Voice for our river
By Mike Masterson
Posted: March 4, 2017 at 2:35 a.m.
Our state's Department of Environmental Quality (cough) will pretend like it's listening next Tuesday as we the people they supposedly serve cuss and discuss issuing a "no discharge" state permit for the controversial C&H Hog Farms.
That would be a change to the current federal operating permit the agency wrongheadedly approved in the sacred Buffalo National River watershed.
This agency sure didn't sufficiently allow for public input in 2012 when it quickly and quietly satisfied special interests and political connections by installing the mega-waste-manufacturing factory with more than 6,000 swine.
You may recall that neither the former agency director nor the governor said they knew C&H's permit had been issued until it had been. Issuing it anyway turned out to be Democrat former Gov. Mike Beebe's biggest regret in office, he conceded. Now accountability for protecting the purity of the country's first national river falls on the shoulders of GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Any contamination of our Buffalo in the face of so many credible warnings will come on his watch.
The period for public comment on renewing the C&H permit ends March 17. Many of you have asked what you can do. This is the time to get your position on record with the Department of Environmental Quality and the governor's office about removing this factory from such a wholly inappropriate landscape.
Folks at the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance insist the original C&H permit was improperly and hastily approved because, disgracefully enough, it really was. This time, they're ready to express the relevant and significant points of fact that should have been aired five years ago come Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. in Jasper's high school.
This group has amassed plenty of credible reasons for legitimately denying this permit now that the process is finally transparent.
For instance: The permit alteration C&H owners have applied for would change from operating under a regularly reviewed federal regulation with a five-year expiration to a state version without expiration or review requirement. It's also being sought without making significant changes to the factory's method of discharging its enormous amounts of raw waste.
The alliance contends the C&H application should be denied because changes in eliminating pollution from the factory's waste source have not been proposed or accomplished. The only significant change is to add another 599 acres on which to spread even more waste, potentially worsening any existing problems.
In a news release, the alliance also contends, "While ADEQ and the applicant ... have gone to great lengths to avoid acknowledging that karst [fractured limestone] underlies this facility, scientific data clearly and unequivocally shows otherwise. Both the ERI studies ... in the fields and around the ponds, as well as the recent investigative drilling prove (as other reputable geologists have long contended and dye trace studies have shown) most of the spreading fields as well as the facility itself are situated atop karst."
The alliance said the presence of karst should have led to a full environmental impact study, while triggering the requirement for a detailed geologic investigation because of the inordinate environmental risks that poses.
The group also cites an alleged failure to comply with guidance in federal regulations involving possible excessive application of raw animal waste in spray fields, the failure to perform a "substantive evaluation of the impact of sudden breach or accidental release from waste impoundments" (lagoons), and the failure to "develop an emergency action plan which should be considered for waste impoundments where there is potential for significant impact from a breach or accidental release."
In the same vein, the alliance alleges a "failure to account for proximity of a waste impoundment to sensitive groundwater areas, or to investigate groundwater flow direction, especially the failure to identify an improperly abandoned hand-dug well" less than 600 feet below the lagoons.
I'll not cover the 80-something-page list of compelling and detailed arguments here. But rest assured, the Department of Environmental Quality will receive the full permanent record of what I believe is a very real potential calamity.
It's most relevant to me that the group says the C&H permit also "fails to take into account evidence that discharge into Big Creek, and possibly the Buffalo National River, is already occurring."
They explain that data collected by the Big Creek Research and Extension Team shows nitrate levels are consistently higher in Big Creek downstream of C&H fields than above them. The National Park Service, with concurrence of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, has requested that Big Creek now be declared as impaired due to low dissolved oxygen levels because of nutrient overloading. A recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey also confirmed low levels in Big Creek.
But despite the evidence, our state's "environmental quality" folks haven't agreed that Big Creek is now an impaired stream. Suppose that's because they'd then have to determine the source of all those impairing nitrates? Oh, heaven forbid.
Mike Masterson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com.
Editorial on 03/04/2017