Arkansas Governor Huckabee says he's acting in good faith in water dispute

Tuesday, April 30th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPRINGDALE, Ark. (AP) _ Gov. Mike Huckabee said Monday that he's acting in good faith in working with Oklahoma over water standards, even though he's threatened to tighten standards in response to rule changes in Oklahoma.

``I'm hoping that ... we can demonstrate there is a good faith effort on all parts to be reasonable and also to come to grips with what we hope will be achievable goals and to sort of set the record straight,'' Huckabee told about 90 people attending a forum on water quality.

State and local officials, as well as corporate officials from Tyson Foods Inc. and other interests were among those attending.

Last month, Oklahoma proposed tougher phosphorous standards for the Illinois River, which flows from Arkansas to Oklahoma. Huckabee responded by threatening to tighten Arkansas standards to affect waterways flowing from Oklahoma. The two states have been trying to work out their differences.

Oklahoma blames runoff from neighborhoods and poultry and cattle operations in Arkansas for contributing to phosphorus levels in the Illinois.

Washington County Judge Jerry Hunton told the panel that the standards could ripple through the region's economy. He said many area farms have multiple operations, and growers want security for the future. He urged members of the panel to remember that family farmers have invested plenty of money in their farms.

Huckabee said the state won't turn a blind eye toward environmental violations, and the state will maintain its own standards.

``And we also want to be good neighbors _ nobody I know wants to be a bad neighbor,'' Huckabee said.

``I'm optimistic that as we continue to discuss and present to them as much good scientific data as we possibly can, that the result will be that they will sit down and work with us and make sure that whatever types of proposals there might be regarding phosphorus levels or any other nutrients, would be done based on a clear, sound scientific basis, but whatever goals were established would be scientifically possible and achievable.''

Huckabee says the Oklahoma rules would put an undue burden on businesses in northwest Arkansas and probably cannot be met.

Richard Weiss, director of the Finance and Administration Department, said the Oklahoma standards are too stringent.

``At this time, there are a few streams in the entire nation that have phosphorus criteria, certainly none in this part of the world, and certainly none in Arkansas and in Oklahoma. Only the most pristine streams in the country would be able to follow the criteria imposed by Oklahoma,'' he said.

Weiss said most streams in the United States have phosphorus levels five to 10 times higher than the Oklahoma standards and it would be hard for Arkansas to meet the requirements.

Huckabee said the Oklahoma standard is unrealistic, and that the state effectively gave Arkansas five days notice of the requirement.

``We think that is a very unrealistic time for the proposal to be given in a most abrupt fashion, as opposed to saying we think there is an issue and we'd like to sit down and talk with you, work with you and see where the standard should be and how do we get there once we've decided on what the standard should be,'' the governor said.

Huckabee questioned whether Oklahoma or other states have been able to meet the same standards. ``Particularly, has it ever been achieved in an area looking at the level of development we have in northwest Arkansas?''

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board has approved a limit of 0.037 parts per million of phosphorous in the rivers, to be achieved in 10 years. The new standards must now be approved by the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Frank Keating to become law.

Keating also has threatened litigation against Arkansas if negotiations don't resolve the dispute over phosphorus levels in the Illinois.

Arkansas blames runoff from the petrochemical industry in Oklahoma for adding chloride to the Arkansas, which flows from Kansas through Oklahoma into Arkansas, though Oklahoma differs with Arkansas' assessment.