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Gravel mining foes dig deep.

Designation of Crooked Creek Could Close Stream

Drying up lucrative in-stream gravel mining operations in some of Arkansas' clearest creeks has turned into a muddy endeavor.

Larry Wilson, deputy director of the state Department of Pollution Control & Ecology, says mining companies have until Sept. 17 to cease and desist from mining gravel and sand in what PC&E designates as extraordinary resource waters.

The Sept. 17 deadline is based on policy set up by Act 378 in 1993, which was designed to end mining on extraordinary resource waters but was generally ignored. Wilson says gravel mining, until the passage of Act 378, was not regulated by the state.

State Sen. Wayne Dowd, D-Texarkana, says he has heard the Sept. 17 deadline called a "gentlemen's agreement" but says there is no such thing. He says mining should end immediately.

He recalls a canoe trip he and his wife took on the upper Ouachita River last year that spurred him to check on the impact of Act 378.

"A guy came down to the river with a six- to eight-yard dump truck while we were putting in," Dowd says. "By that afternoon he had eliminated a good-sized gravel bar.

"I reported that incident to [Land Commissioner] Charlie Daniels, and his office concluded that that portion of the river wasn't navigable and couldn't be controlled," says Dowd, adding that the Ouachita is not on the extraordinary resource waters list. "That's when I figured out that Act 378 hadn't been implemented."

Dowd responded by sponsoring Senate Bill 418, which became Act 1345. The legislation amended the Open-Cut Land Reclamation Act to prohibit commercial mining in extraordinary resource waters.

Dowd wouldn't name names, but he says it was no accident that Act 378 was ignored.

"Some legislators are opposed to stopping the mining," Dowd says. "[Act 378] went from the Rules Committee to Agri to Public Health. It was obvious what the hell was going on. We decided we needed to say it again."

Task Force Formed

Another piece of legislation from this year's session, Act 1110, set up a task force to study "the impact of stream bed mining on the economic and natural resources of this state."

What lies ahead is a battle over land and gravel rights that will be fought on the banks of Crooked Creek in Boone and Marion counties. Wilson says his office will recommend that Crooked Creek be included on the list of extraordinary resource waters.

"Our principal concern is damage to the stream," Wilson says. "Crooked Creek is heavily mined, and it's not an ER stream. We want to amend the regulations."

According to PC&E guidelines, the benefit of an extraordinary resource water is "a combination of the chemical, physical and biological characteristics of a water body and its watershed, which is characterized by scenic beauty, aesthetics, scientific values, broad scope recreation potential and intangible social values."

Wilson says PC&E has drawn mining guidelines almost identical to those used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make implementation easier. Act 378 will allow the state and counties to remove gravel to protect bridges and property.

The process to include Crooked Creek, Wilson says with a smile, could take awhile. He also says he expects at least one lawsuit over this issue.

Taking gravel from this scenic stream nationally known for its smallmouth bass fishing has gone on from generation to generation. Larry Bearden of Guy King and Sons in Mountain Home, one of three or four of the largest companies that mine on Crooked Creek, grew up on a farm on the creek in Marion County.

Bearden wouldn't reveal how much sand and gravel his company hauls from the creek, but says mining on Crooked Creek is not as extensive as is commonly thought.

"The numbers I've seen in the paper are grossly exaggerated," Bearden says. "There are four companies - Mountain Home Concrete, Marion County Sand and Gravel, Monty Davenport and us - then there are another half dozen or so small businesses that sell a truckload here and there to somebody building a house."

Bearden says if miners can't take gravel from Crooked Creek, it will have to be trucked in from alternate sources, most likely the Arkansas River.

"Our plans will be to buy the aggregate [unwashed sand and gravel]," Bearden says. "Frankly, we have the financial resources to do that. When some of the smaller operators lose Crooked Creek, they will go out of business."

Bearden says Guy King and Sons takes sand and gravel from Crooked Creek, the company's sole source, separates and grades it, and sells it for use in concrete, asphalt, masonry, and sewer and septic applications. Finding a good grade of sand will be especially tough, Bearden says.

Prices Could Rise

"This will affect all of Marion, Baxter and Boone counties," Bearden says. "The counties and state will be paying premium prices."

Bearden says the state uses sand and gravel for bridges and asphalt.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that when sand that is 10-15 cents a ton per mile has to be trucked 90-100 miles, you're going to have a doubling of those costs," Bearden says. "It will affect the state, subdivisions, cities, counties, septic systems."

Dowd says the interests of the state far outweigh the commercial prospects.

"They [miners] are making a ton of money, and they don't want to stop making it," Dowd says. "My guess is the local gravel owners will vigorously oppose [closing Crooked Creek to mining]. Environmental groups will be for it."

Those who make a living from tourists - canoeists, fishermen, sight-seers - also will be for it. State Sen. Gary Hunter, R-Mountain Home, says common ground for miners, landowners, fishermen and environmentalists should be sought. Hunter was quoted in The Baxter Bulletin after he took a float trip on Crooked Creek in April: "Tourism is the number two resource in Arkansas, but to us it's number one."

Hunter also says landowners should be able to sell gravel from their property that's out of the streambed.

"Farmers are not causing the damage - commercial mining is," Hunter says. "I believe we can come to a workable solution if we take emotion out of it."

Bearden says landowners he has talked to are solidly behind mining.

"They believe it preserves their firms," Bearden says. "The sand and gravel operations keep the stream in its course, minimizes flooding and damage from flooding."

Flooded With Calls

Landowners, Bearden says, are concerned about flooding if mining is banned.

"Our phone has rung off the wall," Bearden says. "There's a lot of concern that if mining ends, they won't be able to have someone come in and remove the gravel. ... These farms have been in families since before the turn of the century. They want to be able to farm close to the creek without worrying about a flood."

The mining issue could pull apart residents in two counties.

"This is something that is very divisive," Bearden says. "There are a lot of hard feelings up here, a lot of these folks are upset about it."

Wilson says public hearings - if the process to add Crooked Creek to the list gets that far - will most likely be held in Harrison and Little Rock. Wilson says Crooked Creek is the only prospect for the list, but Dowd says he would like to add the Ouachita River and maybe others.

RELATED ARTICLE: Extraordinary Resource Waters

* Archey Fork - Van Buren County

* Big Piney Creek - Johnson, Pope counties

* Buffalo River - Newton, Searcy, Marion, Baxter counties

* Caddo River (including its south fork) - Montgomery, Pike, Clark counties

* Cadron Creek - Cleburne, Van Buren, Faulkner, Conway counties

* Cossatot River - Polk, Howard, Sevier counties

* Current River - Randolph, Clay counties

* Devil's Fork (including Beech Creek, Tomahawk Creek, Turkey Creek, Lick Creek and Raccoon Creek) - Stone, Cleburne counties

* Eleven Point - Randolph County

* Fork Spring - Fulton, Sharp counties

* Illinois Bayou - Pope County

* Kings River - Madison, Carroll counties

* Lee Creek - Crawford County

* Little Missouri River - Polk, Montgomery, Pike counties

* Little Red River (middle fork) - Searcy, Van Buren, Stone, Cleburne counties

* Mountain Fork River - Polk County

* Mulberry River - Johnson, Franklin, Crawford counties

* North Sylamore Creek - Stone County

* Richland Creek - Newton, Searcy counties

* Salado Creek - Independence County

* Saline River - Garland, Saline, Grant, Dallas, Cleveland, Bradley, Drew, Ashley counties

* Second Creek - Woodruff, Cross, St. Francis counties

* Spring River - Fulton, Sharp, Lawrence, Randolph counties

* Strawberry River - Izard, Sharp, Lawrence, Independence counties

* Parts of the following waterways have ERS designation: Big Creek (Cleburne County), Big Fork Creek (Polk County), Cache River (Woodruff County), Two Prairie Bayou (Lonoke and Prairie counties) and Moro Creek (Dallas and Cleveland counties).

RELATED ARTICLE: Study Shows Damage From Gravel Mining

A study conducted by Art Brown of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and funded by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission reveals a wide array of damage to stream ecosystems from in-stream gravel mining.

Among the physical impacts are wide, shallow pools; fewer riffles; increased bank erosion; and alteration of stream channel.

Water quality impacts include increased turbidity, deeper silt and elevated water temperature.

Biological problems are habitat disturbance, a reduction in species diversity, fewer fish and species replacement. (Fish that can thrive among silt survive.)

Mike Armstrong, assistant chief of the G&FC Fisheries Division, says the agency is studying a plan to raise the minimum length limit for small-mouth bass to help the fish make a comeback. Gravel mining in Crooked Creek and other smallmouth waters has been mentioned as a reason for the fish's decline.

One of the problems the department of Pollution Control & Ecology and G&FC have had is a history of mining. Since permits have not been required for mining, there are no records of when the where mining has taken place. That makes it hard to study the impact of mining.

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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Arkansas
Author:Williams, Jeff
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 29, 1995
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