Gravel mining: ADEQ may issue final decision

Gravel mining: ADEQ may issue final decision

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality may issue a final decision this week about whether gravel mining should be allowed in three areas of Crooked Creek.

In October, the agency initially denied the request of two Mountain Home companies to mine gravel on three sites that are within two miles of each other on Crooked Creek.

Guy King & Sons and Mountain Home Concrete sought to receive permits for the new sites totaling 41 acres, portions of which previously have been mined.

After the initial denial, the agency received about 114 public comments, with 10 comments in favor of gravel mining and 104 comments against gravel mining, said James Stephens, chief of the surface mining and reclamation division with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

Marcus Devine, ADEQ director, denied the permits because the gravel deposits in the stream are outside high-water marks, a requirement for in-stream gravel mining, and because the stream is considered one of the state’s impaired water bodies, according to ADEQ documents.

In order for the draft decision to be reversed, an issue would have to be brought up in the public comment period, Stephens said.

The decision follows years of controversy about whether gravel mining should be allowed and if it causes damage to the environment.

Many who have lived in the area their entire lives maintain gravel mining has taken place for decades, with no adverse impact to the creek or surrounding land.

At the Roscoe Jefferson site near the State Highway 14 bridge in Yell-ville, water flows around a large gravel bar that sits in the middle of the creek.

The gravel bar naturally forms and causes the water to go left or right of the gravel bar, eating away at the bank, said Tommy Johnson, one area resident.

If the gravel was gone, the creek would once again flow uninterrupted.

He added that gravel mining is done in dry creek beds.

Those who aim to preserve the area’s environment cite numerous scientific studies showing that gravel mining damages the creek and the environment.

Although a few people taking small amounts of gravel might not significantly harm the environment, gravel mining on a large scale eventually will change the creek, said Gene Dunaway, president of Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers, who seeks to educate people about the area’s environment.

When gravel is taken from the creek, the water will move gravel from upstream to fill in the area, in essence, “eating the bottom” of the creek, Dunaway explained.

Eventually, the creek will take material from the banks, which could cause a host of other problems.

Yet another issue surrounding gravel mining is that the land where the mining takes place belongs to the property owners and the government should not decide what property owners can do with their land, said Johnson, citing Arkansas law.

The property owners own land to the middle of the creek and are paid by the gravel companies who use their land to mine.

Those in favor of gravel mining say not allowing mining infringes on property owners’ rights.

“Property owners have given up,” said Johnson, adding that fewer people have been showing up at ADEQ public hearings regarding gravel mining.

“They keep trying to fight and keep losing,” he said.

Ramifications of not allowing gravel mining include higher local construction costs, because the price of sand and gravel will increase since it will be brought in from a different area, Johnson said.

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