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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Blast from past: Reasons for protecting wetland not common knowledge among politicians

Posted 8/29/04 on www.aubunique.com
First posted on http"//www.aubunique.com in 2004
Coody finally keeps promise but doesn't stay long


Aubrey's Notebook:
Mayor's Request Would Have Council Ignore Task Force Report
Recommends Putting All Tree, Trail Money Into One Purchase
Mayor Dan Coody visits Town Branch watershed August 23, 2004, fullfilling a promise made in March.

It seems that Mayor Dan Coody is in a big rush to get the Fayetteville City Council to ignore the recommendation of the city's Tree and Trail Task Force and use the full remaining $100,000 from the Steele Crossing lawsuit settlement to acquire 2.44 acres of mostly steep woodland on South West Avenue from renowned architect Fay Jones.
The reason is that there is a deadline to act on the offer to Fay Jones. If that deadline were extended, then maybe there could be a bit more discussion.
I agree that Jones' property must be protected. He bought it more than 35 years ago and has kept it in nearly pristine condition ever since.
I admire and respect Fay Jones for protecting the land all these years and believe he should be paid properly for it. However, both parcels are important and environmentally sensitive and must be protected for their conservation value. There has to be a way to acquire and protect both areas. Such places are disappearing rapidly inside Fayetteville and all over Northwest Arkansas.
Many people who have known me a long time realize that I can't imagine how anyone could disturb Jones' parcel and can't really understand why this progressive city hasn't gotten further in developing ordinances that would protect steep slopes, woodland and wetland.
I believe that the city of Rogers got several steps ahead of us with its recently passed storm-water regulations, which require a bit more than ours.
The wonderful thing is that Fayetteville still has many creeks, while Rogers and Springdale have ditched and paved many of theirs. Rogers is trying to restore a portion of the Osage Creek through the city to something similar to the meandering stream it was originally, after many years as a giant, paved ditch.
The situation reminds me of the rush in the 1980s and 90s to channelize a magnificent bayou through Little Rock!
I read that some portion of that cypress-lined stream is now under public protection. I floated and waded much of it before the Gazette closed in 1991. I caught a lot of bass but ate none of them!
Springdale has a plan to UNCOVER a portion of Spring Creek downtown to become a part of its revitalized downtown. Those cities recognize their mistakes and are trying to re-create part of what was destroyed at great cost. Basically, we need to provide stronger regulation of stream riparian zones and the adjacent wetland areas.
This brings us back to the topic at hand. The Tree and Trail Task Force decided in the fall of 2003 to try to buy the 2.46 acres of wetland prairie off S. Duncan Ave. An appraisal came in lower than the developer expected, but the task force was under the impression that public money could be used only to pay the appraised price, thus the members suggested that Mayor Coody try to negotiate. Negotiation stalled because the developer needed more than the appraised price to cover his losses.
At the developer's request, I met with the mayor in his office and invited him to walk the Town Branch watershed with me. He was busy in March but said he would come out later in the spring.
Dan finally spent 45 minutes or so with me in the Town Branch watershed Aug. 23, 2004, but I wasn't able to share with him all the reasons that this prairie wetland deserves city protection.
The nice thing was that the mayor got to see a DRY wetland prairie, something that would have been impossible in spring or early this summer. Some of the wettest land had dried and cracked in the few places where the vegetation was exposed.\
There was a small spot where one of the neighbors had mowed a path into the 2-acre wetland prairie off S. Duncan between 11th and 12th streets and knocked over three or four chimneys created by Ozark burrowing crayfish. I tried to explain that these are not the stream or swamp crawdads of the south that I knew in Louisiana or Dan knew growing up in southeast Texas.
These are crawdads that live in the aquifers under the prairies and partially wooded wetland areas paralleling the streams in many places in the Ozarks. They are also known as Osage burrowing crayfish, if one searches online.
Yes, some are big enough to eat! If you toss them into the creek they will try to find their way back to the prairie!
Such prairies as the acreage around our home, including our yard, absorb water and allow it to drain into the aquifer.
When the ground dries out as it finally did in mid-August this year, that land is ready to soak up several inches of rain when it comes. That was what I was trying to explain to Dan Coody. The floods of late April and early July occurred after the wetland prairie areas in Fayetteville, especially in the watershed of the Town Branch of the West Fork of the White River, were holding all the water they could because of almost daily rain.
The failure of stormwater detention ponds designed to slow runoff from newly roofed and paved areas contributed to the worst muddying of Beaver Lake since the dam was built in the 1060s. Smallmouth bass can be expected to fail to reproduce in the streams affected by the siltation. Many less well-known species will be in the same situation. Life thrives in clear water running over clean rock.
Engineering can't replace that natural storm-water protection. Protecting every vegetated acre that can be protected is the only key to keeping a bit of Northwest Arkansas as it was when I first lived here in the '60s.
There will be grant money to help restore such areas not only to protect people such as some of my neighbors whose home flooded three different nights in 2004 but also to provide habitat for birds and other wildlife and to offer wildflowers and other natural beauty.
Anyone who has studied our Web site, http://www.aubunique.com , can imagine how many hours Lauren and I spent last year documenting just a few species of native flowering plants and typical prairie grass on the 2 acres behind our home, the part of the 2.46 acres that was approved by the city planning commission for 36 apartment units in May 2003. In June 2003, the Corps of Engineers issued the developer a permit for the site.\
However, James Mathias, the developer, agreed to delay development to give our neighborhood's Town Branch Neighborhood Association time to buy the land for preservation. In May 2004, his development permit was renewed for another year and he agreed again to delay work on the project to give us more time.
With the few wooded and prairie acres to the north between 11th and 6th streets along the Town Branch west of Hill Avenue slated for development and the many acres being developed on the west arm of the Town Branch west of Razorback Road, such small parcels of prairie wetland become increasingly important in storm-water protection along the Town Branch and in preventing further siltation of Beaver Lake.
I can't possibly share a lifetime outdoors with others well enough to make them understand why I care about these things. But Stormwater II regulations spell out the federal rules. Links to those rules may be found on this Web site.
Over and over, I have been told by employees of the Corps of Engineers and national and state environmental agencies that "your city can make stronger rules."

They KNOW that the federal rules are a weak compromise.

The bulk of the Wilson Spring prairie wetland is doomed to be developed. The part that remains can help educate the public about the value of such places in the Illinois River watershed.
Our neighborhood wetland prairie offers similar value as a demonstration area for owners of parcels small and large in the White River watershed. It was never plowed by the farmers in the first half of the 20th century and it was never built upon when the land was subdivided in the 1950s. The reasons are obvious.
Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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