Illinois River protection group chooses a board
BY ROBERT J. SMITH Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Posted on Friday, December 16, 2005
SPRINGDALE - The Illinois River Watershed Partnership spent Thursday morning
naming 28 board members, picking an executive committee and defining a
mission of protecting the river, which flows from Northwest Arkansas into
It marked the beginning of what members hope will be years of effort to
safeguard the river that's been at the center of a two-state water-quality
"The trick is to maintain your momentum," said Shawn Grindstaff, a
facilitator with The Forrester Group, a St. Louis company paid to help the
organization with its formation. "There will be little battles to be fought,
but the biggest battle is momentum. The real test comes six to 12 months
from now - do you still have that same energy and zest six months from now?"
The board members represent agriculture, business, government, construction
companies and conservation groups. Luanne Diffin, environmental services
coordinator for Rogers Water Utilities, will serve as the board's first
"So much happened today that it was unbelievable," she
1 said after the 3/2/hour meeting. The group identified several ways it
plans to protect the watershed, including best management practices,
water-quality monitoring, education, community outreach and ecosystem
restoration projects. The watershed partnership plans to file papers within
the next month with the Arkansas secretary of state's office requesting
Diffin said the partnership is modeled after the Bayou
Bartholomew Alliance, a nonprofit group incorporated in 1995. The bayou
starts northwest of Pine Bluff and flows 359 miles before crossing into
Louisiana. The organization's members include people in both states that
represent industries, agriculture, environmental groups and others.
"We want to reach out to all the stakeholders," Diffin said. "We're not just
Sixty people interested in water-quality issues met Sept. 28 and formed a
15-member steering committee to talk about a structured regional group meant
to protect the Upper Illinois River. Gone from the group's original concept
is the first word in "Upper Illinois River" because members want to include
Bev Saunders, who lives just across the state line in Colcord, Okla., is the
only Oklahoman on the board. Saunders also serves as a spokesman for Poultry
Partners, a group of 400 farmers who live in western Arkansas and eastern
Simmons Foods Chairman Mark Simmons, who will serve as the group's vice
president, said he wants to make sure the organization doesn't "look like a
front for the poultry industry."
"Or the construction industry," said Jan Scopecek, director of the Northwest
Arkansas Homebuilders Association.
Northwest Arkansas' poultry industry and Arkansas government officials have
been in a bitter dispute with Oklahoma over water quality.
In June, Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson sued eight poultry
companies in U. S. District Court, saying the companies let phosphorus-laden
poultry waste pollute the Illinois River, one of Oklahoma's protected
waterways which is designated by that state as a scenic river. The companies
Edmondson sued were Cargill Inc. of Minneapolis ; Cobb-Vantress Inc. and
Simmons Foods Inc., both of Siloam Springs; George's Inc. of Springdale;
Peterson Farms Inc. of Decatur; Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale; Willow
Brook Foods of Springfield, Mo.; and Cal-Maine Foods Inc. of Jackson, Miss.
Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe, a candidate for Arkansas governor,
stepped into the fight last month, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to get
In his Supreme Court filing, Beebe contends Edmondson is trying to impose
Oklahoma laws on Arkansas companies. Edmondson said last month that the
poultry industry "has control of Arkansas government" and Beebe wouldn't be
interested if he weren't running for governor.
Edmondson was unavailable Thursday to comment on the new watershed
partnership, his spokesman said.
While the new watershed partnership is still in its infancy, it's already
fretting about money.
Some board members made $25 contributions. They talked about getting an $8,500
grant from the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. Separate money
could come in a $44,843 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to
pay for an Illinois River Watershed Week to promote river protection. If the
EPA provides the money, that event would be in the spring 2007.
It's also possible that some of the $500,000 poultry companies promised to
a Northwest Arkansas group will come to the watershed partnership.
The companies promised to spend the money in Northwest Arkansas at the same
time they gave a $1.1 million gift in September to the Oklahoma Scenic
Simmons said it hasn't been decided for certain who will receive the money
meant for Northwest Arkansas.
"That money hasn't been designated yet, but a group like this would
qualify," Simmons said. "That would make sense."