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Ford Overton, chairman of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, took the gloves off Wednesday to express his frustration with the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission over flooding in the Bayou Meto Wildlife Management Area.

Bayou Meto WMA is above flood pool for the third consecutive spring, accelerating stress to seriously degraded waterfowl habitat.

The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission is the nonfederal sponsor for the Bayou Meto Water Management Project, which is federally mandated to conserve waterfowl habitat. It is the lead agency responsible for funding the project, but the ANRC has not secured money to build key components of the project or to operate existing components, including two pump stations near Scott and Reydell.

On May 1, the commission held a meeting with the Natural Resources Commission, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bayou Meto Irrigation District to re-establish communications between the project's partners.

On Wednesday, Jennifer Sheehan, the Game and Fish Commission's federal liaison, briefed the commission about progress with the partner agencies since May 1.

"Since the May 1 meeting, I have not been involved with any meetings with the Natural Resources Commission regarding this project," Sheehan said. "I have no first-hand information that would allow me to attest to commitment level of our sister agencies."

Sheehan paused and added, "That is a concern to me."

Overton asked rhetorically if it is possible to replace the Natural Resources Commission with a different nonfederal sponsor.

"Anybody! Anybody but the Natural Resources Commission," Overton said. "They're so unmotivated. They so don't care. The leadership of the ANRC doesn't understand it. They don't get it. The entities have $140 million invested in an idle project that could be saving a lot of habitat. They don't give a s**t. It's not moving. There's no sense of urgency. None."

Among Overton's grievances was his belief that Bruce Holland, director of the Natural Resources Commission, rolled his eyes as Game and Fish Commission staff members voiced their concerns during the May 1 meeting.

The Game and Fish Commission will meet with its partners again May 28 to discuss how to pay for electricity to operate the evacuation pump station at Reydell. Overton said the Natural Resources Commission's attitude to date does not make him confident.

"A major cost is the power to supply the pump station," Overton said. "We're going to have to get a game plan on how we can work with Entergy. We've got to have the power company understand the importance of running the pump station. I guarantee you one ... thing, it ain't going to be the ANRC that's going to do anything about it."

Ken Reeves of Harrison, the commission's vice chairman, said that the ANRC's lethargy disturbs him as well.

"I was underwhelmed at the last meeting by their lack of inspiration," Reeves said. "They said they were going to pay for the project by selling water to people that don't want to buy water. They've got to figure out how to do their part of this. There's no creative thinking."

Commissioner Joe Morgan of Little Rock suggested appealing personally to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, but Commissioner Bobby Martin of Rogers warned that such a meeting might be provocative.

"The governor hears it from us, but he probably hears something different from the ANRC," Martin said. "It's clear to me that there's a burr under his [Holland's] saddle. It's a political issue. We've got to figure out a way where there can't be any losers. We might be out of olive branches, but we can't keep going around people."

Jim Goodhart, the Game and Fish Commission's chief legal counsel, recommended a more decorous approach.

"The ANRC has its own commission, and Director Holland reports to his own commission," Goodhart said. "They have their periodic meetings. We probably need to ask to have some time on one of their commission meetings."

The Corps of Engineers appears eager to resolve the impasse. Sheehan said the Corps requested $8 million to complete the Little Bayou Meto portion of the project.

Sports on 05/19/2019

Print Headline: AGFC chairman displeased with sister agency

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