Baxter Bulletin (read the story with images here)
Hog farm wants to modify operating permitThomas Garrett, firstname.lastname@example.org:10 p.m. CDT April 21, 2015
C&H Hog Farm, located near the Buffalo National River in Mount Judea, wants to apply more wastewater on its land
JASPER – A request to modify C&H Hog Farm's permit drew about 50 people to the Jasper School Cafetorium for a public hearing by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. There were comments opposing the request as well as asking ADEQ to allow the modification.
Located near Mount Judea on Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo National River, the hog farm has generated controversy since beginning operation in 2014. Owned by three local families, C&H Hog Farm houses more than 6,000 sows and piglets at a time for Cargill Pork, keeping the piglets until they're weaned and taken outside Arkansas to be raised.
No action was taken on the request at Monday night's hearing, and Ryan Benefield, ADEQ deputy director, said it will be a few weeks before the agency announces a decision.
Benefield told the audience the request amounts to a "small change" in the farm's nutrient management plan. It would allow land application of wastewater from a secondary storage pond with a tanker wagon. Currently, water can be removed from the pond only by pipeline or a sprinkler system.
Responding to questions from the audience, Benefield said the difference between the main pond and the secondary one is the main pond contains more solid waste from the operation, whereas the secondary pond is mostly water, much of it rainwater.
"It's more concentrated, more solids in Pond 1," he explained after the meeting. "There is some overflow from Pond 1, but then it also has a lot of storm water. Pond 1 gets waste all the time; Pond 2 only gets it when 1 overflows through a planned overflow through the spillway."
According to Benefield, some of the water from the secondary pond has been recycled through the barns to clean them, but the owners want to remove the water from the pond and apply it to the drying fields. However, without a pipeline or sprinklers, they can't.
"They just simply can't apply by any other means," said Benefield.
One man from the audience asked why C&H hasn't installed a pipeline or sprinkler as was planned. Benefield said he didn't know the answer.
He did say, however, the wastewater from the secondary pond could be hauled by tanker to another location for land application, pointing out that the recipient would need a permit that allows such application.
After the question period, the floor was opened to those who had signed in to make comments.
Opponents and proponents
Brian Thompson, of Fayetteville, who said he was retired from the agriculture industry, opposed granting the permit modification. He contended the plan approved for the farm "is not clear, not correct and not complete." Thompson said the permit process should be reopened.
Gordon Watkins, of Parthenon, president of the Buffalo Watershed Alliance, also spoke against the request. He said the farm's permitted plan did not allow land application on two fields, but applications were made on them anyway during 2014. Watkins said there are problems and errors in the farm's plan, and that because of "numerous errors" in the paperwork, the full permit process should be reopened.
Jane Darr, of Cotter, president of Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers, said the potential for damage to the Buffalo's water quality is high because of the hog farm, as is the potential for the economic damage it could cause for the area. She urged ADEQ to deny the request and reopen the full permit process.
Ryan England, a dairy farmer from Bentonville, spoke in favor of granting the request, as did Bob Schafer, a beef cattle farmer from Centerton.
England said the request is just a redirection of applying the wastewater. He compared it to following a different road to a destination, saying it took different miles but had the same destination.
Schafer said the only difference from the current permit is the method of application. He said this is an accepted agricultural practice that applies all-natural, organic fertilizer on the land.
Working with Park Service
After the meeting, Benefield was asked about ADEQ's relationship with the National Park Service, which is responsible for the Buffalo. "We work with the Park Service a lot," he said. "We do a lot of the analysis, we do the testing for them. They gather the samples, our laboratory does the testing."
In March, the Park Service presented a program in Mountain Home showing that it's monitoring of Big Creek, and two points on the Buffalo above and below their confluence, found spikes for E. coli during two months between March and July 2014. However, they weren't sure if it was caused by the hog farm or was naturally occurring because runoff was higher due to more rain last year.
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture also is monitoring Big Creek as part of a five-year study.
"Before the hog farm was ever there, we've done extensive monitoring of the Buffalo River in a bunch of stations with the Park Service," Benefield said. "We'll continue to do that. The U of A study is specific and focused on looking at that section of Big Creek, in looking at it above where there is no chance of runoff from the application fields, below where there would be monitoring in that system, and they're doing a lot of testing and sampling to look at that issue."
A report of the UA monitoring for the first quarter of this year was available at the Jasper meeting. Benefield was asked to briefly sum up the report.
"They would say it's too early to make any conclusions. As a matter of fact, I think the Park Service has said the same thing," Benefield said. "That's why you continue to look at it. When you're looking at things like bacteria, you're looking at long-term trends, you're looking over time. And I don't think they've seen anything alarming."
He said the study is for five years "and it needs that amount of time before you could ever draw conclusions."
"Now, if they see something alarming anywhere along, they'll let us know. And they haven't done so yet, they haven't seen anything alarming, anything of concern."