Sep 04 2010

Shelby letter questions Cahaba River area expansion

Tuscaloosa News

expansion of the Cahaba River conservation area.

Shelby sent a letter on Friday to Ken Salazar, the secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior, formally asking to meet with Steve Miller, the head of the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge.

“While we all agree on the importance of preserving this ecological treasure, this is a major expansion of the refuge, which will not only cost millions of dollars in federal funds for land acquisition, but will also take a large portion of the tax base away from the state,” Shelby said in the letter. “We must ensure that this proposal is thoroughly reviewed and all who wish to comment have the ability to do so.”

The senator's letter comes one day after a public comment meeting held by the Fish and Wildlife Service to discuss the proposed expansion of the 3,600-acre Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Bibb County to almost 280,000 acres of protected land across four counties.

Hundreds of residents turned out for the meeting in the gymnasium at Brent Elementary School, quickly turning it into a standing-room only event. Almost everyone in attendance was strongly opposed to the proposal, labelling it a “federal land grab” that could devastate the local economy.

“There has been great concern throughout the state regarding the lack of stakeholder participation in the process thus far,” Shelby's letter said. “Only two public meetings have been held — the first of which was not made known to the public until it was too late for many to attend.

“It is my understanding that informal comments were solicited from only two environmental groups, while no business interests or landowners were asked for input on any aspect of the draft, including boundary lines.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to acquire an additional 106,415 acres for protection and management as part of Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge. It also wants to establish a new, 173,380-acre Cahaba River Conservation Area. The areas would join and expand along the Cahaba River through Bibb, Chilton, Jefferson and Shelby counties.

The public comment period was set to expire Sept. 7, but has been extended until December.