Arkansas lawmakers clear up Buffalo River Watershed proposal

Published: Nov. 20, 2019 at 3:24 PM CST
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One million dollars flowing into projects near the Buffalo National River seemed like a straightforward plan to some.

"It was for things like erosion-control projects, fencing for cattle to keep them out of the creeks. Things that I thought were a no-brainer," said Gordon Watkins, the president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson proposed spending the money back in September.

A committee made up of state leaders would decide how much money would go to each project. Subcommittees of local people who live near the river would help.

"The governor will pick out who they are," said State Rep. Keith Slape.

But Slape said after holding some public meetings in northern Arkansas, some farmers initially expressed they were not all on board.

Hutchinson's order came right after the state reached an agreement with C&H Hog Farms to cease operations in Newton County in exchange for $6.2 million.

Many people believed the farm contributed to pollution in the river, but there appears to be no concrete scientific evidence to back that up.

And other farmers don't want to be next.

"They were worried that, OK they've got the hogs out of here. Now they're going to go for the cattle, the chickens, and that. And on the surface that's what it appeared at first," Slape said.

Slape said farmers were also worried the state would have too much control of the process.

But the state representative and other lawmakers helped change the wording.

It's now clear the subcommittees made up of local people will have a lot of the say.

"There's a history of here of distrust of the government, and people who say there's no such thing as free money," Watkins said. "And in some cases that's probably true. But in this case I think it was an honest effort. It was well-intentioned by the governor."