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State Rep. Keith Slape has questions about watershed conservation grants - Harrison Daily

06 Oct 2019 8:05 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Harrison Daily Times

State Rep. Keith Slape has questions about watershed conservation grants

By JAMES L. WHITE jamesw@harrisondaily.com

State Rep. Keith Slape of Jasper said he is waiting for more information on a plan to offer conservation grants to property owners in the Buffalo National River watershed before he gets completely on board.

In September, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed an executive order establishing the Buffalo River Conservation Committee, or BRCC, and said $2 million in state and private funding would be made available for conservation and water quality grants within the watershed.

Half of that money would come from the governor’s discretionary, or “rainy day,” funds and the other half from two private entities, the Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation. The plan would require legislative approval.

Slape said he had been talking to officials in the governor’s office, explaining that many of the people in his district are skeptical when they hear someone is from the government and they want to help.

He said the plan as it has been explained to him so far is for grants to help with controlling erosion on property in the watershed and similar measures. The state wants to appoint local officials without outside influence to help administer the plan with local control.

However, Slape said the rules for how the plan would actually work are being developed and will have to go through the Arkansas Legislative Council. He was asked if he saw any potential hiccups in the legislative approval process.

“Anytime the government’s involved in anything I see hiccups,” Slape said.

For instance, many rural quorum courts in 2005 adopted land use plans to prevent the government from seizing property or telling owners how they could use their property.

Slape said one of the questions legislators will want to know is if those land use plans have been studied to make sure there are no conflicts with any regulations that might come along with grant money.

Once he sees the actual plan, he said, his background as sheriff will help in investigating all the intricacies of potential requirements.

Slape said state Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward will be conducting meetings with property owners in the near future.

“They’re going to let me know when the meetings are set up,” he said. “I want it to be a very public meeting so people can see what’s going on.

“Plus, there’s going to be some serious questions asked at the ALC when it comes to rainy-day money. Is this something that the state’s going to come in and have conservatory deeds and easements?

“They assured me it would not be, but once I get to read the plans of how they’re going to do this, then I’ll know more about it,” Slape concluded.

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