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To bird or not to bird

Centerton complex a threat to water quality, birds by Fran Alexander | April 6, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

Cupping hands into a cold spring and bringing drink up to mouths was as fundamental to the first humans as finding food. As our ancestors and the world changed over hundreds of thousands of years, the need for that source of life has never changed. No human settlement has ever been too far from it, and no food source, plant or animal, is available without it. Yet we seem to have forgotten this basic reality about something for which there is no substitute.

I've related the story before of my dad and his lifelong friend, Chester, to describe how differently two individuals can think. Chester's Criteria, as I've come to call it, was grounded in man-made creations, and he spent his professional life building structures. My dad's work as a journalist was to write about the actions humans performed on this earthly stage ranging from wars to simply feeding the birds in the backyard. Late in their lives the men would occasionally get together and during one drive in the country as they topped a hill, a green bucolic scene of trees, creeks, and fields stretched before them. Just as my dad was about to exclaim on the beauty, Chester's arm swept across the view as he said, "Look at all that land going to waste!"

Developers like Chester see raw land and mentally divide it into lots. Many of us, however, see intricate ecosystems, watersheds and habitat. Obviously opposing views on land use need some rules so we can work within a framework that helps us understand the whys behind each vision. Currently, Centerton has an issue involving land and its water, which could be a textbook case for determining the criteria for what we do to land.

Lindsey Management Co. has proposed a development of 495 apartments housed in numerous three-story buildings. With streets, 990 parking slots, a golf course, pool, clubhouse and various other adult playground equipment, it's a dense proposal.

Creating this development would check many boxes on Chester's Criteria list: flat, open land, access roads, nearby school, growing town amenities, and even a water source handy for keeping the grass growing.

The slight detail ignored in this development's siting, however, is that across the road sits the Charlie Craig State Fish Hatchery. Unfortunately and inconveniently, the artesian spring that feeds the hatchery water is on the proposed development's side of the road.

Critical to water quantity and quality is a functioning recharge area of land that soaks and filters water through soil down into groundwater and aquifers. All this water is interconnected, of course, so how much goes into the ground determines what eventually comes back out in springs. What contaminates water on the surface, like fertilizer, pesticides, gasoline, trash, etc., also contaminates the subterranean plumbing. And yes, the development land is smack on top of the spring's recharge area ... probably. No official environmental impact study of the underlying karst geology has been done.

The fish aren't the only ones at risk. The hatchery is also classified as an IBA or Important Bird Area, "a network of locations around the country that provide critical habitat for significant bird populations," says Dan Scheiman, bird conservation director of Audubon Arkansas. He added, "This IBA offers critical waterbird habitat in northwestern Arkansas where little wetland habitat remains. Two-hundred and seventy-two bird species have been recorded there. This includes 37 species of shorebird ... as well as 32 waterfowl species."

Migratory birds honor Arkansas by stopping over at this hatchery in the spring and fall to rest and refuel. Consequently, the area also attracts birders to Centerton (birdwatchers travel the world to catch a glimpse of specific wild birds).

Tragically, since 1970 it's estimated 3 billion birds, one in four, have been lost in North America. Collisions with windows (of which this massive development will have hundreds), noise, traffic and loss of habitat and native insects and plants (bird groceries) mount up the deaths. Some land-use conflicts can't be mitigated, some things are irreplaceable, and bit by bit the fundamentals for life, all life, are being lost. Centerton's spring and bird habitat cannot be moved. The development can. Unless we humans share and care, "Silent Spring" will be more than a book on a shelf. I think even Chester would want to prevent that outcome.

The Centerton Planning Commission has already held hearings, but comments can still be made until their May 4 meeting at by email to [email protected] and to Mayor Bill Edwards at [email protected]


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