Gravel mining comment period ends today

Gravel mining comment period ends today

A state agency’s decision to deny gravel mining permits on Crooked Creek in north Arkansas could still be reversed, though public comment collected so far greatly favors not allowing the mining.

Permits were denied last month to mine gravel at three sites on the river, which is considered to be among the best smallmouth bass fishing sites in the country. The public comment period on the permits ends today.

Next, the Department of Environmental Quality has two weeks to respond to the comments. The department will either issue a final decision by the director or schedule a public hearing, said James Stephens, chief of the department’s surface mining and reclamation division.

If the decision denies the permits, the cases can be appealed to the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.

Stephens said it is common for comments by the public to be against the mining.

“There’s usually one or two that are in support,” Stephens said. “The vast majority are against. I wouldn’t say its 100 to 1, but its probably 30 to 40 to 1.”

Property owners say their farms benefit from the mining, arguing that taking gravel from the river reduces erosion into their pastures. But a University of Arkansas study conducted in 1992 says the opposite. The study concludes that when a creek is mined, it will cut into the sides of the bank to replace the removed material. The study says that as the banks retreat, trees will fall and more sunlight will hit the water, helping algae grow.

Landowners object to outsiders having a say about what happens on Crooked Creek.

“The people from out of the area do the talking,” said Jessie Adams, whose father, Roscoe Jefferson, owns one of the sites Guy King and Sons has sought a permit to mine. “I think most of the government agencies think they have a group of dumb hillbilly farmers that don’t know what they’re doing. For the most part these farmers have been doing what they’ve been doing for 60 years.”

Crooked Creek flows 82 miles through Newton, Boone and Marion counties, and mining on the creek has been a hotly debated topic for years. Attempts to get state protection for the stream by designating it an extraordinary-resource water failed twice.

In 2000, the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission revised its mining regulations, setting stricter limits to reduce the impact of gravel mining on the creek.

In 2004, the creek was declared an impaired stream. Stephens says additional mining operations could raise water temperatures along the creek and impair fish reproduction.

Gene Dunaway, an attorney and president of Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers who requested earlier hearings on the mining proposal, said the cost of degrading the stream will be greater than that of regulating mining on it. He notes that the stream is an important tourist draw.

“How much will it cost us in real dollars to restore the value of our stream if we lose it?” Dunaway asked.

Martin Maner, chief of the ADEQ’s water division, said farmers too often clear too much pasture land. Removing vegetation to the stream bank causes erosion and releases more gravel and sediment than the stream can handle. He also said the highest water temperatures on the creek have been recorded just downstream from heavily mined sites.

Guy King and Sons asked to mine about a quarter-mile downstream of the Arkansas 14 bridge and about a quarter-mile south of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department’s Yellville shop off U.S. 412. Mountain Home Concrete Inc. wanted to mine a site a half-mile north of the Yellville Wastewater Treatment Plant on Mill Creek Road.

The three sites are within two miles of each other.

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