Coalition sues over riverway activities Feb 18, 2006 20:10:54 GMT -6
Post by Steve King (Admin) on Feb 18, 2006 20:10:54 GMT -6
Coalition sues over riverway activities
Lawsuit seeks to bar trail riders and their horses from Jacks Fork, Current.
Trail riders and their horses should be barred from two areas on the Jacks Fork and Current rivers until their effect on the environment is determined, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment said in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
The St. Louis-based group is suing the National Park Service and Ozark National Scenic Riverways Superintendent Noel Poe for what it claims are violations of the National Environmental Protection Act. It claims environmental assessments or environmental impact statements were not done as required and that the public wasn't given chances to comment, coalition executive director Ted Heisel said Wednesday.
"I think it's just a systemic problem, and in some ways it's harder to deal with," he said. "We can't point to some huge, terrible thing that's been happening. It's the slow drip, drip, drip that slowly degrades the quality of the experience in the park."
Although Poe is a defendant, Heisel said problems that prompted the lawsuit began before Poe was named to the post.
Poe said Wednesday evening he had just found out about the lawsuit and couldn't comment because he hadn't read the details.
Heisel said while it's not directly connected to the lawsuit, one concern is that trail rides in the Eminence area are too concentrated.
"Overall, I don't have a solution to it now, but that use needs to be limited or much more dispersed," he said. "It's too much of a herd of horses in one place at one time. It either needs to be reduced in number or broadly dispersed throughout the park."
Commenting before the lawsuit was filed, Poe said there had been talk about trail riding, but no decisions.
"There's been a lot of discussion, but it's never been done," he said.
Although members of the Show-Me Missouri Back Country Horsemen ride on the upper Current rather than around Eminence, word of the lawsuit is a concern, president Charles Raasch said.
The statewide group contends trails should be available to all users but that stewardship to protect the environment is important, he said.
Based on cleanups the group has done on the Current River, there's plenty of blame to share, he said.
"Most of our trash we pick up is by the river," the Conway resident said. "It's not from horse people. It's from canoers; they camp there and they leave it. That's part of the problem, I'm sure. I'm sure everybody is a little bit to blame, the horse users and the canoers."
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Cape Girardeau mentions the occurrence last week of high bacteria levels that prompted the Park Service to warn visitors at Shawnee Creek Campground not to swim or wade in the creek, but also contends actions dating from the 1990s to recently violated federal environmental law.
The lawsuit states the Park Service allowed construction of homes along the two rivers, traded land and built equestrian staging areas that included roads, restrooms, parking areas and hitching posts at the Shawnee Creek and the Broadfoot areas without requiring environmental studies.
In one case near the Two Rivers area, park officials have allowed construction to begin for a home within 15 feet of the Current River, Heisel said.
He also learned trees were dynamited during land-clearing at the site, with some of it falling into the river, he said.
Such activities damage not only the environment but the experience the riverways provide 1 million visitors each year, Heisel said.
"All of these things are sort of contributing to a degradation of the experience that I think Congress meant to protect when they passed the Scenic Rivers Act in 1964," said Heisel, who is an attorney and filed the lawsuit for the coalition.
"I think over the years, a lot of that has been lost," he said. "Through this lawsuit we're trying to prevent any continued erosion of the values of the park."
The lawsuit is the most recent legal action the coalition has taken in Missouri. In 2004, it sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make Missouri comply with clean water laws.
That produced a consent decree resulting in the Missouri Department of Natural Resources classifying hundreds of streams in the state to determine whether they should be protected for swimming and other activities.
DNR officials have said if streams that receive sewage effluent are rated for what is known as whole body contact, treatment plant operators could face upgrading their plants to install disinfection equipment, and in turn charge customers more for sewage treatment.
Heisel said the Park Service has 60 days to reply to the lawsuit, and said it could take up to one year to resolve.
The coalition is not asking for monetary damages.
Source: Springfield News Leader
Published: Thursday, August 18, 2005