Existing mining in creek cut off

Existing mining in creek cut off

State environmental regulators on Tuesday halted the remaining in-stream mining operations along Crooked Creek, saying it would be unfair to extend existing permits less than a month after turning away similar operations.

The permits had been up for renewal.

”We just denied three applications, [and ] there are still five [operations ] out there. Do we let them continue to mine them or not ?” asked James Stephens, chief of the Surface Mining and Reclamation Division of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

For more than a decade, the north Arkansas creek has been at the center of a battle between conservationists worried about pollution and property owners who say they have a right to mine.

Considered one of the best smallmouth bass fishing streams in the nation, Crooked Creek flows 82 miles through Newton, Boone and Marion counties.

In 2004, the stream was declared an impaired water body, a designation under the Clean Water Act that must be approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

That designation, which allows the state to enforce more stringent regulations on the creek, was key in the department’s decision to temporarily suspend the permits for the five in-stream gravel mining operations, said Stephens and department Director Marcus Devine.

Devine’s directive was not the result of violations at any of the sites ”but is solely related to the ADEQ’s listing of Crooked Creek as being impaired due to excessive water temperature,” a news release issued late Tuesday afternoon stated.

”The ADEQ believes the temperature problem is primarily the result of removal of trees and other vegetation along the stream banks during mining operations, resulting in a reduction in shading from sunshine,” the news release stated.

Devine said that earlier this week Guy King and Sons Inc., which operates two in-stream mining operations along the creek, had requested a permit renewal. Another company, Mountain Home Concrete Inc., which operates three in-stream mining sites, was due to make a similar request, he said.

Given last month’s decision, Devine said, ”We wanted to make sure we were consistent.”

Guy King and Sons officials were not available for comment Tuesday. A man who answered the phone around 4: 30 p. m. said they had left for the day. Attempts to reach Mountain Home Concrete Inc. officials were not successful.

Attempts to obtain state protection for the stream by designating it an extraordinaryresource water failed twice in recent years. The state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission in 2000 imposed stricter limits on gravel mining to limit the effect of such operations on Crooked Creek.

Stephens said Tuesday’s decision can be appealed to the state’s Pollution Control and Ecology Commission within 30 days.

The five sites are located between the bridges over Crooked Creek on Arkansas 14 and Arkansas 101 in Marion County. Tuesday’s decision does not affect five sites that do not involve in-stream gravel mining, four of which are operated by Guy King and one of which is operated by Mountain Home Concrete.

In December, Devine denied three in-stream gravel-mining permits to the two companies, citing existing pollution and flaws in the applications. That decision could still be appealed to the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.

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