Blueway Designation Down, Not Necessarily Out

Last week in testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that after overwhelming negative feedback following the White River Blueway designation in Arkansas and Missouri, the entire program has been put on hold until further notice. The designation for the White River itself had been rescinded a few weeks earlier after the Department of the Interior attempted to designate the river without input from local leaders, no explanation of the effects or purpose of the designation, and little thought to its implementation thereafter. This poorly planned rollout was doomed from the start.

I am glad the Secretary has made this decision to hit the pause button on the National Blueway program and examine the process and usefulness of the designation. Clearly, the problems with the program are many, and there is need for reflection. However, I would be much more comfortable if the Secretary had been more forthcoming about plans for the program’s future, as well as the Department’s plans for the White River going forward. While the designation has been suspended, there is some wiggle room for the Department to reinstate it. We need to make sure that this is not done over the objections of those back home concerned about the private property implications this could have.

The American people are losing faith in their government. Between scandals at the IRS, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Health & Human Services, those who I talk to are concerned about a federal government increasingly overreaching its boundaries. The attitude and approach of the Department of the Interior in relation to this program is no different. The government needs to remember who it works for, and treat the American people with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Secretary Jewell has undertaken the important first step of honoring the wishes of those in the White River watershed by rescinding the Blueway designation. But we must continue to keep the pressure on to ensure she fully understands the issue at hand. The federal government must govern only by the consent of the governed – and after an overwhelming negative response, clearly there are changes to be made. I hope to work with the Secretary going forward to represent the voice of Arkansas’ First District in the matter and help her continue to understand this issue.

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