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  • 17 Jun 2018 9:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Small Arkansas town yearning to dim the lights; LED shift holds jarring cost

    By Bill Bowden

    Posted: June 17, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

    Bill Bowden
    Gilbert Mayor Mitch Mortvedt stands in front of a town streetlight as the high-pressure sodium lamp flickers on. Bruce McMath, chairman of the Arkansas chapter of the International Dark Sky Association, calls them “barnyard lights.”

    GILBERT -- Arkansas' smallest incorporated town is suffering from light pollution.

    "It comes right into my bedroom at night," said Mayor Mitch Mortvedt. "It can definitely be a problem. Years ago, we didn't even have streetlights in town. I remember the night sky, and it was black."

    Gilbert, population 28, has 16 streetlights, Mortvedt said.

    A very bright light is right across Church Street from the mayor's house.

    Most of Gilbert's streetlights are the high-pressure sodium variety with a glass globe covering that allows light to go in all directions. Bruce McMath calls them "barnyard lights."

    "They don't put the light down where it needs to go," said McMath, chairman of the Arkansas chapter of the International Dark Sky Association.

    McMath has been advising Gilbert on its lighting concerns.

    For a year and a half, McMath has been working with the Buffalo National River to make it the first Dark Sky Park in Arkansas. About 100 parks have that designation across the country.

    "This has implications for tourism down the road because these dark places become so scarce so fast," said McMath, whose father was Arkansas Gov. Sid McMath. "People are literally traveling to go see a naturally dark sky."

    Qualifying for the designation requires replacing about 240 light bulbs with low-wattage amber LED lights whenever possible and covering another 85 existing bulbs with amber-colored sleeves, said Cassandra Johannsen, a park ranger at the Buffalo National River who has been working with McMath on the initiative.

    "Our naturally dark sky is a fragile natural resource and one that the park hopes visitors appreciate and find great value in," Johannsen said. "It is wonderful that people fought to protect Buffalo River as a free-flowing river. Now we need people to fight for the unpolluted night skies over the river."

    Dark-sky efforts go beyond aesthetics and energy efficiency.

    Careless outdoor-lighting is altering the diurnal cycle of night and day in cities, towns and even countryside, with implications for human health, according to darkskyarkansas.com.

    "The natural cycle of light and darkness cues critical hormonal responses in humans, animals and plants," according to the website. "The American Medical Association has issued two public health statements implicating exposure to light at night in sleep problems, diabetes, obesity, depression, as well as breast and prostate cancer, all epidemics of modernity. ..."

    LED fixtures, with high blue light content, threaten to compound the problem if not used with care, according to the article.

    Johannsen said light pollution could be a culprit in dwindling firefly populations.

    "Scientists think that when fireflies are unable to signal one another that their mating ability is compromised, leading to fewer fireflies," she said.

    Mortvedt said Gilbert is the only incorporated town within the Buffalo National River park boundary and the smallest incorporated town in Arkansas.

    "We thought we'd start with Gilbert and get them on board," Johannsen said. "We want to partner with local entities."

    To help with the dark sky effort, Mortvedt asked Entergy if Gilbert could switch to more energy-efficient light-emitting diodes that focus the light on the streets instead of the trees.

    "The hooded streetlights, I think, would be a great thing to do," said the mayor.

    But changing to LEDs would cost the city more than twice as much as it's paying for its old lights, Mortvedt said.

    "What we're trying to figure out is if you have a fixture that uses less electricity, why isn't it a more reasonable price?" he said.

    Last year, Gilbert paid an average of $4.70 per streetlight per month, Mortvedt said. He said the cheapest base rate LED light would cost the city $12.87 per light per month.

    Kerri Jackson Case, a spokesman for Entergy Arkansas Inc., said LED lights use less electricity but there is more than that included in the tariff. The fixtures cost about three times as much and maintenance costs are about the same, even though LED bulbs are designed to last longer, she said.

    "The tariff for LEDs is more than a typical streetlight, which uses a high-pressure sodium bulb," she said. "Many cities, including Gilbert, have their contracts for streetlights structured such that Entergy installs, owns and maintains the lights for a set monthly fee from the municipality."

    McMath questions whether Entergy wants to cut energy use at night.

    "There are several reasons why Entergy's tariffs are higher for LED than heirloom fixtures," McMath said. "One of them is that Entergy does not fully account for the potential energy savings. The fixtures they offer are rated as 'equivalent' based upon the lumen rating. This fails to take into account the greater visual efficiency of LED's white light."

    Mortvedt wrote to the Arkansas Public Service Commission on April 1 asking that Entergy provide more affordable LED options. He has yet to hear back.

    Diana Brenske, acting interim executive director of the commission, said the commission has been working with Entergy to investigate lighting options.

    "We are currently evaluating the possibility of including, in Entergy's Energy Efficiency Program, the conversion of street lights to LED for customers who have Entergy-owned streetlights," she said. "If a cost-effective plan is developed, it will be included in Entergy's next Energy Efficiency Plan update in March 2019."

    Bill Henry, the traffic engineer manager for Little Rock, said Arkansas' largest city also has decided LED lights are not cost effective, at least for now, because of the "high tariff rates charged by Entergy."

    "The tariff rate is so much higher for LED than high-pressure sodium, it doesn't make sense to go that way," he said.

    Henry said the biggest expense is the LED fixtures, which can cost $300 each. High-pressure sodium light fixtures cost less than $100 each, he said.

    Henry said there are about 33,000 streetlights in Little Rock, and Entergy owns 30,000 of them. The city owns and is responsible for the lights on the interstate system in Little Rock, he said. LED bulbs last longer, so that reduces the maintenance costs of replacing them, he said.

    Little Rock is working to replace its city-owned streetlights with LEDs because of the reduced maintenance costs and lower energy costs, Henry said. Typically, an LED light will use less than half as much electrical power as equivalent high-pressure sodium lighting fixtures, he said.

    "We have already installed more than 200 LED fixtures and are moving forward with a project to install another 350 fixtures this year," Henry said. "I'm sure as time goes on, things will end up getting changed out to LEDs as they become more cost-effective. Everything is going LED. All the city buildings have been changed over to LED lighting because of the energy savings. All of the traffic signals are LED. I figure it's just a matter of time before everything goes LED."

    Mortvedt's grandmother, Ethel Myers, was mayor when Gilbert first got streetlights in the 1970s. There was opposition to street lighting in Gilbert even then.

    One couple didn't want the lights because they liked to walk around town in the nude, Mortvedt said.

    "They said this was going to illuminate things."

    Metro on 06/17/2018

  • 15 Jun 2018 7:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The following article was published in the Arkansas Times on August 15, 2013 and provides an historical perspective on how we got here.

    Hog farm near the Buffalo River 

    stirs controversy 

    Critics say farm was carelessly approved and threatens watershed and community. Farmers say they followed law and permit protects environment.

    By David Ramsey


    The community of Mt. Judea sits on a hill along Arkansas 123, the scenic highway that snakes through the Ozarks in Newton County. This is the country that people have in mind when they think of the "Natural State" — clear rivers and creeks, craggy rocks, colorful cliffs and bluffs, springs, sinkholes, caves.

    It is mostly quiet in Mt. Judea, save for when motorcyclists come roaring down 123 to take in the scenery. The people are protective of their small community and suspicious of outsiders and the federal government. "Everybody knows everybody and most everybody's related," they say.

    Big Creek, one of the largest tributaries of the Buffalo National River, runs up the valley below Mt. Judea's blink-and-you'll-miss-it town center: a school, a general store, the Eagle Rock Cafe. On a hill across the valley, around a mile away as the crow flies, is C&H Hog Farm, the first facility in the state to get a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) permit. The permit allows C&H to house 6,503 hogs: 2,500 sows, 3 boars, and another 4,000 piglets, which at three weeks old will be trucked off to another facility to be fattened for slaughter. The hogs belong to Cargill, by revenue the largest privately held company in the nation and the sole customer for C&H.

    The farm has turned this quiet town into the center of a very noisy fight. Critics say it poses unacceptable risks to the Buffalo River watershed.

    "I was alarmed about it for a couple of reasons," said Gordon Watkins, a farmer who lives on the Little Buffalo River, the next valley over from Big Creek, and the president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, a citizens group that formed in reaction to C&H's permit. "One was the size and the scale of this thing and its proximity to Big Creek and the town of Mt. Judea and the school, and of course the Buffalo River."

    "What really set me off was the fact that it was a done deal by the time we heard about it," Watkins said. "It had been done very quietly with no fanfare and even some neighbors of the property didn't know about it until after the fact."

    Last week, a coalition formed by the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Ozark Society sued the two federal agencies that backed the loan to build the facility, claiming that the Farm Services Agency and the Small Business Administration failed to do adequate environmental assessments and offer adequate public notice. The coalition has also been sharply critical of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the state permitting process that approved the facility, though it hasn't sued the state so far.

    The controversy centers on the inevitable byproduct of the farm: pig crap. Based on C&H's nutrient management plan (NMP), the facility will generate more than 2 million gallons of manure and wastewater per year. The waste is first collected in 2-foot-deep concrete pits below the animals. Once the shallow pits, diluted with water, are filled, the waste drains into two large man-made storage ponds. Eventually, as the ponds fill, C&H will remove liquid waste and, in an agreement with local landowners, apply it as fertilizer on more than 600 acres of surrounding fields.

    C&H, which began operations in spring, is still gearing up to full capacity. It currently houses around 2,000 hogs — gilts, not yet fully grown into sows — and they have yet to fertilize any fields.

    Ten of the fields that will be sprayed with hog waste are adjacent to Big Creek, which flows into the Buffalo River less than six miles away.

    Critics of the farm say that the amount of concentrated waste that will be produced is more than the vulnerable terrain of the Buffalo River watershed can take and that it will cause both odor and health problems in Mt. Judea. The farmers counter that the CAFO permit, and the nutrient management plan an engineer developed for them as part of the permit, offer sufficient safeguards and regulations to protect the environment and the town.

    C&H is owned by Jason Henson and his cousins, Richard and Philip Campbell. According to Henson, before proceeding with the new facility, the three C&H farmers and Cargill wanted to get local input. They set up a meeting at the Mt. Judea firehouse months before they began the permit process. Henson said that the meeting showed Cargill that the farm would have local support.

    An area resident who was in attendance at the meeting remembers it differently. The resident said that after a few tough questions, a Cargill representative shut the meeting down. (Many area residents with concerns about C&H were willing to speak only if their names were withheld.)

    "They had no data, they had nothing at that meeting," the resident said. "It was absolutely a fiasco in my opinion. They were not prepared. They thought they were going to come in with a bunch of ignorant hicks and they were going to roll over them."

    According to the resident, the meeting was not well publicized in Mt. Judea — the resident said that there were a large group of people from other areas but only a handful of people now impacted by the farm. It was "not a fair representation of the people that are going to be affected by it," the resident said.

    In any case, Cargill decided that it wanted to proceed and sent Henson a letter of intent to contract as a buyer for the farm. The next steps for Henson: getting a permit and getting funding. Henson decided to pursue a CAFO permit, becoming the first applicant in Arkansas to do so. The CAFO permit, established by ADEQ in 2011, is a general permit — as the name implies, it's not individualized to the specific applicant, though the CAFO permit does require a nutrient management plan.

    In using the general CAFO permit, C&H and ADEQ followed the letter of the law in terms of notice — the letter of intent and the nutrient management plan sat on ADEQ's website for 30 days.

    "Obviously the average citizen is not trolling ADEQ's website on a regular basis," said attorney Hanna Chang of EarthJustice, a California-based environmental law firm that is part of the legal team representing the coalition. Key stakeholders and even relevant public agencies, such as the National Parks Service, were, by their own accounts, unaware. The first CAFO permit in the state, which happened to be for a site in the Buffalo River watershed, managed to go through with hardly anyone noticing.

    "All that C&H needed to do to get the general permit is to submit certain information," Chang said. "If that information complies with what's required under the general permit, then bingo, they're in. There's a posting on the ADEQ website and they're finished. There was no individual hearing or comment on this facility. In terms of notice and comment, that was a huge flaw. Folks we know who were living within a half mile of the facility didn't know about it until it was built."

    ADEQ Director Teresa Marks defended the general permit process. "You have to have some general permits because we deal with thousands of facilities and operations across the state," she said. "If we have to have local notice for every person that wants to proceed under the terms of a general permit, it would be very difficult to manage that."

    However, the state is not dealing with thousands of CAFO applications — there has been only one. Marks acknowledged as much, and said that in hindsight, she believes that ADEQ should have gone above and beyond the minimum public notice required by law.

    "In retrospect, I wish that we had a public meeting before and explained the nutrient management plan," she said. "I'm not sure it would have changed anything. But I understand the way people feel. They feel like this happened and nobody knew anything about it."

    The notice process for a CAFO permit is now under review after a bill passed by Rep. Greg Leding (D-Fayetteville), Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) and Rep. Kelly Linck (R-Yellville) last session. "It's definitely time to look at the notice requirements," Marks said. "That's certainly something that has been of great concern. ... We are more than willing to revise those."

    Once it had the permit, C&H secured FSA- and SBA-backed loans totaling more than $3.6 million. The FSA prepared a federally mandated environmental assessment (the SBA did not), but did not publish notice of a public comment period in any local paper in the area of the farm. Critics say that like the ADEQ permit process, the notice for the public was inadequate — but this time, the federal agencies didn't meet their minimum legal requirements.

    "On the federal side, it's not a matter of what is common sense or polite or professional," National Parks Service Superintendent Kevin Cheri said. "It's what is required by law. Legally we should have been notified."

    Cheri was particularly frustrated because the National Parks Service was listed as a cooperating agency on the cover sheet of the FSA's environmental assessment, when in fact, according to Cheri, it knew nothing about the document. Cheri noted that FSA has offices in the same building in Harrison that headquarters the NPS Buffalo National River office, but no one walked down the hall to tell him about the CAFO or the federal loan guarantee. "There was ample opportunity to communicate this if they intended to do so," he said.

    In a February letter to the FSA, Cheri wrote that the inclusion of the NPS as a cooperating agency "gives the public and agencies reviewing the document the unrealistic view that NPS is on-board with the conclusions of the EA. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth." Cheri's letter goes on to articulate 45 flaws with the FSA's environmental assessment and their finding of no significant impact.

    The FSA responded to Cheri in late March with 45 counterpoints, and argued that "although a cooperating agency, [NPS] was not required to be contacted." Both Cheri and the coalition that has filed suit believe that FSA's letter failed to address Cheri's key points. FSA state executive director Linda Newkirk declined to comment for this article, citing the pending lawsuit.


    The coalition believes that in addition to the lack of notice, both the ADEQ permit and the FSA environmental assessment were shoddily completed and essentially rubber-stamped. The complaint filed in the federal case describes multiple errors, omissions and inconsistencies in the FSA's environmental assessment. While the coalition has not taken legal action against the state, Hank Bates — a Little Rock lawyer working with the coalition's legal team — sent a letter on its behalf to ADEQ, arguing that the CAFO permit should be revoked because of deficiencies in their review of the permit and the nutrient management plan. "ADEQ did not review that permit," Bates said. "The Buffalo River is too precious a resource to roll the dice on. When you look at the permit application, it doesn't instill any confidence."

    One of the coalition's main concerns is the nutrients, and potentially bacteria, that they believe may seep into the water given the proximity of the spray fields to Big Creek (though the permit requires that C&H maintain a 100-foot buffer from the banks). Seven of the fields are listed as "occasionally flooded" in the NMP's soil maps. "Some people have voiced concerns about catastrophic failures," said Watkins of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance. "That's a concern, but there's also the danger of this slow, continual creep that's going to occur once this gets into the groundwater and starts showing up in the creek and in the Buffalo. In the Ozarks, we're lucky if we've got 6 or 8 inches of topsoil. Then we hit gravel and then we hit water. ... Anything that's applied in these fields, if it gets through that shallow topsoil layer and hits that gravel, it's only a short way before it's in the water itself."

    The coalition is particularly concerned about the 31,000 pounds of phosphorous that, according to the NMP, will be part of the makeup of C&H's annual hog waste produced. The University of Arkansas's soil tests recommended that no further phosphorous be applied to 15 of the 17 application fields included in the NMP. If phosphorous gets in the water, it could lead to nuisance algae, which would threaten the water quality, as well as the ecology of the river and surrounding areas, including plants, birds, and aquatic life.

    The potential for problems is magnified because of the unique karst geology of this region in the Ozarks, with its irregular limestone formations. Karst areas are unusually porous and can have caves or sinkholes in unexpected places. Water often disappears underground; it's extremely unpredictable where that water will reappear.

    Dr. John Van Brahana, a just-retired University of Arkansas geology professor and a renowned karst expert, believes that this was a possible shortcoming in the permit and the review of the nutrient management plan. ADEQ focused on surface water but "surface water and ground water in these types of settings is intimately related. ADEQ didn't look at ground water; they didn't look at any karst. The karst involves very reactive rock — as water moves through the cracks and fractures it dissolves the rock and enlarges those openings, facilitating movement of water through the system."

    In a letter to ADEQ, Brahana wrote, "I know of no active karst consultant who recommends that a CAFO be sited on karstified limestone, particularly upgradient from so sensitive a natural resource as the Buffalo National River, with its direct-contact use by canoeists, fishermen, and swimmers."

    Based on what is known about the karst in the Big Creek area where C&H is located, Brahana continued, "The groundwater moves as quickly as water in a stream, except that exact location of pathways is very difficult to predict. The high velocity of the water in conduits is capable of transporting sediment, organic matter, fecal waste, and dissolved solids from the CAFO."

    If microbes in the hog waste ended up in springs and surface water after being flushed out by storms, Brahana said, it could lead to a public health disaster. "Those microbes cause more health-related problems than all other groundwater contamination combined," he said.

    Brahana is now testing in the Mt. Judea area to establish a water-quality baseline, as well as dye testing to establish water pathways, and identifying and mapping karst features. Numerous area residents have taken up Brahana's offer to do free testing on their property. C&H has declined.

    It's not just the sprayfields but the storage ponds themselves that give concern to those worried about risks at C&H. Some amount of seepage through the clay-lined ponds may be inevitable — the permit allows up to 5,000 gallons per acre per day, though C&H says this is dramatically more than what will actually occur. A Newton County-based ADEQ engineer, Marysia Jastrzebski — who was unaware that the permit had been approved until months after the fact — sent an email to ADEQ officials in Little Rock expressing alarm that her team had calculated around 3,400 gallons of seepage per day.

    The coalition also expressed fears about a catastrophic failure. Other states have experienced failures in manure ponds and lagoons that led to the flow of massive quantities of waste into surrounding land and water. Michael Dougherty, president of the Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce and one of founders of the Alliance, said he has "every confidence that these farmers are going to do everything they can to make sure that doesn't happen. But the experience of wet hog CAFOs is very checkered. ... We have a national treasure in the Buffalo National River. One failure and this national treasure is compromised."

    According to Brahana, the karst terrain gives additional cause for concerns about the clay storage ponds. "In some cases I've seen, relatively thick sequences of clay just get blown out there in the fractures themselves," Brahana said. "The weight of the water will blow those out so it's almost like somebody pulling a plug in a bathtub and it swirls, down it goes. Those are worst-case scenarios. But those are relatively common."

    "The general permit doesn't have any requirements that whoever's approving the permit look at the actual geology of the location and take that into account," Chang said. "Just the very location of this facility is a problem."

    ADEQ is upfront about the fact that Chang is correct that no special consideration was given to the particular geology of the Ozarks.

    "The regulations and the permit were designed to be applicable all through the state, including this area," ADEQ Deputy Director Ryan Benefield said, adding that the permit requires setbacks if karst features such as sinkholes or caves were discovered, keeping the spray of fertilizer away from those features.  

    Indeed, the specific location of C&H, including its proximity to the Buffalo, could not have any bearing on approval of the permit at all, Marks said. "The law does not allow us to treat the Buffalo River watershed any differently than it does any other watershed in Arkansas," she said.

    Regarding concerns about phosphorous, ADEQ officials said that the permit relies on the phosphorous index (P-Index) developed by the University of Arkansas to evaluate the risk of phosphorous runoff. The soil tests referenced by the coalition — recommending no additional phosphorous — simply refer to optimum conditions for crops on the field, Benefield said. The P-index, he said, actually directly addresses the coalition's concerns: evaluating numerous site-specific factors to ensure that C&H will only be allowed to spray on fields that do not have a high risk of runoff.

    As for the storage ponds, the C&H farmers said that they are in fact over-engineered, with the liners and volume both oversized by 50 percent more than was required by the regulation.    

    "We wouldn't have issued this permit if we didn't feel like there were enough safeguards in place," Marks said. "Could there be something that happens? Sure. In any permit we issue there are always certain risks that some catastrophe could happen. With the fact that we'll be doing inspections on that farm, we feel like we will be able to know if there's going to be a problem."

    If they did find an issue, Marks said, "Depending on the severity of the violation the Department may give the permittee an opportunity to correct the problem, fine the facility, or in a worst case revoke the permit."

    For the coalition, the responses from ADEQ simply repeat what they view as the deficiencies and limitations in the permit. They believe that the NMP's safeguards are insufficient, but further point out that the safeguards that do exist are heavily dependent on perfect execution of the plan by C&H and enforcement by ADEQ.

    "Their view is 'trust us moving forward,' " Bates said. "We're supposed to trust C&H, who has submitted a faulty permit application, to do the right thing. And we're supposed to trust ADEQ, who never read it, to do the right thing."


    Jason Henson's argument is straightforward: "I did everything the law required me to do. I feel like I went above and beyond what the law required. If you follow the law, what else can you do?"

    He said that the new facility built for C&H is significantly cleaner, less odoriferous, and more environmentally friendly than the smaller hog farms that have long been in operation in Newton County. The CAFO permit, he said, includes strict rules and guidelines regarding which fields C&H can spray and when they can do it, depending on weather factors, manure samples, and soil samples.

    "We have so many rules and regulations that we have to follow," he said. "The way I see it, we are actually protecting the Buffalo River more than people that had it before us with no rules and regulations. If you are truly concerned with the river, you ought to be tickled to death."

    He said that C&H planned to be "neighbor friendly" about when they were spraying fields (the permit specifically mentions avoiding weekends and holidays "when people in the area are more likely to be outdoors"). He said that he did not believe odor would be a problem but wanted to be proactive about that issue, and was investigating various technologies to mitigate smell. "We want to farm and be good neighbors," he said. "If we are hindering somebody else's lifestyle, we want to make sure we do everything we possibly can to fix that."

    Henson said that the intense reaction to his facility caught him off guard, and said the local community supported him.

    When I mentioned that a number of Mt. Judea residents told me that they were unaware of the facility until it was already under construction, Henson was incredulous. "We live in a very small community," he said. "For them people to say that they didn't know we was building a hog farm is really hard for me to believe because I had to get 17 fields to apply for this. So you're saying those people kept their mouths shut for two years? It don't make sense." He said the same applies to the National Park Service — as mentioned, NPS has vigorously complained that it had no idea. "That's a bunch of bull," Henson said.

    In Newton County, the controversy over C&H is the sort of argument that quickly escalates beyond the simple facts of one particular farm. For many, the National Parks Service remains a bogeyman — there are all sorts of stories of granddaddy losing land when they turned the Buffalo into the nation's first national river.

    "There's residual anger over the park being here," said Jack Stewart, a member of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance. "It very quickly became a land rights issue. Once that happens, people close their minds."

    The farm has attracted protests in Newton County, and the Fayetteville City Council passed a resolution opposing the permit given to the farm, both of which have exacerbated the us-against-them mentality that hardens around disputes over environmental concerns.

    "We don't stick our nose in Fayetteville business and Fayetteville ought not stick their nose in ours," Henson said. "That's our mentality."

    Newton County is also a place where a history of violence, particularly arson, still keeps folks on edge.

    "You've got some bad eggs," one Mt. Judea area resident said. "They'll burn houses, kill people and bury them. They'll flat do it."

    "They may be exaggerating, or they may not," said a resident of Jasper, the county seat and one of the biggest towns, population 466. "Where a lot of people live, by the time the sheriff gets there it's too late."

    To be clear, nobody suggested that any of the C&H farmers would be involved in threats of any kind. Even among those that had concerns about the farm, the most common descriptions of Henson and the Campbells were "good boys," "good old boys," and "good Christian men."

    Still for whatever reason, numerous area residents I spoke with mentioned a general fear of getting "burned out" if they stirred trouble. "It may not be so," one said. "But we've had a lot houses burnt down round here for some reason." Henson and the Campbells brushed this off; Philip Campbell said that he is the chief of the volunteer fire department and hasn't heard anything of the kind.

    Of course, it doesn't take anything so extreme to make locals hesitant to speak publicly about any problems they might have with C&H. As nearly everyone I spoke with reminded me, Mt. Judea is "a very small community." People said they were reluctant to speak ill of their neighbors; many noted that the Campbells were an influential family in the county. As Henson himself said, "the community that we live in, you mind your own business and keep your mouth shut. That's our community."

    Henson and C&H certainly have many strong local backers. The Newton County Quorum Court (of which Richard Campbell is a member) passed its own resolution expressing distaste at any "interference" from Fayetteville, and many residents have been vocal in their support. Barbara Hershey, who lives about a mile from the farm and has given C&H permission to spray fertilizer on her land, said, "These boys are trying to make a decent living. Leave them alone. I trust that they will do their best to keep the environment the way it should be because they were born and raised here. They don't want to screw up everybody's water."

    "I don't mind you coming to enjoy my area," Hershey said. "But don't tell me how to do it."

    Hershey's feelings of strong loyalty to the local farmers — and hostility to outsiders — are common among Mt. Judea residents. But I also spoke with around a dozen people in the Mt. Judea community who expressed concerns about the facility. These are folks with deep roots in the area, and their worldview is generally on the opposite pole from the people that make up the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance ("I'm not what you would call a nut," as one said).

    These residents said that they could already smell the waste, despite the farm not being at full operational capacity and not yet having sprayed any fields. Several people that attend church with Henson said it had been noticeable from the church, though Henson said otherwise. "It's been a little touchy," one said. Said another, "They're claiming it's only Fayetteville people, that nobody local's complaining. That's just not true. A lot of local folks are upset."

    "In the beginning, we were all promised you would not smell any smells — well I smell it almost every day," said another area resident. "If it's a calm morning and the fog has settled in, it stinks to high heaven. It's unbelievable ... it just knocks you down. ...There's been afternoons where it would almost gag you. I wouldn't want to put a barbecue grill in my front yard."

    Another said that the smell was noticeable but manageable, but had concerns about what would happen if it got worse. "I'd hate for it to get smelling so bad that you couldn't go outside and enjoy," the resident said. "That's the kind of thing I think about because I'm outside 90 percent of the time. ... They're hard working people. I hate to down anybody for trying to work. But it's something that's going to impact everyone around them. It's going to be beneficial to them and nobody else, pretty much."

    Several area residents expressed worry about Mt. Judea Elementary School, which sits just above spray fields; a play area behind the school is several hundred feet away from one of the fields as the crow flies. Others said the presence of the farm had severely damaged their property values.

    "I don't mind another man doing what he wants to do on his land, as long as it doesn't affect me or my land," said one. "The first big rain is going to wash all that crap down on my [property]. They only looked at themselves. They didn't think about the community. ... I don't like it one bit but I'm just one against Cargill. If enough people get together I'll be right in the middle and run this dadgum Cargill out of the county. It's ruined me and ruined a bunch of other people." The resident said that "all that crap is going to run into the Buffalo" but it was "too late to do anything. The doggone newspaper people didn't do their jobs. Cargill has done bought the legislature."

    Another said it was "bullshit" that the controversy came as a surprise. "Them boys should have known that they'd get kickback from the River. I told [Henson]. ... He's a good kid. He got indoctrinated by Cargill."

    The coalition suing the FSA and SBA argues that concerns about air quality are about more than just stench — they say that particulate matter and gasses released into the air are a major public health concern. They point to studies showing links between respiratory and other health problems for people in close proximity to CAFOs, particularly vulnerable populations such as the children at the Mt. Judea school.

    Henson said he was not concerned about health issues. "My two cousins have worked on a hog farm for over 14 years and they look fat and happy to me," he said.

    "As far as saying that they can smell it, it is a farm," Henson said. "We're doing everything we can to keep them from smelling it." Henson said that they got a complaint about smell, passed on by ADEQ, prior to having a single hog at the site (a few residents suggested that there might be a tendency to blame any smell on the farm). In general, he was skeptical of claims about strong odors, and suggested when we were at the diner, "you can walk outside." (I spent part of two days in the town of Mt. Judea and did not notice a smell in the air.)

    "It don't matter what it is, people have a fear of the unknown," Henson said. "I can understand that there."

    "I'm worried about everything," he said. "You have to be. This is our livelihood. This is our community." He is a ninth-generation Mt. Judean, he said, and he's invested in protecting the area. The creek was where he and his daughter learned to swim, he said, where they were baptized. His daughter is a student at Mt. Judea Elementary School. "If I thought we was going to pollute anything, I wouldn't have done it to start with," he said. "It don't add up that we're going to do something to it. It don't make sense."

    Henson said that C&H's impact on the community would be "very positive. We're bringing in tax dollars, we're helping local farmers [with free fertilizer], and we're creating jobs." Henson said they would be hiring between nine and 12 people to work at C&H.

    The coalition argues that in fact, due to the impact on property values, the presence of CAFOs in communities tend to hurt the tax base. They also point to the economic impact on tourism, both in and around Mt. Judea, and all along the Buffalo, which generates $38 million per year and more than 500 jobs.

    The tourism angle is what first caught the attention of Rep. Linck, who, in addition to the legislature, works as executive director of the Ozark Mountain Region Tourism Association. "Regardless of how well the farm operates, in tourism we're selling a perception," he said. "The perception of Arkansas is the Natural State. Although technology has changed what a hog farm is from years ago to what it is today, the perception of a hog farm is a nasty mess. ... From the perspective of tourism, it's a little frightening because we're selling the Natural State and we're selling the pristine river. ... The other fear is if this thing does have problems with pollution soaking into the karst geology ... my goodness, now you've really got a perception to overcome."


    The Times arranged to tour C&H, with Beau Bishop of the Farm Bureau as a go-between. Bishop said that Henson and the Campbells would be willing to give a tour inside the facility, and said multiple times that they had "nothing to hide" and were eager to show their operation in action. Two appointments were made to visit and then canceled the day before (both, according to Bishop, because shipments of pigs arrived).

    The third time, we met with Bishop and Henson at the cafe in Mt. Judea but were informed that we would not be able to do a tour inside the facility after all. Asked why, Henson said "biosecurity." This seemed to be a change in plans — had Cargill nixed the tour? Henson wouldn't say.

    Henson did take us up to see the outside of the facility, past the "DO NOT ENTER" sign with Cargill's name just above C&H, along with the reminder "swine property of Cargill." Walking around the grounds, the smell was significant but not overwhelming. One of the giant waste-storage ponds was still empty, but for some rainwater; the other had begun to accumulate hog waste, a thick dark sludge.

    The hogs, more than two thousand of them, were audible, enclosed in the two large barns, with an automated system providing feed and massive fans helping to control temperature and air quality.

    Opinions about C&H may vary depending on what one calls a facility like this. The Farm Bureau and the C&H farmers call it a multi-generational family farm. Others view it as a "factory farm."

    "It's not like this was the family homestead," Watkins said. "The Hensons and the Campbells, they often talk about how they've been there for eight generations. The fact is, this is land that they bought specifically to do this project. ... They want to couch it as a family farm. It's an industrialized factory farm. And they're sharecropping for Cargill, if you ask me."

    Part of the fear expressed by the coalition is that C&H may be just the beginning. "One is bad enough, but once they get a toehold in there, then there will be a desire to put more and more farms in that area because it's more cost effective," said Emily Jones of the National Parks Conservation Association. "Arkansas should get ready, they're coming."

    Linck, while careful to state that he respected that the C&H farmers followed the permitting process in place, said that he wished that the farm hadn't been located so close to the river. "Maybe this is a great model farm," he said. "Maybe everything about it is wonderful. I still don't want to see the hilltops of the Buffalo River dotted with these things."

    A Cargill representative emailed the Times: "We hope to do business for many more years in Arkansas but we currently do not have any growth plans."

    Asked about the controversy and the impact on the watershed and the Mt. Judea community, Cargill wrote, "The family followed the process set up by the state ... The farm has many supporters in the area ... The regulations, and the nutrient management plan that are in place, were designed by professional soil scientists and certified engineers to allow the farm to operate and protect the environment."

    The hope of some, that Cargill might make it financially possible for the farmers to relocate, seems unlikely. ("We don't speculate" was the representative's response when asked whether there was any circumstance in which they would do so.)

    Meanwhile, even if the coalition's lawsuit is successful, it won't necessarily do anything to slow down the operation of the farm. While the loss of the FSA and SBA loan guarantees would throw the C&H's underlying financing into question, Henson was not particularly worried. It's possible his creditors could proceed without a guarantee, he noted, and also possible that C&H could simply get someone else to guarantee the loan.While coalition members are adamant that they won't back down, it's not clear that they have any avenue to stop C&H now that it's up and running. Henson and his partners have no intention of shutting down. "We're in it for the long haul," he said.

  • 07 Jun 2018 9:23 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Arkansas hog farm argues agency erred in decision process

    By Emily Walkenhorst

    Posted: June 7, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

    Attorneys for a hog farm in the Buffalo River watershed have filed a motion for summary judgment in their appeal of environmental regulators' denial of the farm's new permit application.

    If the motion is granted by an administrative law judge and subsequently by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, it would send C&H Hog Farms' permit application and regulators' decision to deny it out for public notice and comment before it could become final.

    C&H's attorneys have previously argued that the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality should have issued a draft decision to deny the permit, which would have been subject to public notice, public comment and a final decision considering those comments.

    "ADEQ was required by law, regulation, and constitutional due process to provide public notice of its proposed decision and provide an opportunity for comment upon its proposed decision prior to issuing a final decision," C&H's attorneys wrote in their Feb. 7 amended request for a hearing on their appeal.

    But the administrative law judge overseeing the permit appeal noted in an order Monday that, although he agreed with C&H's argument, he could not issue an order recommending sending the denial back to the department for that public review process because C&H had not filed a motion for summary judgment on that argument.

    Arkansas Code Annotated 8-4-203(e)(1)(A) and (B) state that the department should give public notice to any decision to grant or deny a permit and that notice should include comments, commission Administrative Law Judge Charles Moulton noted.

    C&H's attorneys filed the motion late Wednesday. The motion also asks that proceedings be stayed pending a decision by the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, the department's appellate body.

    The commission's administrative law judge must make a recommended decision on the motion, and the commission would have to approve it, as early as its July 27 meeting. The appeal is scheduled for trial Aug. 6-8.

    Originally, in 2017, the Department of Environmental Quality issued a draft decision to approve C&H's permit application and accepted public comments on that proposal. In January, the department denied the permit.

    The department denied C&H Hog Farms an operating permit in part because the operation did not conduct a study on the flow direction of groundwater or develop an emergency action plan, according to the department's responses to public comments on the permit application.

    C&H Hog Farms sits on Big Creek, about 6 miles from where the creek drains into the Buffalo National River. The farm is authorized to hold 6,503 pigs and is the only federally classified medium or large hog farm in the area.

    Richard Mays, an attorney for an intervenor opposed to the hog farm, said he didn't think recommended decisions to grant or deny the permit would have garnered very different comments from each other. His group, the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, believes the issue of whether the permit should be approved or rejected was already the subject of the comments.

    "We felt that was implicit in the previous notice for issuance of the permit, which many many comments were submitted against that," Mays said. "And we felt the denial of the permit was certainly a possibility that could have occurred as a result of that."

    A spokesman for the department said officials could not comment on the case because it was an ongoing legal matter.

    In two orders issued Monday, Moulton denied and granted several motions to dismiss arguments in C&H Hog Farms' appeal of its permit rejection and contention that it still has an active permit.

    The two orders, one of which must be adopted by the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, leave three arguments made by C&H still standing in its appeal of the department's denial of its permit.

    C&H has filed a permit appeal and a separate claim that it still has an active wastewater discharge permit due in part to state rules and procedural errors made by the department.

    Moulton denied C&H's claim that it has an active wastewater discharge permit in one order but allowed C&H's permit appeal to partially continue, partially denying the department's motion to dismiss it in a second order. The second order does not need to be approved by the commission.

    Moulton granted the department's motion to dismiss C&H's claim that the department did not have the option to deny the farm a Regulation 6 permit.

    C&H's original permit was a Reg. 6 permit, but the farmers applied for a Reg. 5 permit and were denied. The department had ended its Reg. 6 permitting program that covered C&H before the farm's permit expired about six months later on Oct. 31, 2016.

    Moulton said no records showed that the department denied C&H a Reg. 6 permit and further noted that the department director has statutory authority to deny a permit anyway.

    In the same order, Moulton also ruled that C&H's appeal of its permit denial could proceed because the farmers had provided "sufficient facts and law" in their request for the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission to review the permit denial.

    That order left C&H's three remaining claims against the department.

    As it moves forward with its appeal, C&H can continue to contend that the department's denial of its permit was improper, that the department's response to public comments don't reflect the department's reasons for denying the permit, and that the department should have made their permit denial a draft decision requiring public notice and comment.

    In a separate order, Moulton ruled that C&H's Reg. 6 permit expired when the department Director Becky Keogh formally denied C&H's application for new Reg. 5 permit. Moulton denied C&H's claim that its permit was still active, effectively dismissing that case but not the permit appeal.

    In that order, Moulton granted intervenors' motion for summary judgment that the permit had indeed expired. The intervenors' are the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and the Ozark Society, both opponents of C&H.

    The Pollution Control and Ecology Commission must approve Moulton's decision at its monthly meeting. The next one is scheduled for June 22.

    Metro on 06/07/201

  • 21 May 2018 2:37 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Sierra Club Magazine

    Fate of Buffalo River CAFO is in Question as Water Impacts Accelerate

    BY JONATHAN HAHN | MAY 20 2018

    Defenders of Arkansas’ Buffalo River, the first designated “national river” in the United States, fear that soil and water contamination from an industrial-scale hog farm is accelerating as the fight over its fate plays out in court. 

    In 2012, after word got out that C&H, a large-scale hog facility, was under construction in the Buffalo River Watershed, a public outcry forced the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to issue a temporary moratorium on any new CAFO’s in the Buffalo. C&H had quietly come into existence thanks to its initial application under a Regulation 6 permit, which did not require the owners to follow the usual standard public notification requirement for a concentrated animal feeding operation (or CAFO). ADEQ eventually discontinued the Regulation 6, which forced C&H to apply for a Regulation 5 Liquid Animal Waste Management Systems permit. On January 10 of this year, ADEQ  issued a decision denying C&H Hog Farms’ application.

    If the decision to deny C&H the permit stands, it could effectively shutter the operation. The farm is under contract with Brazilian meat processor JBS, which has made clear that it would void that contract immediately if C&H fails to get the decision overturned. After ADEQ’s denial, C&H filed a motion for a stay so that it could be allowed to continue operating during the appeal process. The company was granted that stay, and then submitted its motion for an appeal. The judge overseeing the appeal has set a hearing date for August 5, 6, and 7.  

    “We’re disappointed that the process is dragging out like this, because meanwhile C&H continues to operate, continues to spread waste, and the problem is just being compounded,” Gordon Watkins, the president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, an all-volunteer group of local stakeholders that was formed in response to C&H Farms, said. 

    The January denial came after ADEQ received nearly 20,000 comments during a months-long comment period, more than any the department has received on any issue (the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance submitted nearly 100 pages of comments). The decision was a victory for the coalition of local stakeholders that has opposed C&H, albeit a bitter one. C&H is fighting the decision in court, and as the appeal process drags on, residents, farmers, river stewards, and environmental and outdoors advocacy organizations—including the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Ozark Society, and the Arkansas Canoe Club—fear a one-time environmental threat to the Buffalo River Watershed has turned into a full-blown crisis. 

    C&H Hog Farms, co-owned by Richard and Phillip Campbell and their cousin Jason Henson (the “C” and “H,” respectively), houses approximately 6,000 hogs in large barns in Big Creek, near Mount Judea in Newton County (see “Buffalo River Hog CAFO Threatens America’s First National River”). The farm stores millions of gallons of hog feces and urine in two large ponds, waste that then gets sprayed onto surrounding fields—a process which poses serious environmental and public health threats. According to C&H’s own annual report for, it spread over 2.5 million total gallons of manure, process water, and litter on its fields in 2017. Soil tests on nearly every one of the fields have concluded that they are oversaturated with phosphorous. Even so, the state is still allowing C&H to apply waste to those fields. 

    Phosphorous—the primary component, along with nitrate, in swine waste—tends to bind to the soil and build up, which then gets released over time. This has residents concerned about “legacy phosphorous.” A research farm in the Ozarks demonstrated that phosphorus can leach from the soil for decades even after waste applications have stopped; even if C&H ceased operating tomorrow, the impacts from phosphorus in Big Creek and downstream of the Buffalo National River could continue for years. 

    The facility was built six miles from where Big Creek and the Buffalo River intersect, and is less than a mile from Mount Judea School, one of the poorest K-12 schools in the state.  


    ADEQ’s decision to deny C&H a permit was based in part on a finding that the facility does not comply with the USDA Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook. State regulations require that applicants must comply with that document, which details how geological investigations on a project like C&H must be done, including impacts on groundwater flows, emergency response plans to waste pond failures, along with a variety of technical requirements. C&H is sited on karst topography, a porous form of limestone made of soluble rocks that is particularly vulnerable to groundwater contamination. The field handbook guidelines make clear that a CAFO farm dumping millions of gallons of waste onto soil should not be sited on karst.  

    “Our argument from the beginning has been that this was the wrong place, probably the worst place, that you could possibly locate a facility like this,” said Watkins. “That's now proven by ADEQ’s decision that they do not comply with this waste management field handbook.”

    Residents fear a full-blown environmental crisis is already underway. There have been increasing incidents of large algae blooms in the Buffalo River downstream of Big Creek, in some cases 20 miles long. Algae blooms are typically a sign of the kind of nutrient overload, phosphorous in particular, from industrial-scale animal confinement operations. When the algae dies, it uses up dissolved oxygen in the water, creating a dead zone which kills off macro invertebrates and other organisms that can’t swim away. The blooms can cause massive fish kills, impair riparian ecosystems, make it difficult to paddle a canoe, and impossible to fish. 

    There’s been no definitive study linking C&H to the algae blooms, but it is a stress indicator, one among a number of developing ecological crises that has residents concerned. Before C&H went into production, there were never such massive algae blooms. The blooms have been alarming enough that the state has now set up an algae bloom reporting app residents can download on their smartphone so that they can report the blooms if they come across one.  

    Residents blame ADEQ for creating a potential environmental catastrophe that could take years to undo. “Had we the opportunity to comment when the permit was first being considered, we wouldn't be here today,” Watkins said. “C&H would have been denied a permit, at that location at least, and they wouldn't be stuck in the middle of this fight like they are now.” 

    Meanwhile, with much of C&H’s fields oversaturated with phosphorous, the Campbell brothers are now transporting waste to another location known as EC Farms, which is owned by a third brother, Ellis Campbell. EC Farms, located in Newton County, is a former swine operation that long ago closed its doors. Nothing is farmed there and no animals are being raised. The Campbell brothers, however, requested a permit modification that allowed them to spread C&H waste at the EC Farms fields. EC received the modified permit from ADEQ in February, and C&H has been spreading waste to the EC fields since March.  

    Carol Bitting is fighting the EC permit in court with two other women, Nancy Holler and Lynn Wellford, who have come to be known as the “Three Grandmothers.” They are awaiting a state circuit court decision on their appeal of the ADEQ decision to grant EC Farms a permit. The decision on the appeal could take months. “My husband and I and our grandkids and family have gotten to where we don’t go down to the Buffalo anymore except when I go to take pictures of algae and water quality,” she said in an interview. “I wouldn’t take my children down there to swim. It’s too risky.” 

    Bitting is a biological technician who for over 20 years has lived in the watershed with her husband, an employee of the National Parks Service. She grew up in Arkansas; one of her first memories was swimming in the Buffalo. She’s also an avid caver who has caved the whole area. The couple lives within a mile of the Buffalo River and eight miles from C&H; they can smell the stench of the hog manure from their home.  

    “It was devastating,” she said, describing her reaction in 2012 to the news that the state would allow a CAFO in the Buffalo Watershed. “To me and a lot of people, we couldn’t even talk about it for a long time, because it just crushes your chest.” 

    Bitting has taken scientists and university students on field visits to take data and other samples, and is friends with others that work at the National Parks Service, as well as at ADEQ. Readings from water samples she’s taken show increasing levels of nitrate and phosphorous. Also, she’s reported very large readings of E-coli after storms, larger than she’s ever seen before. “Sometimes the increases are gradual, but there’s no question the levels are increasing.” 


    In June, Bitting will take part in an algae study led by Ozark River Stewards and Dr. Bob Allen of the Arkansas Canoe Club. The Park Service and USGS have also conducted recent tests on dissolved oxygen, and residents are waiting to see if Arkansas will list Big Creek as one of the state’s impaired waterways. 

    The ongoing effort to defend the Buffalo has taken its toll on many residents who have been in the fight since the beginning. Still, according to Bitting, who recently took a break due to exhaustion, there are signs that the community overall is starting to rally, and become more informed. 

    “When I talk with people, I’m finding more and more that folks who live right here are becoming aware of what’s going on, and becoming aware that our water is deteriorating,” she said. “I’m finding that people want to change and make it better. That’s the good thing, in all this battle and all this fight. I’m really hoping that we can heal many of the attitudes and old emotions that people are carrying around over this, and start building a community for the future, and for our waterway.”

    Fate of Buffalo River CAFO Is in Question as Water Impacts Accelerate

    C&H Hog Farms appeals after permit to operate denied

  • 11 May 2018 10:26 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansas Times

    Fundraiser in Conway for the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance

    Posted By David Ramsey on Fri, May 11, 2018 at 4:02 PM

      The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the nonprofit that has been at the front lines of the ongoing fight against the placement of a large hog harm five miles upstream from the Buffalo National River, is hosting a fundraising event on June 3 at the Almost Famous Smokehouse and Grill in Conway. 

      Don't tell Jan Morgan.

      The event, "Conway Boogie for the Buffalo River," will feature performances by various local musicians and speakers providing information on the latest developments relating to animal waste pollution impacting the river. It will run from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., with a suggested $10 donation. 

      C&H Hog Farm, the controlled animal feeding operation (CAFO) that fattens pigs for slaughter for a Brazilian meat processing conglomerate, had its permit denied by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), but is appealing the decision, and recently applied for a new type of permit. In the mean time, it continues to operate on its expired permit. Critics argue that the more than 2 million gallons of manure and wastewater generated annually by the facility are an existential threat to the vulnerable terrain and ecosystem of the Buffalo River watershed. 

      From the group's press release: 

      The current focus of BRWA is the "Save the Buffalo - Again" campaign. In 2012, an industrialized swine concentrated feeding operations (CAFO) was built on the banks of Big Creek, just 5 miles upstream from the Buffalo National River. Government oversight, including lack of public notification, of this swine CAFO’s development was deeply flawed. The now operating CAFO threatens to destroy the fragile ecosystem of our nation's first National River. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) who granted the original permit denied the second permit application. This is currently under appeal. BRWA along with the Arkansas Canoe Club and Ozark Society are intervenors in this appeal which is slated to be heard August 6, 2018 by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission’s Judge Charles Moulton. BRWA will have an information table throughout the event.

      Here's the musical lineup: 

      Billy Jeter 1:30-2:10
      Dave Malm 2:20-3:00
      Mark Currey 3:10-3:50
      Jeff and Dan Clanton 4:00-4:40
      Harrisong 4:50-5:30
      The Rios 5:40-6:20
      Saffron 6:30-7:10
      Plowdog 7:20-9:00.

    • 05 May 2018 8:03 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

      MASTERSON ONLINE: Jury awards millions

      By Mike Masterson

      Posted: May 5, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

      Perhaps you read last week about a North Carolina jury awarding $50.7 million to long-suffering residents living around an enormous facility known as Kinlaw Farm. It is a large-scale hog factory in Bladen County that contracts with pork producer Murphy-Brown LLC to raise about 15,000 hogs.

      Murphy-Brown is a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods Inc., the Chinese-owned global Hogzilla of producing most things pork worldwide.

      Here in Arkansas, Brazilian behemoth JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, supports and supplies the controversial C&H Hog Farms at little Mount Judea, located deep in the watershed of our Buffalo National River.

      A jury sympathized with those living near the Kinlaw factory who had sued over the company’s questionable waste-management practices, such as storing enormous amounts of raw waste in open-air lagoons behind hog pens, then liquefying and spraying the toxic and foul-smelling stuff onto nearby fields.

      A news story by investigative reporter Erica Hellerstein of Indy Week newspaper in Raleigh, N.C., told of the untenable situation for the 10 successful plaintiffs who were awarded more than $5 million each in damages. And this case was just the first of 26 similar lawsuits filed by others against the pork producers.

      Among other issues with Kinlaw, Hellerstein reported, the plaintiffs complained of odors and mist from the spray invading their property, “that the hogs attract swarms of flies, buzzards and gnats; that boxes filled with rotting dead hogs produce an especially pungent stink; and that the stench has limited their ability to go outside.”

      Michelle Nowlin, a prominent environmental attorney from Duke University, told Hellerstein the verdict was “a significant victory for the community members who live next to these factory feedlots. They have suffered indescribable insults, not just from the immediate impacts of the feedlots themselves, but also from decades of government failure to come to their aid. Litigation was their last chance for justice, and this verdict and award will help them move forward.”

      “This verdict proves once and for all that ‘cheap meat’ is a myth,” the lawyer continued. “Someone pays the price of production, and for far too long, that burden has been on the rural communities that are home to North Carolina’s factory farms.”

      Nowlin said she hoped the landmark decision would force the industry to modernize its waste treatment “to the benefit of rural communities, the environment, and the farmers themselves.”

      The North Carolina Pork Council wasn’t immediately available for comment. A statement from Smithfield said it would appeal the decision adding, “We believe the outcome would have been different if the court had allowed the jury to (1) visit the plaintiffs’ properties and the Kinlaw farm and (2) hear additional vital evidence, especially the results of our expert’s odor-monitoring tests. These lawsuits are an outrageous attack on animal agriculture, rural North Carolina and thousands of independent family farmers who own and operate contract farms. These farmers are apparently not safe from attack even if they fully comply with all federal, state and local laws and regulations. The lawsuits are a serious threat to a major industry, to North Carolina’s entire economy and to the jobs and livelihoods of tens of thousands of North Carolinians.”

      We will hide and watch how this all plays out. As round one is complete with so many millions awarded to ordinary people (and 25 cases yet to be heard), the folks at Smithfield Foods have been put on notice in North Carolina.

      But there’s also a legal twist. That state’s legislators created a law that limits the maximum payout to $250,000 for punitive damages in such civil cases. Interesting to me that in Arkansas, civil payout limitations on punitive damages also have been proposed as a constitutional amendment to be put before voters in November.

      Meanwhile, here at home, attorneys for C&H, and those opposing its location, attended a hearing with the state’s Pollution Control and Ecology Commission’s administrative law judge Charles Moulton last week. There, they wrangled over the denial of that factory’s application for a revised Regulation 5 operating permit.

      And wrangle they did, mired in technical jargon and arcane arguments over various aspects of regulations affecting the hog factory and whether permits had expired yet supposedly remain in effect, but not really, but really … I daresay trying to explain all the legalesy yada yada (my term) in comprehensible English would put most readers sound asleep.

      Suffice to say my understanding is that the hearing revolved around questions over a permit necessary for the factory to continue operating, which it has been doing on its expired original permit (that particular permit program now canceled) since January, pending an appeal to be heard in August.

      And it’s a safe bet that whatever decision is reached even then will be appealed. And so it goes and goes in the national river’s watershed that USA Today readers named our state’s greatest attraction.

    • 04 May 2018 8:34 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


      Hog farm's appeal claims agency's process lax

      By Emily Walkenhorst

      Arkansas environmental officials did not sufficiently inform C&H Hog Farms' owners or the public about its permitting process or decision-making about the farm, the farmers' attorney argued in a court hearing Monday.

      But the state didn't have to do what C&H says it should have, the officials' attorneys contend.

      The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission's administrative law judge said he will rule in the coming weeks on motions to dismiss arguments made in C&H Hog Farms' appeal over being denied a new operating permit.

      The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, and C&H has filed a request for a partial summary judgment finding that it still has an active federal permit and that the department improperly failed to seek public comment on its denial of C&H's permit.

      The commission serves as the department's appellate body.

      Judge Charles Moulton also asked attorneys for C&H to file a motion to split their claims into two cases, and he said he would rule after that.

      The case currently concerns claims made about two regulations that control hog farms: Regulation 5 (state no-discharge permits that all hog farms other than C&H are covered under) and Regulation 6 (the state's program for issuing federal discharge permits). "Discharge" refers to whether waste is allowed to leave the property, not including being applied to land as fertilizer elsewhere.

      C&H, in Mount Judea on Big Creek, a Buffalo River tributary, had a Reg. 6 general permit, a type of permit the department no longer issues. That permit expired Oct. 31, 2016. Farm owners applied for a Reg. 5 permit in April 2016, before the department decided to discontinue the other permitting program. The department denied that application in January, and the farmers applied for a Reg. 6 individual permit last month.

      At Monday's hearing, C&H attorney Chuck Nestrud argued that the department should have sent out a public notice of intent to deny C&H's permit before issuing its final denial decision.

      Nestrud said the department is required to issue a notice of its draft decision on a permit and wondered if events would have turned out differently if C&H had been given a draft notice of denial and been able supplement its application with what the department said had been lacking.

      The department denied C&H Hog Farms an operating permit in part because the operation did not conduct a study on the flow direction of groundwater or develop an emergency action plan, according to the department's responses to public comments on the permit application.

      Department attorney Stacie Wassell said the department issued a draft permit decision to the public before accepting the public comments that eventually changed the department's mind. She said nothing in the department's regulations state that the department needs to issue a second draft permit decision.

      Richard Mays, attorney for intervenor Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, agreed with Wassell.

      Moulton said case law submitted by Nestrud examining the issue did not appear to mirror the situation discussed Monday.

      Nestrud also contended Monday that the department did not tell C&H when it needed to apply for a permit renewal or give notice that it would discontinue the Reg. 6 general permitting program. So C&H's permit is active until the department issues a new permit, he said.

      The department notified C&H that it would discontinue the program in an undated letter.

    • 03 May 2018 4:12 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

      Save wild turtles

      Commercial harvest poses peril

      By Debbie Doss and Elise Bennett Special to the Democrat-Gazette

      Posted: May 3, 2018 at 2:51 a.m.

      Along the wild waterways of Arkansas, turtles were once so abundant you never knew what kind you'd see around the next bend.

      But lately it often feels like there are no turtles at all on some of our biggest and most beloved rivers. And that's a problem, for us and our precious waters.

      So it makes no sense that a small number of people are allowed to profit off the unlimited commercial harvest and sale of Arkansas turtles. It's time for state wildlife managers to put an end to this unsustainable practice.

      Trapping tens of thousands of turtles each year degrades our natural resources. And the majority of those turtles are then exported overseas to countries in Asia and elsewhere that use them for food or in old-fashioned medicines.

      These are usually countries that have already decimated their own freshwater turtle populations, and are now helping do the same to ours.

      Arkansas allows turtle harvesting from waters across roughly half the state, including the entirety of the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. Game and Fish Commission harvest records show more than 1.1 million wild turtles were harvested between 2004 and 2012. More recently, 126,381 freshwater turtles were harvested from 2014 to 2016.

      This harvest was geographically concentrated, with two-thirds of those turtles taken from only five counties. Currently turtle trappers can legally collect unrestricted numbers of 14 types of Arkansas turtles.

      But scientists have repeatedly documented that freshwater turtles cannot sustain any significant level of wild collection without population-level impacts and declines.

      For example, one study of common snapping turtles demonstrated that a modest harvest of 10 percent per year for 15 years could result in a 50 percent reduction in population size.

      And an Arkansas study found that turtles from populations in heavily harvested areas were significantly smaller than those from areas where harvesting is not permitted.

      That's why the organizations where we work, along with several other Arkansas-based environmental groups, petitioned the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to end commercial collection of the state's wild turtles.

      If Arkansas bans collections, it would join a growing number of states preserving important wildlife and natural resources. Missouri just recently banned destructive commercial turtle harvesting, and Texas proposed a similar rule. Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina have all banned commercial collection of native turtles.

      Lax regulation on legal turtle harvest like we have in Arkansas also makes it easier to get away with illegal harvesting. When one state allows turtle harvests but surrounding states do not, it's easier for poachers to poach turtles from states where it is illegal and smuggle them into the state that allows harvests to pass them off as legal.

      Historically, Arkansas had one of the highest levels of aquatic biodiversity in the nation. But that abundance is rapidly declining because our native species are not protected.

      That's especially bad news for one of our state's important economic engines: tourism. The majority of outdoor recreation here involves being on the water. And much of that outdoor tourism depends on opportunities for wildlife viewing in a place that bills itself as "The Natural State."

      Freshwater turtles perform critical functions as the principal scavengers of our aquatic ecosystems. Without turtles to consume dead fish and debris, water quality can decline.

      But with so many threats, from habitat destruction to pollution, there are fewer turtles around to perform this important job. Just look at the Buffalo River. Multiple major sources of pollution in the form of concentrated animal feeding operations already line the river and its tributaries.

      We can't afford to lose any more of the aquatic critters that help clean our rivers and streams. We can't let people exploit these important animals in unlimited numbers.

      All research on commercial turtle trapping shows that profitable levels of harvest are unsustainable. Turtles naturally have low levels of reproductive success, and since many trappers target larger adults, commercial harvest has widespread impacts on their populations.

      Arkansas' precious turtles shouldn't be sacrificed so a few trappers can make a quick buck. The rest of us deserve the chance to enjoy wild turtles the next time we're boating, fishing or just floating along.

      It's time for the state to ban this destructive practice and preserve our natural heritage.


      Debbie Doss is founder and director of the Arkansas Watertrails Partnership. Elise Bennett is the Center for Biological Diversity's reptile and amphibian staff attorney in the Southeast.

      Editorial on 05/03/2018

    • 02 May 2018 8:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

      Owners say state didn't inform them of plans; Officials say state didn't have to

      Emily Walkenhorst

      Arkansas environmental officials did not sufficiently inform C&H Hog Farms or the public about its permitting process or decision-making about the farm, the farmers' attorney argued in a court hearing Monday.

      But the state didn't have to do what C&H says it should have, the officials' attorneys contend.

      The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission's administrative law judge said he will rule in the coming weeks on motions to dismiss arguments made in C&H Hog Farms' appeal over being denied a new operating permit.

      The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, and C&H has filed a request for partial summary judgment finding that it still has an active federal permit and that the department improperly failed to seek public comment on its denial of C&H's permit.

      The commission serves as the department's appellate body.

      Judge Charles Moulton also asked attorneys for C&H to file a motion to split their claims into two cases, and he said he would rule after that.

      The case currently concerns claims made about two regulations that control hog farms: Regulation 5 (state no-discharge permits that all hog farms other than C&H are covered under) and Regulation 6 (the state's program for issuing federal discharge permits). "Discharge" refers to whether waste is allowed to leave the property, not including being applied to land as fertilizer elsewhere.

      C&H, in Mount Judea on Big Creek, a Buffalo River tributary, had a Reg. 6 general permit, a type of permit the department no longer issues. That permit expired Oct. 31, 2016. Farm owners applied for a Reg. 5 permit in April 2016, before the department decided to discontinue the other permitting program. The department denied that application in January, and the farmers applied for a Reg. 6 individual permit last month.

      At Monday's hearing, C&H attorney Chuck Nestrud argued that the department should have sent out a public notice of intent to deny C&H's permit before issuing its final denial decision.

      Nestrud said the department is required to issue a notice of its draft decision on a permit and wondered if events would have turned out differently if C&H had been given a draft notice of denial and been able supplement its application with what the department said had been lacking.

      The department denied C&H Hog Farms an operating permit in part because the operation did not conduct a study on the flow direction of groundwater or develop an emergency action plan, according to the department's responses to public comments on the permit application.

      Department attorney Stacie Wassell said the department issued a draft permit decision to the public before accepting the public comments that eventually changed the department's mind. She said nothing in the department's regulations state that the department needs to issue a second draft permit decision.

      Richard Mays, attorney for intervenor Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, agreed with Wassell.

      Moulton said case law submitted by Nestrud examining the issue did not appear to mirror the situation discussed Monday.

      "I wish there was some law on it, because I can't find any," he said.

      Nestrud also contended Monday that the department did not tell C&H when it needed to apply for a permit renewal or give notice that it would discontinue the Reg. 6 general permitting program. So C&H's permit is active until the department issues a new permit, he said.

      The department notified C&H that it would discontinue the program in an undated letter. The department lists that letter on its website as having been delivered May 3, 2016, about two weeks after C&H applied to renew its permit and about four weeks after C&H applied for a Reg. 5 permit.

      Nestrud said that was not sufficient because it did not adequately declare that the program was ending.

      Attorneys for the department said they complied with all notice procedures.

      NW News on 05/02/2018

      Print Headline: Hog farm critical of new-permit denial

    • 30 Apr 2018 7:18 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

      Permit denial for Arkansas hog farm to get hearing

      Owners, state to weigh in ahead of full trial in August

      By Emily Walkenhorst

      Posted: April 30, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.


      A hearing this morning will give parties a chance to make their arguments about whether C&H Hog Farms was improperly denied a new operating permit by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

      A full trial on C&H Hog Farms' appeal of its permit denial is set for August, but today's hearing will allow the department and the farm's owners to argue their separate motions for dismissal and partial judgment, respectively, in the case.

      C&H Hog Farms sits on Big Creek, about 6 miles from where the creek drains into the Buffalo National River. The farm has more than 6,500 pigs, and is the only federally classified medium or large hog farm in the area.

      The Department of Environmental Quality has filed a motion to dismiss the appeal, and C&H Hog Farms has filed a motion for partial summary judgment declaring that the farm still has an active federal permit. C&H Farms also asked the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, which is the Environmental Quality Department's appellate body, to dismiss the department's motion.

      C&H's appeal, upon which the rest of the motions are based, asks that the commission find that the department's denial of its permit was improper.

      The department filed its motion to dismiss the company's appeal at the end of March, arguing that it has the legal authority to deny a permit and that it went through the proper procedure for public participation and issuance of a decision as set out in state environmental regulations.

      C&H contended in its February appeal that the department did not follow procedures because the department did not issue notice that it would terminate the type of permit under which C&H had been operating. The department argued that the permit type had expired and was not terminated.

      In its motion for partial summary judgment filed in March, C&H contended that its permit remains active because the department's decision to deny a different type of permit did not end its coverage, and because the department did not properly terminate that type of permit or notify the company of that decision.

      C&H responded April 18 to the department's motion to dismiss and repeated its argument that the department had not ended the company's coverage under its current permit because the department did not properly notify the company of its termination of the permit type. The company also argued that the department's motion to dismiss did not identify which "permitting" decision it believed was subject to C&H's appeal.

      Administrative Law Judge Charles Moulton ordered April 20 that the groups argue their points at today's hearing, noting that "the parties have filed a number of motions that are presently pending" in the appeal case.

      The hearing is at 10 a.m. at the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's headquarters at 5301 Northshore Drive in North Little Rock.

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