A new federal program is raising concerns among people that the government is trying to force feed the National Blueway program down the throat of landowners that live along the White River Watershed.
In 2010, President Barack Obama announced "America's Great Outdoors Initiative" On May 24, 2012, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued Secretary's order 3321 establishing the National Blueways System.
Salazar, who left the Obama administration, was replaced by Sally Jewell, who announced the Connecticut River Watershed would be the first waterway to receive the Blueway distinction.
In January of 2013 a memorandum of understanding between the Department of Interior, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Army earmarked the White River Watershed as the second waterway to receive the distinction.
The National Blueway designation is seen by some as a great program for conservation...others see it as a land grab similar to immminent domain.
However, language in the memorandum of understanding has been a flash point between land owners in White River Watershed , which covers 21 counties (including Stone and Barry) in Missouri and 39 counties in Arkansas for a total of 17.9 Million acres.
"The purpose of this MOU is to establish a framework for collaborative efforts to identify and create opportunities to work together as partners to accomplish shared, compatible, and priority conservation, restoration, outdoor recreation, environmental education and sustainable economic objectives in support of the National Blueways System as a whole and specific designated National Blueways."
"People are concerned it’s going to take away their ability to do what they want to do on their land, which is completely not what this program is going to do,” said Alan Leary, policy coordinator for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “It would be an entirely voluntary thing.”
Leary says conservation is the aim of the project.
Some language in the project documents — which include vague definitions at best of the proposal also cite the lack of involvement of municipalities and state oversight in the proposed blueway have sparked opposition of the program by shoreline landowners.
Documents from the Department of Interior state the program is voluntary, though some in opposition question that claim. Some landowners are concerned that conservation easements that could be utilized by some government and non-governmental entities the federal government will gain control of the shoreline that property owners pay taxes on without having to pay for the land that some don't want to give up.
For example, if one of the agencies imposes a restriction along an easement of property along the proposed blueway they could stop any building or development by the property owner and render the land that they pay taxes on useless thus lowering the property value.
Bill Gracy, a retired pilot and member of the Tea Party and the Barry County Chapter of the Ozarks Property Rights Coalition, says no elected officials were involved in drafting the proposal. He spoke in opposition of the plan at the Stone County Commission meeting last Tuesday (06-18-13.)
"One of the ways they’ll make our land unusable, for instance, is the 180-foot setbacks from all surface water," Gracy said. "This is in the strategic plan. If you have a five-acre plot of land and you have a one-acre pond, you’re going to have to draw a circle all the way around that and establish a vegetative buffer. You think they’re going to let your cows come down and drink from that pond? They’re denying you use of that. If they don’t want you to do what you want to do on your land, they have usurped my land rights."
About 30 - 40 people filled the Commission chambers for the meeting. "I knew very little about the program prior to the meeting," said Presiding Commissioner Dennis Wood. "The purpose of what they wanted was for commissioners to write a resolution opposing the blueway. Stone County is certainly for clean water, but if the designation has any danger of imposing on a property owners rights...I am adamantly against it."
Wood went on to say, "I think we will probably sign a resolution opposing the designation. They haven't consulted any local agencies, that in my opinion, do a great job of preserving our waterways. This came out of the blue from Washington D. C.....and who trusts anything out of Washington D. C. in this day and age."
Senator Roy Blunt and Congressman Billy Long have voiced concern about the Blueway System and want the program to be scrutinized further before any implementation takes place.
Amber Marchand, spokeswoman for Sen. Blunt, said, “While Sen. Blunt believes river management should be a priority, he has serious concerns with the Obama administration’s disturbing trend of regulatory overreach. Sen. Blunt believes establishing a new federal designation without the approval of Congress or public input is unacceptable, and the stakeholders and members of the community who would be impacted by this significant decision deserve more transparency from their government.”
The Stone County Commission signed an official proclamation opposing the White River Watershed Blueway System on June 26th. Of the almost 40 people attending the meeting no one stood in favor of the Secretarial Order.
Stone County resident David Stockstill spoke at Tuesday's meeting. "We have fought this in many different forms for many years," he said. "It could be a devastating thing for all of us. Many people don't think this could happen. The Missouri Department of Conservation has stabbed all of us in the back. I'm sure many people will now feel differently about inviting a conservation agent on their land now."
Wood, who is a member of the Missouri Clean Water Commission, has asked that his colleagues on the MCWC review the designation when they meet again in Jefferson City on July 18th.
For more information on the proposal go to the following link: doi.gov.