The group working to preserve the abandoned U.S. 79 White River bridge at Clarendon says the state has agreed to take responsibility for maintaining the structure for pedestrian and bike use but that Fish and Wildlife opposition remains a key obstacle, one that it suggests U.S. Sen. John Boozman could overcome.
The group’s lengthy news release tends to obscure the ecological and legal reason for Fish and Wildlife opposition — the state’s agreement long ago in building a new bridge to remove structures that disrupted the flow of the waterway.
Friends of the Historic White River Bridge announced:
Under the terms of this agreement, the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District (CAPDD) would take ownership of the property rather than the City of Clarendon, assuaging concerns about the city’s potential liability for expenses it might not be able to bear in the future.
In addition, the costs of ongoing maintenance would be covered in their entirety by funds from the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism (ADPT) and the Department of Arkansas Heritage (DAH).
New state obligations while the legislature is discussing a shortage of ways to pay for desired income tax cuts? And perpetual obligations? Gutsy. CAPDD as a savior? Interesting. It was on the losing end of the lawsuit that successfully challenged unconstitutional state legislative pork barreling by money funneled through development districts.
But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The unwillingness of DOI/USFWS to return to the negotiating table despite such an extraordinary change of circumstances – a change which addresses the entire portion of their concerns around the indefinite viability of the structure – may in part be explained by the recalcitrance of Arkansas’s senior senator, John Boozman. As chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife – the committee which oversees USFWS – Senator Boozman is perhaps the best-positioned, most powerful man in Congress on this matter.
His resounding “neutral” position on a seemingly positive project in his home state with substantial grassroots and public support may be sending a powerful message to the leadership at DOI/USFWS not to engage.
A circuit judge has dismissed the group’s challenge of the bridge demolition, but it has been delayed pending an appeal to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
A reminder from the Friends of the Cache that there’s another side of this issue, one that encourages another kind of tourism and appreciation of the White and Cache Rivers. They disagree that retaining concrete structures and earthen berms would produce more benefits than restoring the land to its original condition.