Updated 3:40 p.m. Jan. 7:
Missouri opponents of the National Blueways System – a designation granted to the White River and its watershed in Missouri and Arkansas – praised its demise on Monday. Federal officials had announced the news over the weekend.
U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, was among the critics who said that the riverways designation threatened property rights and could lead to “land grabs.”
The Blueways System was set up by the Obama administration in 2012 as a voluntary program to encourage conservation and preservation along various rivers. Advocates said the designees could qualify for more federal grants.
Only two -- the Connecticut River and the White River -- had been designated before the whole program erupted into controversy. Because of local opposition, the White River designation was dropped last summer. The Connecticut River system retains the "Blueways" moniker, but it no longer is tied to any federal program.
Some opponents also linked the Blueways program to the United Nations’ Agenda 21 controversy, claiming that the Blueways System was a first step toward international seizure of riverways in the United States.
Smith noted that a congressional field hearing had been held last summer in West Plains, Mo. to discuss the concerns.
“The National Blueways System is finished,” Smith said in a statement. “This is an incredible victory for my constituents who were rightly concerned the designation would lead to new regulations and land grabs in the future…. Now we must renew our efforts to oppose a new general management for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways. Congress must hold the Obama Interior Department’s feet to the fire.”
Smith, elected to office last June and facing re-election this fall, also accused the Interior Department and the National Park Service of “dismissing local concerns and pushing a radical environmental agenda.”
John Hickey, director of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club, said his group had taken no position on the Blueways program, largely because "it was a pretty weak program to begin with," and included no additional protections for the riverways.
The Sierra Club is involved, however, in supporting the proposed new general management program for the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which includes the Current and Jack Forks rivers.
Three public hearings had been scheduled for this week, in Van Buren, Salem and, locally, at the Powder Valley Conservation Nature Center in Kirkwood. Because of weather, the meetings have been rescheduled.