Scenic river plan floated again
By ROD WALTON World Staff Writer
A designation for the Blue River could be the state's first in 30 years, but critics worry about the economic impact.
Oklahoma could get its first scenic river designation in 30 years if supporters of protecting a spring-fed southern stream have their way.
Detractors, however, say making the Blue River a state-designated scenic waterway is no real protection at all.
Both sides will float their arguments during a hearing at 7 p.m. Thursday in Tishomingo.
"It's a beautiful river," said state Rep. Paul Roan, D-Tishomingo. "I always said that if they raised the water level about 10 feet -- because it's got so many falls -- it would put the Illinois River out of business."
The Illinois, in northeastern Oklahoma, is the state's most floated river, with about a dozen canoe outfitters along its banks. More than 100,000 people reportedly visit the Illinois every summer to swim, fish or float.
Roan sponsored legislation in 2003 that eventually could put the Blue River under the oversight of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission.
The bill was scrapped once to make room for other legislation, then failed in committee last year.
to try to get it passed at least one more time.
He is supported by a local group called Citizens for Protection of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer, the groundwater source for the popular trout stream.
"By designating it as a scenic river, that gives it added protection," Roan said.
Oklahoma has not designated a scenic river since the Little Lee Creek was added to the protected list in 1975.
The Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission oversees the Illinois River, Flint Creek, Barren Fork Creek, the Upper Mountain Fork River and both Big and Little Lee creeks.
The Oklahoma Farm Bureau is decidedly against any future scenic river legislation.
"It's a beautiful river, but trying to make it a (state designated) scenic river is going about it the wrong way," said Marla Peek, director of regulatory af fairs for the Farm Bureau.
"People who live in the area have a lot of good intentions, but I don't know if they know the ramifications of becoming a scenic river," she said. "It's a no-economic-growth policy."
Scenic Rivers Commission Administrator Ed Fite said he is in favor of adding another stream to the agency's jurisdiction. The commission's offices are in Tahlequah, and all of its current territory is in eastern Oklahoma.
"Oklahoma is blessed to have four distinct ecoregions," he said, "and it's important to have representative water bodies and streams."
Making the Blue River a state scenic waterway would limit municipalities' discharges into the stream or its tributaries, authorities said. The designation also could force limits on area farmers and ranchers.
Peek pointed out that the Farm Bureau is on the environmentalists' side when it comes to a five-year, $5 million study of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer.
Officials are trying to determine just how much groundwater can be taken out of the region safely without adversely affecting it.
The state-mandated study put a hold on water sales between some residents and a company representing other communities.
The Farm Bureau and others opposing the scenic river designation say the Blue River already is in an undeveloped area and that turning it over to the Scenic Rivers Commission would shut down any future development before it could happen.
"I think it would be a nightmare waiting to happen," Peek said. "It's wonderful to have a scenic river, but do you also want a no-growth policy?"
Oklahoma's scenic rivers designation prevents eastern Oklahoma communities from building additional discharge plants in the Illinois River basin.
State Attorney General Drew Edmondson also has sued numerous poultry companies, alleging that they are polluting the protected waterways.
Elevated phosphorus from chicken waste can damage oxygen levels in rivers and streams, reports show.
The Oklahoma Farm Bureau also opposes Edmondson's lawsuit. The group says the case threatens the livelihood of agricultural producers in Oklahoma.
Rod Walton 581-8457