ST. LOUIS — U.S. Reps. Jason Smith and Billy Long announced Monday afternoon that the House Natural Resources Committee is conducting a hearing later this month to understand why the White River watershed initially was designated a National Blueways System.
The hearing, called “Stopping Federal Land and Water Grabs: Protecting Property Rights from Washington, D.C. Edicts,” will be July 29 in West Plains, Mo.
The National Blueways system was created in 2012 by an order from Ken Salazar, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior. According to the Department’s website, rivers that are part of the program are “nationally significant, large river systems supported by diverse stakeholder partnerships that use an integrated and adaptive watershed approach to resource stewardship.”
Earlier this year, the White River was designated a Blueway designation, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, but it was later rescinded due to complaints from residents and policy makers.
“The West Plains hearing will give private property owners the opportunity to express their concerns with the Blueways designation and other federal land and water programs,” Smith, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, said. “The hearing will be Missouri’s chance to hold the Obama Interior Department’s feet to the fire and finally get answers to how the Blueways System originated.”
Smith called the Blueways System “the tip of the iceberg” of President Barack Obama’s administration’s “assault on rural Missouri.”
According to a release from Smith’s office, the letter that the two congressmen wrote requesting the hearing included the following questions for the Department of Interior:
- 1. How states can opt-out of the Blueways program — which, according to the Blueways website, rivers are nominated by their “stakeholder partners”
- 2. How much the program costs and how the Department is paying for it
- 3. The “legal authority that the Administration is using to justify the unilateral creation” of the program
- 4. The program’s benefits
- 5. “An explanation for the insufficient, closed-door review process that was used to justify the White River designation”
“Earlier this month Southwest Missourians won an important victory when the U.S. Department of the Interior rescinded the National Blueway designation for the White River watershed.,” Long said in a statement. “There are still unanswered questions about the Interior Department’s Blueway program and their actions. We need these questions answered to help other states should the department take similar action on other rivers and watersheds across our nation.”
Benefits of the program, according to the Blueways System Overview document, include national recognition, marketing help, a cooperation agreement between federal agencies and opportunities for federal technical or monetary assistance.
Missouri state Rep. Shawn Rhoads, R-West Plains, said he looks forward to the meeting coming to his hometown and thinks it will be informative to local residents.
“I have a lot of folks that would really like to know how it [was designated], so it won’t happen again,” Rhoads said. He said the County Commissioners hosted a meeting about the issue a month ago which brought about 70 to 80 interested citizens out to learn more.
The meeting will be at 1 p.m., July 29 in the theater of the West Plains Civic Center.