Legislation targets farms in watersheds
By Ryan McGeeney
This article was published today at 4:33 a.m.
A bipartisan coalition of Arkansas legislators is trying to curb future permits for large scale, concentrated farming within sensitive watersheds throughout the state.
House Bill 2252, if passed into law, would impose a two-year moratorium on the issuance of concentrated animal feeding operation general permits within the watersheds of the state’s Extraordinary Resource Waters, as defined by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission. The permits, which follow National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System guidelines, are issued by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
HB2252 began as a “shell bill” filed by state Rep. Greg Leding, D-Fayetteville, March 11, the last day to file legislation for the 2013 session. A shell bill is a legislative bill that includes no provisions, but may be amended before being submitted to committee.
Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, last week added temporary language to HB2252 to address permitting within Extraordinary Resource Waters.
“The intention of the amendment is to establish a moratorium on any new [concentrated animal feeding operations] in the Buffalo watershed, with a particular emphasis on hog farms,” Sabin said.
Sabin said the language of the bill is a direct reaction to C&H Hog Farms, a concentrated animal feeding operation now being constructed near Mount Judea in Newton County. The farm, which is permitted to house as many as 6,500 hogs, was the first operation to be granted a confined animal feeding operation general permit by the Department of Environmental Quality in August 2012.
Much of the public outcry over the 670-acre farm, which abuts Big Creek, a major tributary to the Buffalo National River, stemmed from the claim that public notice regarding the potential farm was inadequate. Under state regulations, the department’s only requirement regarding permit application notification is to post the applications on the department website.
At the March meeting of the department’s Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, commission chairman Stan Jorgensen ordered department director Teresa Marks to present notification alternatives to the commission during its April meeting.
“I think everyone in this situation admits the public notice procedures were inadequate,” Sabin said.
Sabin said the bill would not affect the operation of C&H Hog Farms. An attempt to retroactively legislate against alegally-permitted farm would amount to a bill of attainder, which is prohibited under Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution.
The bill is scheduled to be introduced today to the Arkansas House Committee on Public Health, Welfare and Labor by Rep. Kelley Linck, R-Yellville.
“This hog farm excited people in my industry - it scared them, frankly,” said Linck, who is also executive director of Ozark Mountain Region Inc., an advertising agency based in Flippin. Linck said that his constituents voiced concerns over the potential damage to business if large amounts of manure entered the Buffalo National River. “They care about the waterway itself, but the damage to tourism based on the waterway would be huge.”
Sabin and Kelley each said that if the bill passes, they would refer the matter of issuing general permits for concentrated animal feeding operations to an interim study committee during the moratorium.
“We want to say, ‘no, we’re not going to do that until we look at it.’ Let’s look at how the process works. I think we missed some things this goround,” Linck said.
Public outcry from both environmental organizations and tourism-based businesses began to mount after Buffalo National River Superintendent Kevin Cheri complained to both the Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Farm Service Agency that not only had he and others been unaware of the permit application, his staff believed that an environmental assessment showing the farm would likely have no significant impact on the river was “deeply flawed.”
Monday, the National Parks Conservation Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization with about20 regional offices around the country, issued a news release calling for the revocation of C&H Hog Farms’ general permit.
Sabin said his intention was that the finalized bill would specifically address swine operations without affecting current regulations regarding chicken farm operations in Arkansas.
“We specifically avoided including those so as to not impede getting this moratorium passed,” Sabin said. “The consensus seems to be that the moratorium has a good chance of passing because it’s very narrowly defined, and it’s a bipartisan effort.”
Arkansas, Pages 12 on 04/09/2013