Meeting on hog farm permit draws 250
By Bill Bowden
JASPER -- A crowd of about 250 people packed the Jasper High School auditorium Tuesday night for a public meeting about whether the state of Arkansas should issue a new permit to a large, controversial hog farm near the Buffalo National River.
Based on 25 oral comments, the crowd was fairly evenly split for and against a permit that would allow C&H Hog Farms to continue its Mount Judea operations, which began in 2013.
"If they were going to stop this farm, they should have stopped it before they built it," said Sharon Pierce of Mount Judea. "People knew about it."
That drew a howl from opponents in the crowd, who say they were blindsided by the farm's initial permit approval in 2012.
Opponents say the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's public notice process in 2012 prevented people from learning about the application and commenting on it.
In 2012, public notice of C&H's application was published only on the department's website and not in a local newspaper, as with most permits. The department approved the farm's first operating permit after receiving no public comments.
Regulations surrounding public notice were later modified to include publication in a local newspaper and notification of certain local officials.
Activists have been outraged that such a large hog farm was ever permitted near the Buffalo National River, which is a national park that attracted 1.79 million visitors in 2016, the highest ever.
Several people at the meeting Tuesday said the area's karst geology allows liquid hog fertilizer that is spread on fields to seep into water underground and potentially contaminate tributaries of the Buffalo River.
Those in favor of the permit said there's no scientific evidence that hog waste being spread on nearby land is causing any problems.
"This is the most monitored, most watched most studied farm in the state of Arkansas," said Bob Shofner of Centerton. "They are doing things correctly. I keep asking when enough is enough."
But several opponents said C&H is a factory, not a farm, and some were hostile toward the department for issuing the permit in the first place.
"The ADEQ issues permits and maintains regulations but they are not doing their job," said Phyllis Head of Fayetteville. "I am so sick and tired of the doublespeak we get every time we talk about this."
Marti Olesen of Ponca asked what would happen if a tornado like the one that hit Parthenon late Monday night hit the hog farm instead.
"If the tornado hit Mount Judea instead, would C&H Hog Farms be able to finance the cleanup?" she asked. "Would the rest of the people in Arkansas be forced to take on that burden?"
Kathy Downs of Jasper said she's not against farmers, but she said the department must protect the environment.
"I hope and pray that all farming families will flourish in Arkansas and I hope that the Buffalo River will flourish," she told the crowd. "I want to have both. I want you to understand that the people up here speaking against this permit are not against farming families.
"But I'm asking you to please deny this permit because I want you to do your job as ADEQ and protect our environment, which is pretty fragile here."
After the meeting, Jason Henson, the owner of C&H Hog Farms, said he's doing his best to follow the rules.
"What more can we do?" he said. "We're following every regulation to a tee."
The department gave preliminary approval of the facility's permit application on Feb. 15, pending a 30-day public comment period, which will end at 4:30 p.m. March 17. So far, they've received hundreds of comments.
C&H Hog Farms is located on Big Creek about 6 miles from where it converges with the Buffalo National River. C&H is the only federally classified large hog farm in the river's watershed and is currently permitted to house up to 6,000 piglets and 2,503 sows.
C&H applied April 7 for a new permit under Regulation 5, the state's no-discharge permit program, after the department canceled the type of "general permit" the facility previously had.
Provisions of the proposed new permit are not much different, the department has said.
The new permit further clarifies that discharge from the facility is not allowed outside of a major flood event, defined as a 24-hour, 25-year event. The hog manure ponds will still be required to leave room at the top to prevent overflow in the event of rain. And while C&H has altered the number of hogs it intends to keep on-site, officials don't expect a significant difference in the amount of waste they will produce.
The new permit indicates that the facility would house up to six boars of about 450 pounds, 2,672 sows of at least 400 pounds and 750 piglets of about 14 pounds, and estimates that the two waste-holding ponds would contain up to 2,337,074 gallons of hog manure. Additional waste and wastewater will be applied over certain sites as fertilizer.
The controversy over C&H has led to changes in department regulations, dozens of hours of public hearings, hundreds of public comments and hundreds of thousands of dollars in state-funded research on the facility's impact on its surroundings in the Buffalo River watershed.
A drilling project conducted last fall found no evidence of a hog manure pond leaking. Researchers working with C&H opponents say dye tracing has indicated how water can flow from near the farm into the river.
C&H Hog Farms' operating permit expired Oct. 31, but the owners had applied for a new permit under a different state regulation last April. C&H was allowed to continue operations while its permit application was pending.
Metro on 03/08/2017