Blue Hog Report, who broke the story on the $30,000-plusand counting wasted by Land Commissioner John Thurston on purchasing and storing a little-used boat rig suitable for bass fishing, illustrates further how wasteful the purchase has been and how Thurston has neglected the law he claims justified the purchase.
Key point: Thurston claims a relatively new state law expanded his authority to do something about obstacles in navigable waterways on submerged state land. Key problem: The city of Maumelle has complained to Thurston about a sunken barge on the river near where Thurston’s boat is stored and he’s apparently never done anything about it.
In August of 2013, after Act 552 took effect, the issue of the removal of the barge was referred to the COSL office. In the email referring the matter, the mayor of Maumelle noted, “We are concerned that the barge could break loose and damage the 1-430 bridge or the Murray Lock and Dam structure during high flow events. Since the pictures were taken, the actual structure (house) has slipped off the barge and is in the river now.”
That was over five years ago, and nearly four years since the COSL got their boat, which they could have used to go examine the debris and initiate proceedings for the removal.
Yet, in over five years since the passage and effective date of Act 552, John Thurston’s office has not managed to have the barge removed, despite a request from a public official, notice from the Corps of Engineers, and a stated concern that the barge could damage I-430 or the Murray Lock and Dam. It does not appear that the COSL has managed to do anything about that barge, in fact, as it remains in exactly the same position as it was in October 2010.
I’m seeking an office response to this specific complaint.
UPDATE: This response through an office spokesman:
Upon a second inspection, this time with Terry Hart who completed the debris removal on the Little Maumelle River, the Commissioner of State Lands’ office sought professional opinion of the sunken barge in Maumelle. The work needed to remove the barge was found to be cost prohibitive. Citing cost as a major factor, this is an example of why the Commissioner of State Lands’ office desires to work proactively so that as issues arise they can be examined and dealt with in a timely manner.
I’ve asked followups:
1) When was first inspection?
2) When was second inspection?
3) Has an effort been made to find person responsible for wreckage?
4) Why hasn’t a legal action been filed?
5) Are there records that reflect office consideration of this wreckage.
I’d comment it doesn’t appear this has been “dealt with.” Also, the statute allows the office to recover removal costs from the person responsible. So how would it be cost prohibitive?
Other points made by Blue Hog:
* Thurston says his office has explored for debris six times since the boat was purchased in 2014. It has used the boat four times. (Apparently, he actually accompanied Game and Fish in their boat on his own two trips cited to us earlier, according to a clarification this week in the Democrat-Gazette.) If the boat was used only four times for debris expeditions, that’s $7,500 per trip over four years.
* He says he “needs” a boat because of the 2013 law passed by the felonious Sen. Jon Woods. It allowed him to sue to get people responsible for obstacles to remove them. But the office ALWAYS had power over submerged lands. It never “needed” a boat before.
* He claims a depth finder designed to find fish was necessary to accurately report on obstacles in the water. But he’s never used the memory chip that can be inserted in the depth finder to actually record such things.
* The boat isn’t big enough to do anything about removing or transporting obstacles of any size.
* There’s no record of Thurston’s expeditions. No record of obstacles found. No record of any action taken.
* Nobody in the office has been trained in assessing or removing underwater obstacles.
* The law doesn’t provide for Thurston to act on obstacles or to buy a boat.
Thurston has adopted the Trumpian position that criticism of him is fake partisan news. The $30,000, however, is very real. So is an absence of any evidence that the expenditures were either a) necessary or b) even marginally productive.
Note: Susan Inman, the Democrat opposing Thurston for secretary of state, not only has a squeaky clean public record, she has experience in both the secretary of state’s office and in election supervision that Thurston lacks.