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Editor's note: This is Part 1 of a multi-part series on the White River Bridge at Clarendon. Part 2 will be published Thursday.

Given the current state of politics the world over, one could not be blamed for thinking that win-win scenarios are an endangered species, if they ever really existed at all. Perhaps it is for this reason that the work to adapt the historic White River Bridge at Clarendon into its hoped-for second act has such widespread and enduring appeal.

It's a win for taxpayers, who will save more than $6 million. It's a win for the state, which will be able to boast of a world-class addition to its growing collection of extraordinary cycling attractions. It's a win for the businesses and citizens of the six counties and numerous hamlets, towns, and cities through which the Memphis-Little Rock cycling route will pass. And it's a win--a very nice one--for both national wildlife refuges.

It is toward this particular tragic missed opportunity that I turn today.

The benefits to the refuges are manifold. The first is marketing. As the catalyzing attraction of the epic "River, Ridge, Rowcrop, and Refuges" cycling trail, the refuges will enjoy a substantial bump in awareness the world over. The second is in the area of conservation. Choose not to traumatize an ecosystem adapted over the past 85-plus years to the status quo by violently upending that status quo, and the birds of the refuges and their descendants will thank you.

The third relates to the quality of the product that are the refuges. The adapted bridge will not just pass through the refuges, it will become a feature of the refuges. How many other refuges in the country can boast of a striking two-mile elevated walkway through the canopy of their forests? This very noticeable "improvement" could quickly become one of their most popular and iconic. And then of course there is the good will that comes from being a good neighbor ... a sometimes elusive goal for any area such as this.

This past summer, as part of a good-faith effort to engage with our adversaries-cum-prospective partners at the Department of Interior to find a win-win resolution to the lose-lose status quo, we put forth a proposal--at their request--laying out an arrangement via which the bridge would remain. In that proposal, we included a number of unsolicited "sweeteners" that would deliver additional benefit to the refuges, among which were offers to (1) Install two dedicated wildlife observation platforms, two photography blinds, and at least eight environmental education interpretive kiosks on the bridge; and (2) convert the City of Clarendon's existing tourist information center into a joint city and refuges "Welcome and Information Center" complete with office, meeting, storage, classroom, and interpretive space at no cost to the refuges. This offer also came with free staffing in the form of the existing city volunteer at the center being made available for training by the refuges to provide information to the public.

These alone would enable the refuges to immediately realize a number of unfulfilled ambitions (per their own comprehensive conversation plans) and substantially enhance access and experience for visitors at absolutely no cost.

A day or so after our proposal was submitted, we received a visit in Clarendon from a senior delegation from the Department of Interior out of Washington, D.C. We had high hopes that a good-faith back-and-forth using our proposal as a starting point would proceed from there. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

A short time later, we received a letter from a department lawyer abruptly terminating the good-faith conversations without explanation while restating the same tired regulatory rationales that had been their position in the past. This rang more than a bit hollow because you don't take a high-level delegation to Clarendon, Ark., to clarify the regulatory landscape. You make a trip like that when you know the regulatory landscape gives you discretion and you're trying to decide how to exercise it.

So we must call it out for what it was: an explicit choice by the Department of Interior--for whatever reason--to say no to a win-win opportunity.

But given that "it's never a wrong time to make something right," in the spirit of Valentine's Day, we are delivering this message of reconciliation right to you, Department of Interior: "Interior, baby ... We had a good thing going. Just when things started getting serious, you ran away. You broke our heart. But that's all behind us now. If you're ready to try again, so are we. You bring the chocolates, we'll bring the flowers."

A candlelight dinner atop a certain historic bridge awaits ...


Doug Friedlander is executive director of the Friends of the Historic White River Bridge at Clarendon, a 501(c)3 nonprofit.

Editorial on 02/12/2018

Print Headline: Win-win-win-lose

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