil samples were collected in the drilling in an effort to determine if waste from the farm is polluting the nearby river. C&H, located in Mount Judea in Newton County, has been criticized by environmental activists for
After the press conference, watershed resident Gordon Watkins of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance said the organization was not ready to praise the formation of the committee.
“We’re going to take a wait and see attitude. We’re going to have to see what this Buffalo River Action Committee comes up with and then we’ll have lots more to say about it,” Watkins said.
The committee will be formed using a $107,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, Hutchinson said. Watkins said he thought it was a “miniscule amount of money.”
“If they’re depending on that money to create this watershed management plan, I think it’s doomed from the beginning and I hope that these agencies are going to contribute considerably more to that, to carry that out. I also hope that they’re going to make a strong effort to involve stakeholders,” he said.
Aside from a management plan, the committee is to devise annual reports on the watershed with the first report due by January 31, 2018.