by Dr. Francis E. Abernethy
I can certainly understand the Texas Forestry Association's reservations about Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson's bill S.2324 to study the Neches as a candidate for Wild and Scenic River status. The original WSR plan had some intrusive conditions that understandably disturbed owners of land along the river.
Senator Hutchinson's study bill responded to these threatening conditions with the following amendments. KBH's amendments include the following:
SEC. 4. PRIVATE PROPERTY AND RECREATION
(a) Effect on Private Property—Nothing in the amendment to subsections 5(a) and 5(b) shall allow the involuntary taking or condemnation of private property in the Study Area. Should all or any part of the Study Area be designated as wild and scenic, no involuntary taking or condemnation of private property shall be allowed under the Wild and Scenic River Act as a result of that designation.
Nothing . . . shall allow infringement upon the rights of private property owners in the Study Area nor shall it impose additional regulations or restrictions on the use and enjoyment of private property in the Study Area. Should a segment or segments of the river be designated as wild and scenic, nothing in the designation shall allow infringement upon the rights of private property owners nor shall it impose additional regulations or restrictions on the use and enjoyment of private property. Established conservation practices shall be encouraged on a voluntary basis within the designated area. Agreements for conservation initiatives may be entered into on a voluntary basis.
(b) Effect on Recreational Activities-- . . . nothing in the amendment . . . shall affect recreational activities otherwise allowed by law or regulation, including hunting, fishing, trapping, or boating.
(c) Effect on State Authority-- . . . nothing in the amendment . . . shall affect the authority, jurisdiction, or responsibility of the State of Texas to manage, control, or regulate fish and resident wildlife under state law or regulations, including the regulation of hunting, fishing, and trapping.
I heard a political candidate vilify his opponent with the scurrilous term of "moderate compromiser"! Most of the friends of the Neches and I are in that category. Above all things in the natural world of Deep East Texas, we want to keep the Neches River between Lake Palestine and Steinhagen Dam wild and freely flowing for ourselves and our descendant's generations to come. If anybody out there has another plan besides W&SR designation that will guarantee the continual free flowing of the Neches River, we are willing to moderate and compromise.
Also, please keep in mind that if the Neches River is dammed, any land under the contained water—and that includes thousands of acres of privately owned bottomland—will automatically belong to the state.
Francis E. Abernethy
PO Box 13007-- SFASU
Francis Edward Abernethy is Distinguished Regents Professor Emeritus of English at Stephen F. Austin State University, the Executive Secretary-Editor Emeritus of the Texas Folklore Society from 1971 to 2004, the Curator of Exhibits for the East Texas Historical Association, and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters. His many books, poems, stories, and edited volumes for the Texas Folklore Society have led to speaking engagements throughout Texas and beyond.