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Few things will get some Arkansans invested in protecting the Trail of Tears quite so effectively as the historical path's potential capacity to thwart conversion of a red dirt pit into a limestone quarry.

The Benton County Planning Board voted 6-1 in December to table the plan for the quarry indefinitely after the Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears Association expressed concern the Cross Hollows mine at 1425 N. Old Wire Road was too close to a well-preserved section of the path Indians from the southeastern part of the nation traveled for resettlement.

What’s the point?

Delays in decisions about a requested limestone quarry in Benton County hopefully show signs the issue is undergoing the kind of serious review it deserves.

The Trail of Tears, as it has become known, was actually a collection of paths traveled by Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, Seminole and smaller tribes after they were forced out of their homelands by the U.S. government.

One of the most effective ways these days to throw a monkey wrench into someone's plans for a new development is to show how moving forward will disrupt historical, ecological or archaeological sites. Find an endangered species that might be adversely affected and a developer's nightmare has just begun. Just ask the Arkansas Department of Transportation or the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport how many millions of dollars it cost to mitigate the impact projects could have on the Ozark blind cavefish.

Imagine for moment what a constant parade of dump trucks coming into contact with a section of the Trail of Tears could do? It wouldn't take long for the historic path to be obliterated and replaced by the Trail of Trucks.

The red dirt mine is just northeast of Lowell. Owner David Covington proposed to convert the 135 acres for limestone extraction. Each 10 acres represents a five-year operational period for the business, according to the Benton County Planning Department. Anchor Stone of Tulsa would quarry the limestone.

Naturally, nearby residents have voiced opposition and see some hope in the concerns expressed by those fighting for the Trail of Tears. Those concerns may just be a means to an end, if the end is to stop the quarry.

More likely, it seems, is that quarry owners will identify steps to protect the historic path of the Trail of Tears in an effort to calm those objections. Preservation and Cherokee authorities have recommended the people asking for the quarry conduct a cultural resources survey to make clear any impacts and mitigation.

"Cross Hollows is historically significant for many reasons and is sacred to the Cherokee, whose ancestors traveled along the path of the Old Wire Road as they neared the end of their journey to Indian Territory," a letter from Preserve Arkansas Executive Director Rachel Patton says.

It's not worth destroying irreplaceable pieces of historical significance in pursuit of limestone, but does that settle the question of whether the quarry can exist or not? We're doubtful.

But all the voices of concern about the impact of the quarry have delayed decisions so far, which we hope to be a sign that nobody is considering this a rubber stamp kind of project. Quarries are a necessary part of a growing region like Northwest Arkansas, but the drive toward the future cannot come at the expense of the past, nor should people's lives and property be adversely affected without serious deliberations.

Commentary on 01/22/2019

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