Oklahoma, Arkansas agree on pact to study Illinois River
BY CURTIS KILLMAN World Staff Writer
Thursday, February 21, 2013
2/21/13 at 6:58 AM
A group dedicated to protecting the Illinois River is expressing guarded optimism over a water-quality pact that was hammered out in secret between the states of Oklahoma and Arkansas.
Officials with the Tahlequah-based group Save the Illinois River Inc. said that after discussing terms of the agreement with Attorney General Scott Pruitt and his staff on Tuesday, they believe that the pact will "protect Oklahoma's interests in the Illinois River watershed."
"It's not a perfect agreement, but it's better than we had hoped for," Robert Kellogg, an attorney for the group, known as STIR, said in a statement.
Pruitt announced Wednesday that the agreement between Oklahoma and Arkansas to study the Illinois River's water quality had been finalized.
The agreement comes after months of negotiation among the attorneys general of both states, Arkansas environmental officials, Oklahoma Environmental Secretary Gary Sherrer and Agriculture Secretary Jim Reese on limits for phosphorus in the section of the river that travels through 100 miles of eastern Oklahoma, a statement from Pruitt's office said.
The agreement provides for a new "best science" study of the phosphorus load for the Illinois River with both states, for the first time, agreeing to be bound by the outcome, according a statement from Pruitt's office.
The $600,000 study will be financed by the state of Arkansas. The exact source of the funds was not identified in information made public Wednesday.
A six-member panel, with three members appointed by each governor, will oversee the study.
The study will take three years and could result in a stricter pollution standard governing phosphorus, the Pruitt statement says.
But STIR spokesman Ed Brocksmith said that despite assurances from Pruitt "not to worry," he is still concerned that the study could result in less-strict pollution regulations regarding phosphorus limits in the river.
Pruitt spokeswoman Diane Clay confirmed that the study could result in the implementation of a phosphorus standard that is less strict than the current Oklahoma limit.
Excessive amounts of phosphorus can fuel algae growth in lakes and rivers.
Phosphorus is contained in poultry waste, waste water treatment plant discharges, human and cattle excrement, commercial fertilizer and soil from riverbank erosion.
Brocksmith said STIR has concerns about whether the study protocol is biased toward Arkansas, which has resisted Oklahoma's pollution limits.
Brocksmith, Kellogg, STIR representative Curt Robinson and Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Administrator Ed Fite met with Pruitt and members of his staff for about an hour Tuesday to air their concerns about the agreement, Brocksmith said.
STIR and other stakeholders in Oklahoma had been kept "completely in the dark about the agreement," Brocksmith said in an interview Wednesday.
The group had been hearing only rumors about the agreement, Brocksmith said.
"We felt that it was a good meeting," he said, although he noted that Pruitt did not share copies of the agreement with STIR members, saying at the time that it wasn't finalized.
"It was apparent from the discussion that, as ... Pruitt said, 'Oklahoma will not roll over and play dead' in the face of conflicts with Arkansas over Oklahoma's ... phosphorus limit for scenic rivers," STIR said later in a statement.
Kellogg said the terms of the agreement mean Oklahoma's phosphorus limit "will be enforceable for the first time since its adoption."
The joint study will be conducted by a third party group with no ties to businesses in either state, according to the statement from Pruitt.
"We have confidence in the three Oklahoma members, who, along with three members from Arkansas, will make up the technical advisory committee overseeing the study," Kellogg said.
The agreement announced Wednesday has no connection to the lawsuit between the state of Oklahoma and various poultry companies over pollution in the Illinois River watershed, Clay said.
The poultry industry pollution lawsuit initiated by former Attorney General Drew Edmondson in 2005 concluded with a trial that ended Feb. 18, 2010.
U.S. District Judge Gregory Frizzell presided over the bench trial but has yet to issue a ruling.
Original Print Headline: Arkansas, Oklahoma agree on river pact
Curtis Killman 918-581-8471
Attorney General Scott Pruitt: Wednesday's agreement to study the Illinois River comes after months of negotiation among the attorneys general of Arkansas and Oklahoma.