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Fort Smith Board approves urban hunting program

story by Aric Mitchell
amitchell@thecitywire.com

The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted for the passage of an urban bowhunting program to control the city’s deer population Tuesday night (Jan. 15).

The 4-3 vote occurred at the Fort Smith Public Schools Service Center and emphasized two opposing views to the need for public safety. Because the board failed to secure five votes, the ordinance must also pass second and third readings before final approval.

On the affirmative side were Directors Andre Good, Keith Lau, Mike Lorenz and Kevin Settle. George Catsavis, Philip Merry and Pam Weber dissented.

The vote occurred after a previous motion was shot down 4-3 to table for 90 days at the request of Catsavis in order to respond to safety concerns. Good said he was not for tabling because “we have plenty of information before us to make a decision.”

That information included the following.
• Only bows and arrows will be permitted – no firearms or crossbows;
• The permitted hunting area will cover only the land at Chaffee Crossing;
• The hunter must be in a deer stand at least 10 feet off the ground;
• Hunting on foot or with the use of dogs is strictly prohibited;
• Qualified hunters must attend safety classes through Arkansas Game and Fish;
• Each hunter must successfully complete a test and possess a hunting license; and,
• If private property falls within the permitted area as determined by the Fort Smith Police Department, the hunter must have written permission from the property owner on his person.

SAFETY AND ‘THE WRONG MESSAGE’
Weber acknowledged previous comments during the meeting that she “was a mother first” and that “one is too many” regarding any injury or fatality as a result of a hunting accident.

“The woods are the first place the boys in my family would go,” Weber said.

Weber’s fear was shared by at least one in the audience. Fort Smith resident Sam Phillips, who described himself as “an avid deer hunter,” agreed.

“What you’ll have are some (hunters) who can really do it right, but you’ll have others who don’t,” Phillips said. “I feel sorry for the responsible hunters, but one death is too many.”

On Tuesday, Weber also expressed her belief that urban deer hunting at Chaffee Crossing sent the wrong message about the city’s intentions for the development.

“We’ve spent a lot of money developing Chaffee Crossing to make that a recreational area,” Weber said. “Every weekend there is a 5K or people walking their dogs. There are just lots of recreational activities out there, and that’s what we need to be promoting. Not this.”

Arkansas Game and Fish representative Ralph Meeker responded that “part of recreation is responsibly managing the resources that are there.”

“I have seen high deer populations where disease has run rampant, and a good balanced deer herd that is healthy with its habitat is the best kind of recreation you can have in my opinion,” Meeker said.

“I know there is a deer problem created by lack of hunting space where we’re starting to develop houses,” added Lorenz. “This changes nothing, other than it makes a small, select area chosen by the Chief of Police legal for legitimate hunters to go hunt.”

Lorenz believed passage of the urban deer hunt program “would not solve hunting problems that are already there, nor would it create new problems.”

DRAINAGE IMPROVEMENTS
Also Tuesday, the board agreed to spend $287,500 in drainage improvements for a Mercy Health development at Waldron Road. The item was part of the board’s consent agenda and was the only item that did not pass unanimously.

The one dissenting vote was Catsavis, who agreed with developer Rocky Walker that city involvement should be “the same for everyone.”

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In September 2012, the board shot down Walker and development partner Aaron Wirth for Free Ferry Commons, a 56-unit multi-family development, which would have been located at 900 S. Waldron Road. The reason cited at the time was for “incompatibility of the development” with the surrounding area as well as “parking and density concerns,” Walker told The City Wire in December 2012.

On Tuesday, Walker asked for “consistency” in how the board distributes taxpayer dollars to development projects.

“I don’t know if the city paying for half their improvements is the right thing for the taxpayer. I am for the jobs and for the project, but it would be nice to get some consistency in how we do things,” Walker said.

Catsavis agreed. “There are other developers in the city who promote the city with jobs, property taxes, whatever, and I don’t think this is fair to them that other developers don’t get this kind of consideration. We need to be consistent with everybody who does developments as Mr. Walker has said.”

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Comments

weber"s right.

One is too many. Given the thousands of children killed every year in cars in the US, we should pass an ordinance prohibiting children from riding in cars except for emergencies. And since kids get hurt on playground equipment every year, let's keep 'em off that stuff too. I'm sure Pam can give us all the direction we need about how to protect our children. That's what government's for, right?

research before voting please

Director Merry said “no” to urban deer hunting because he didn’t want it to hurt local tourism. Wouldn’t it be cool if Fort Smith was as popular as a place to visit as historic Charleston, SC? It’s a town just 50% bigger than Fort Smith at 120,000 residents. It easily attracts 5 million visitors each year. Apparently, each tourist spends about $100, because tourism is a $5 billion economic dream in Charleston – a city that permits urban hunting. Director Weber said “no” to urban deer hunting because it might hurt a child. And after all, she is a mother. Never mind the fact that the other directors are all fathers. Men care about children, too. The Wildlife Society Bulletin reports nationwide that deer cause 29,000 human injuries, 200 human fatalities, and $1 billion in property damage each year due to traffic incidents. Director Weber, I cannot find any evidence of a single injury or death to any man, woman or child from urban hunting. Surely, you must have come across what I have missed to make your decision to vote “nay”

george is spot on again

we need to be consistent! I agree that money given to create jobs at mercy is a good thing but it has the appearance of cronyism when another business that would have created more jobs is turned down! how can this be justified and the board needs to back up and reconsider the request that was turned down! get it right guys and girls and be consistent! good work george!

Thanks

Sure am glad you commented on this. While I don't believe for a moment that people flock to Charleston to deer hunt it does bring up a red flag for Fort Smith. Why in the world would we want a bunch of unknown outsiders coming in to our urban setting and shooting a bunch or arrows around. If nothing else they have no awareness of the area and could easily make a deadly mistake. And what is wrong with studying the situation for a bit like Catsavis suggests. Is there an ulterior motive to rush this thing along? What's the hurry? I for one would like to see a map of the potential hunting areas. Right now Good and Lau have no dog in the fight so to speak so what do they care? Maybe they are just being told what to do. Ever heard of trapping? What happens if a wounded deer winds up ion private property? If someone who is injured as a result of someone hunting on private property who is responsible? the hunter of the property owner who gave permission assuming they did give permission. I get suspicious anytime there is a rush to decide.
Sure am glad you commented on this. While I don't believe for a moment that people flock to Charleston to deer hunt it does bring up a red flag for Fort Smith. Why in the world would we want a bunch of unknown outsiders coming in to our urban setting and shooting a bunch or arrows around. If nothing else they have no awareness of the area and could easily make a deadly mistake. And what is wrong with studying the situation for a bit like Catsavis suggests. Is there an ulterior motive to rush this thing along? What's the hurry? I for one would like to see a map of the potential hunting areas. Right now Good and Lau have no dog in the fight so to speak so what do ...>> Read the entire comment.

hunts on

I believe that it was Director Merry's contention that tourists would NOT want to come here because we bow hunt deer. Besides, this ordinance wasn't to encourage hunters to come here to hunt. Just the opposite. It was to give private land owners the right to hunt on their own land. You have to have a written permission slip on you to hunt on somebody elses land. As far as the Catsavis suggestion, it was only he who would change his mind with more study.

Mercy Clinic

Perhaps Mr. Weaver and Mr. Wirth didn't scratch the right backs to get their proposal passed. Where were the Free Ferry residents' objections with this Mercy proposal? This should raise all kinds of red flags. How can this blatant inconsistency be justified? And the BOD can't understand why the citizens of the city don't trust their judgment?

arm twisting

there appears to be a whole lot of arm twisting of city directors behind closed doors to get votes on certain projects!

Bigger Fish

Mercy is a much bigger fish to catch. Maybe bigger bait is needed so it won't be the one that got away. The question is whether the BOD has been waiting all along to reel in Mercy. If the BOD has anticipated this then small business factions have been deceived all along. This policy does not bode well for future potential growth of small businesses or smaller (yet maybe more numerous development in our town. We need diversification more than "all eggs in one basket" corporate dominance in Ft. Smith. Incidentally, why doesn't Mercy build the facility downtown. That would eliminate much urban blight where the owners and inhabitants cannot afford to improve the neighborhoods. Andre Good mentioned that the Mercy project brings in residents. Why not the downtown Riverfront area for a Medical-Residential-Retirement community. Do it in conjunction with Sparks to share the cost? The two entities could coordinate rather than duplicate.

Reds and Blues

Fayetteville has its Bikes,Blues and BBQ. Fort Smith could have its own Sight,Shoot and Smoke urban deer hunts with the proceeds used to lower local tax rates directly or indirectly.