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OPINION | FRAN ALEXANDER: On issues of public policy, being a “squeaky wheel” is a good thing

In government, progress isn’t made by the silent by Fran Alexander | August 23, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.

This is a busy week for citizen input on a couple of major Fayetteville decisions. The options here are probably similar to other civic choices being made elsewhere in Arkansas in regard to what people want and need for their towns.

Fayetteville opened up comment opportunity on plans for a half-mile stretch of College Avenue between North and Sycamore streets on Aug. 15. The comment/survey period ends today, so don't dawdle if you've got an opinion. My main concern is always that irrigated, large growing spaces are planned and maintained so shading vegetation can grow along streets. Trees are needed across our state to offset urban heat from pavement and for beautification.

Information is at https://www.fayetteville-ar.gov/3588/Highway-71B-Corridor.

The survey is available at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/College_Ave_Aug2022. It includes questions for property owners along the route, but it's also intended to collect comments from others, such as motorists who use the street.

The other biggie for easy public input is in regard to the American Rescue Plan Act funding, and the final day for comment is Wednesday. That info link and survey are at: https://speakup.fayetteville-ar.gov/arpa. Click on: "View all nonprofit funding requests."

All of these are fine and worthy programs and hopefully will all get the funding they need to carry on their work. Because my main interests lie in the physical state of the world, I have focused closely on the water protection projects.

Environmentalists are heavy into the basics. You know, soil, air, water, food -- stuff like that. When any of those go missing or are endangered, everything else humans might have on their minds to accomplish can be severely changed or canceled entirely.

The economic driving force of Northwest Arkansas is clean, safe, usable water. All our arts and entertainment, our social programs, our farms and food projects, our sports, our businesses, our jobs, our educational facilities, etc. would be non-starters without water.

So far we've been lucky with the quantity of our supply, but only because the dedicated, ever-vigilant water protectors around here have gotten us this far. If we are ever struck with a drought like the western states, our economic viability could dry up like their rivers and lakes. And with an estimated 30 to 40 people moving to Northwest Arkansas each day, water cannot be wasted nor its quality taken for granted.

The Beaver Watershed Alliance requested funding for its Town Branch Initiative targeting a 32-square-mile sub-watershed that flows into Beaver Lake, which provides water for a half-million (one in six) Arkansawyers.

The Illinois River Watershed Partnership needs help for six projects to, "improve infiltration, management, and treatment of stormwater using green infrastructure measures that reduce non-point source pollutants, maintain riparian areas, and improve water quality."

The Watershed Conservation Resource Center has two proposals. One is for the purchase of 223 acres on the West Fork of the White River, an expansive floodplain in southeast Fayetteville, which contains 22 acres of wetland. These natural features function to filter sediment from water and help decrease excess nutrients that can cause algae growth in waterways. This type of land is the least protected element needed for water purification yet seriously important.

About 40% of the Fayetteville's stormwater runoff drains into the White River and makes its way to Beaver Lake. This land acquisition is so important to the Beaver Water District that they are putting up $800,000 toward the purchase.

The organization's other proposal is for creating The River Institute which, "will focus on ecological restoration of rivers, riparian, wetlands, prairies, and floodplains, and their importance in protecting water quality, ecosystem health, and quality of life, [which] ... will provide hands-on training to residents & professionals on ecological restoration, stormwater solutions, and native plants."

Last week the City Council voted to buy 50 unsafe flood-prone apartment units to the tune of $1,39 million in order to convert the land to green space. (Demolition and disposal of the structures will cost additional funds.) Maybe we're learning it's past time to not allow building and paving over so much of the city's landscape and natural water infrastructure.

Increasing infill construction with contiguous rooftops and pavement increases runoff, as does the replacement of urban forest with impervious development. All of Arkansas can only benefit from stricter water and land-use planning, and providing funds for these kinds of badly needed water conservation projects should be a top priority. How land and water function together needs to not only be understood, it has to be respected.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease. No speaking or no squeaking in civic matters is like not voting. Speak up!

Print Headline: Be the ‘squeaky wheel’

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