Tuesday, August 05, 2008

TOP STORY > >Beebe cautious on sharing

Leader senior staff writer

Even as emergency workers labored nearby in the hot sun to control an ammonia leak at Coleman Heat Treating, Gov. Mike Beebe spoke Friday at the Jacksonville Community Center, thanking state wildlife officers and their families for their contributions to state residents and visitors.

“You signed up for and are trained for this and provide the service,” Beebe told them, “but your families have not trained for this. They are the ones who stay home and take care of you and support you and worry about you.”

Beebe told wildlife officers what they already knew—a lot of people don’t recognize their work as law-enforcement, but when they encounter someone, it’s nearly certain that person is armed.

Beebe’s remarks came on the heels of the announcement last week that the state Game and Fish Commission had leased 11,500 acres of public wildlife lands for $29.5 million to Chesapeake Energy Company for exploration and production of natural gas.

Chesapeake Energy is the company that has flooded the airwaves with a self-congratulatory fake news program singing the praises of its own operations and effects on the community.

Speculation already has begun over how to best spend that windfall and the approximately 20 percent royalty that the state will collect from the natural gas extracted from the Fayetteville Shale far below the surface.

The Game and Fish Commis sion supports its activities directly from a statewide sales tax and holds that all the lease and royalty money should go to Game and Fish activities.

Beebe has said he believes the commission should receive some of the money, but that the state Department of Environmental Quality should receive enough to monitor and make sure that the exploration and production activities in those wildlife management areas don’t disturb the environment.

Exploration will require building roads, large amounts of fresh water, holding ponds for water after it’s injected into the wells and presumably construction of pipes to carry off the gas.

Critics have accused the gas companies of ripping up the state’s infractructure.

A state sales tax increase in 1997 earmarked 45 percent of the proceeds forever to the Game and Fish Commission.
Mining and drilling revenues have always gone into the general fund in the past.

But the commission says Amendment 35 to the state Constitution exempts them from turning over their lease money and royalties.

If the revenues did go to the state general fund, some money could go toward the state’s public schools and highways, both of which have needs far in excess of revenues.

“We’re staying out of that discussion right now,” said Beebe’s spokesman Matt DeCample.

“Legislators may bring that up,” he added.