Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Wins $7.3M Judgment

July 6, 2009

A federal judge has awarded $7.3 million to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission in a lawsuit it filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over dead and dying timber.

Judge Charles F. Lettow of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C., sided with the commission in a 61-page order over the timber losses in Clay, Greene and Randolph counties in northeastern Arkansas.

The 2005 lawsuit alleged that the Corps’ management of water from the Black River and Missouri’s Clearwater Lake caused millions of dollars in damage to bottomland hardwood timber in the Dave Donaldson Black River Wildlife Management Area, which covers about 24,000 acres in the three counties.

Lettow issued the ruling July 1 after presiding over an 11-day trial in December.

The commission had sought about $20 million in damages.

“We didn’t get every bit of our requested damages,” lawyer Julie Greathouse, who helped represent the commission, said in a statement. The court found that the commission was entitled to a judgment to restore areas where timber had died, Greathouse said, and awarded it costs to restore the most severely damaged areas. However, the judge did not award requested damages “for restoration of lesser-impacted areas.”

“We hope they don’t appeal,” Jim Goodhart, another attorney for the commission, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “The case has taken considerable time and expense to litigate, and the court has expended a great amount of effort to spell out a just solution. It is now time to move on and focus on restoring the damage.”

P.J. Spaul, a spokesman for the Corps’ Little Rock District, said that the Corps had not decided whether to appeal. It has 60 days to do so.

The lawsuit focused on the Corps’ release of water from the lake into the Black River. Weakened by years of flooding, large sections of the management area’s hardwood forest succumbed to the effects of drought in 1999, Goodhart said at the trial. This allowed undesirable wetland vegetation to overtake those areas and substantially degrade the wildlife habitat, he said.

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