by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Nature Alliance will be in federal court this morning to argue against Corps of Engineers' approval of a shopping center development (Bass Pro, etc.) in North Little Rock's Dark Hollow.
Read on the jump for their full news release, whch reiterates some substantive issues (never mind the giveaway of school tax money that the mayor envisions) on environmental questions.
The case will be heard by Judge Howard at the Federal Buildingat 9:30 A.M.
ANA is a grassroots conservation organization made up of scientist and average citizens that have band together to fight environmental battles here, in the natural state of Arkansas. This battle against the COE is an effort to stop Bass Pro Shop and the City of North Little Rock from destroying the vital urban wetlands of Dark Hollow. While the suit did not name Bass Pro Shop or its developers as a Defendant, ANA asserts that Bass Pro Shop is a business that depends on wetlands and wildlife, and destroying wetlands, the very resource their business depends on, seems contradictory.
ANA charges the COE neglected their agency responsibility by not requiring a Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before issuing a permit to Belz-Burrow Development Group for the destruction of the Dark Hollow Wetlands. In their premature decision, the COE did not fully analyze the impacts that must be considered in their decision making processes. “We’ve tried in every way to work with the Corps of Engineers to resolve these issues, but unfortunately to no avail”, said Rob Fisher of ANA. “Once again, the Corps spends our tax dollars as an advocate for wetland destruction instead of fulfilling their job of projecting them, forcing litigation to protect our states’ important water resources,” Fisher stated.
This development will cause flooding to unprivileged neighborhoods in North Little Rock. The Dark Hollow Wetlands act as a sponge, slowing and reduces the city’s stormwater runoff. Naturally, wetlands are areas that are routinely inundated with water, as was seen Saturday in an intense storm event. This project will eliminate the wetland functions and push flooding downstream onto neighborhoods. The COE (as requested from NLR) has been attempting to determine solutions to eliminate already occurring stormwater problems with the Dark Hollow Tunnel, a century old tunnel that flows beneath the city and has been classified by the COE as dilapidated and incapable of carrying today’s stormwater volume. The Dark Hollow Tunnel is directly downstream from the Dark Hollow Wetlands and was not mentioned in the Bass Pro Shop proposal.
ANA also states that the COE neglected to analyze additional impacts due to required transportation infrastructure that this project would require. Daniel DeVun of ANA said, “The required changes to the highway system are a direct impact from this project and the Corp neglected to consider this matter. The state and citizens ofArkansaswill have to pick up the bill, at an estimated $20 million, for the required infrastructure which will destroy an additional ten acres of wetlands. This project will make an unsafe traffic situation (one of the most congested intersections in the state) an even more hazardous one that does not comply toFederal Highwayrules and standards.”
Under EPA Guidelines, all wetlands are deemed to be “special aquatic sites,” subject to protection because of their “significantly influencing contribution to the general overall environmental health or vitality of the entire ecosystem of a region.” EPA guidelines require alternative measures be taken to avoid impacts to wetlands. In this case, the COE did not fulfill their requirement of analyzing and selecting an alternative site that presents less adverse environmental impacts. “There is no shortage of available land just up the Interstate for the site,” stated DeVun.
Once again the COE has neglected to fulfill their role and responsibility of protecting our natural resources. Louisiana’s current situation illustrates the accumulative impacts from wetland loss and lack of flood protection and storage. While ANA is sympathetic to development, they stand firm on ensuring protection of our natural resources. “We are confident that the laws and regulations of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Clean Water Act will prevail in a Federal Court System and appeal to the COE to fulfill their regulatory responsibility of protecting wetlands under those guidelines defined to them as Executive Orders,” stated Fisher.
The Central Arkansas Audubon Society has joined ANA in the suit, along with a number of citizens. The Arkansas Nature Alliance is an environmental nonprofit dedicated to protecting the natural resources ofArkansas.