Gravel mining issue draws fire

Gravel mining issue draws fire

Jean Oxford has waited almost a year and a half for violations caused by an in-stream gravel mining company to be fixed.

Oxford, who lives in Yellville near Crooked Creek with her husband, Kenneth, was one about 40 people who voiced their concerns about approving three in-stream gravel mining permits during a two-hour Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality public hearing Thursday.

For years, the creek has been a source of contention between land owners, gravel miners and environmentalists.

Guy King & Sons and Mountain Home Concrete are seeking to permit a total of 41 acres for gravel mining. Guy King & Sons is seeking a permit for a 20-acre site called the Roscoe Jefferson Mine, about one-quarter mile downstream from the State Highway 14 Bridge, and a 12-acre site, known as the GKS in-stream mine, is about one-quarter mile south of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department Yellville shop off U.S. Highway 412.

Mountain Home Concrete is seeking to permit a 9-acre site about one-half mile north of the Yellville Wastewater Treatment Plant on Mill Creek Road.

Annual production for the three sites is expected to total about 85,000 tons, according to the permit.

Those concerned about the quality of the creek cite studies that show in-stream gravel mining, as opposed to open-cut mining, takes away trees, and thus the cover for the water, allowing the water temperature to rise and affect fish and wildlife.

There are 14 active in-stream mining permits in the state and between seven to nine on Crooked Creek, said James Stephens, ADEQ chief of the surface mining and reclamation division.

Last year, the creek was put on the state’s list of “impaired” streams because of the damage it has received, said Gene Dunaway, president of the Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers.

Despite that, some lifelong residents said they have not seen the creek negatively impacted.

“Everyone came in here with their mind made up,” said Edgar Cole, who has lived in the area for 71 years. “A clean channel can be beneficial.”

Although there is an environmental impact of in-stream gravel mining, the ADEQ has not determined how much of an impact has been made on Crooked Creek, said Jim Wise, ADEQ technical assistance manager with the water division. Mary Leath, ADEQ chief deputy director told those in attendance Thursday the agency will make it a priority to do an environmental impact study on the creek.

Oxford said she reported a violation to ADEQ in March 2005 when a gravel company mined closer than 50 feet on her property, and almost a year and a half later, complete corrective action has not been taken, Oxford said.

“Landowners are unhappy in terms of violations and the long delays,” she said. “From the public’s point of view, it is a real problem.”

The ADEQ has two inspectors who cover violations for in-stream mining throughout the state, Leath said.

“We do the best we can with what we have,” she said.

Stephens said both mining companies have had violations, paid penalties and taken corrective action.

The ADEQ will receive public comments until Aug. 10, after which it will make a draft decision. After the draft, the public will have another 30-day comment period. The ADEQ then can issue a permit, have another public hearing or reverse its decision. Members who made an official comment are allowed to appeal the final decision, Stephens said.

Written comments should be sent to: James F. Stephens, chief; Surface Mining and Reclamation Division; ADEQ; P.O. Box 8913; Little Rock, AR 72219-8913. Written comments on the applications will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. Aug. 10. For more information, call the mining division at (501) 682-0807.

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