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River talk – what they said then…

Screen Shot 2014-09-01 at 9.26.45 PMAs I pointed out earlier, most folks probably don’t remember 35 years ago when the Ouachita River almost became an engineered ditch. I was one of six reporters who helped cover the story and put out a special section in the “News Star World” on Sunday, October 18, 1980 called “The Ouachita: Unbending a river uncorks a controversy”. Indeed it did. The plan to “widen” 30 bends in the Ouachita River and make 54 “bendway cuts” to straighten the river and enhance commerce was mind boggling. Can you imagine the river today had that happened? River lakes would have been cut off, millions of cubic feet of dredge material would have had to be deposited somewhere. The project called for the “removal” of nearly 3,000 acres of land. Today I’ll share some quotes from the 1980 newspaper section you might enjoy:

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“The Corps has replaced wildlife area losses with the establishment of a national wildlife refuge of 65,000 acres in the Felsenthal Basin in Arkansas and an 18,000 acre refuge on Bayou D’Arbonne near Columbia.” Colonel Sam Collins, on why it was okay to compete the project regardless of what impact it had on the river

“The environmentalists will say put it on the farmlands while farmers will say put it in the woods. Well, we know who will win that one.”Colonel Collins on what to do with 3,000 acres of dredge material. Note: I still don’t know and I’m glad I didn’t have to find out…

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“It would be hard or almost impossible to say who could use the river or exactly how much good it would do, except that it would be beneficial.” –Lloyd Pratt, then director of the ORVA, on the benefits of “economic improvements” to the river

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“The more information I develop and the more I hear about what they have to say, the more I become convinced that the environmental damage they would do is irreversible. The more I find out, the more I am convinced that the reason they are doing it are totally unfounded. The river could be turned into a big ditch and we haven’t had anything to say about the matter. I happen to recall what the Boeuf River used to look like 25 years ago. It was a clear stream with pretty cypress trees around the banks and good fishing. Now it’s a muddy ditch.” — Jim Hall on past projects

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“It’s pathetic. The Corps tells you they don’t know what all the benefits will be, yet they know all the adverse effects and what it will do to the aesthetics of the river, yet it’s already been OK’ed. That’s ridiculous.” — Bobby Walker, former LDWF fisheries biologist in Monroe, on impacts to fishing

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“To be quite honest, I know of very little that can be done at this stage to change the magnitude of the work. At the same time, I readily acknowledge that much of the work will be environmentally damaging and most certainly destroy a goodly amount of excellent fish and wildlife habitat.” –Robert Barkley, US Fish & Wildlife Service in Vicksburg, saying it was too late to stop the project

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“Straightening the river would increase the flooding in Catahoula Parish, which is already a dumping ground for the Corps. They will straighten the bends up there and let us poor #$%# down here drown.” — Cecil McGuffee, retired Catahoula Parish farmer, on how farmers in his area looked at the project:

Tomorrow: A 2014 real river success story

 

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