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Interior Dept. ends ‘Blueway’ program

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A U.S. Interior Department program intended to recognize conservation efforts along the nation’s waterways was dissolved on Friday amid opposition from landowners and politicians who feared it would lead to increased regulations and possible land seizures.

The National Blueways System was created in May 2012 under President Barack Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative. The program was voluntary, didn’t include any new regulations, and a designation — bestowed on only two rivers, one of which was dropped last year because of local opposition — brought no additional funding.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement that her agency decided to disband the program, which was formed by her predecessor, Ken Salazar, after a departmental review.

“The National Blueways Committee will be deactivated, but the department will continue to encourage collaborative, community-based watershed partnerships that support sustainable and healthy water supplies,” department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said.

Jewell put the program on hold in July, two weeks after removing the designation from the White River, which spans more than 700 miles through Missouri and Arkansas. The only other National Blueway waterway — the Connecticut River, which runs through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire — will retain the designation, Jewell said Friday.

Todd Sampsell, director of Missouri’s Nature Conservancy, blamed the program’s demise on too many people misunderstanding the program.

“That’s a product of a failure of communication somewhere along the line,” he said Friday.

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