River groups sue Army Corps for approving Bear Creek dam

Seven conservation groups are asking the U.S. District Court to revoke a permit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued to construct a dam on a tributary to the Buffalo National River.

Groups say there is a less damaging alternative available

LITTLE ROCK, Ark., October 24, 2001 — Seven conservation groups filed suit today against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas to revoke a permit issued to Searcy County to construct a dam on one of the largest tributaries to the Buffalo National River.

The groups want the Corps to consult with the National Park Service about potential impacts to this specially designated and protected river before deciding whether or not to allow Searcy County to construct the water supply dam.

On August 3rd, 2001 the Army Corps' Southwestern Division Headquarters in Dallas issued the permit — overruling the Little Rock District Office, which had twice rejected the application. The Little Rock District had cited the negative impacts on the environment and the existence of a less environmentally damaging and economically feasible alternative: a pipeline to bring the water from a neighboring county.

"Almost a million people visit the Buffalo National River each year, providing local jobs and contributing up to $36 million annually to the regional economy," said John Heuston of the Ozark Society, "but the Corps did not bother to look at the potential economic impacts of reducing the river's flow before issuing the permit."

"In issuing this permit, the Corps has chosen to ignore its staff and break several environmental laws," said Jack Hannon of American Rivers. "It is time for the Corps to give our rivers the protections they deserve."

"By law, the National Park Service should make the call whether the dam would harm the scenic, recreational, and fish and wildlife values of the Buffalo National River," said Don Barger with the National Parks Conservation Association.

The Corps failed to consult with the National Park Service before issuing this permit. In addition, the Clean Water Act prohibits the Corps from issuing this permit when other less damaging alternatives are available. Another Arkansas county has offered to supply water to Searcy City from an existing water reservoir by constructing a 37-mile pipeline.

"The Corps' own staff acknowledged that other less damaging alternatives were available, but the higher ups chose to issue the permit despite those findings," said Tom McKinney of the Sierra Club. "The pipeline would be far less damaging and would provide a clean, reliable source of water that would accommodate growth in the county."

In addition to numerous local citizens and the plaintiffs on the suit, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have expressed concerns with the dam.

"The Buffalo National River is truly a national treasure," said Bill Saunders of the Arkansas Canoe Club. "An Environmental Impact Statement has not even been conducted - isn't that the very least that should be required before any dam permit is considered?"

The Plaintiffs are represented by Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center in Eugene, Oregon, and Hank Bates of the McMath Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas.

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