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  • 19 Feb 2018 1:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansas hog farm in Buffalo River watershed ordered to manage manure

    Operation OK’d to remain open

    By Emily Walkenhorst

    Posted: February 19, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.



    NWAOnline

    Credit: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/EMILY WALKENHORST
    FILE — Sanders Farm in Newton County contained as many as 3,200 hogs this summer, with some let loose to roam outdoors to alleviate crowding.


    Operators of an unpermitted hog farm in the Buffalo River's watershed must clear improperly stored hog manure and develop a plan to manage the manure by March 15, a judge has ordered.


    But the farm won't have to shut down or get an operating permit, Boone County Circuit Judge Gail Inman-Campbell ruled this month.


    The farm can continue to operate under a dry-litter manure management system, in which hog manure is combined with straw or hay to absorb the manure and create dry bedding that can eventually be used as fertilizer.


    Late last year, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality sued Sanders Farm, located just outside Western Grove, for operating without a permit in a watershed that had a moratorium on new hog farms of its size and for letting liquid hog manure leak to a nearby creek.


    But permits -- and the regulations and moratoriums that dictate them -- are required for only liquid manure systems, which the department failed to prove Sanders Farm was using, Inman-Campbell ruled.


    The department at one time required dry-manure farms to have permits, but the department changed its regulations in 2012 to exempt them, records show.

    The department did not respond to a question about whether it would appeal the judge's ruling.


    "I thought the judge was fair and reasoned in her judgment and fair with her ruling," said Robert Ginnaven, Sanders Farm's attorney. 


    The liquid manure escaped from Sanders Farm property, according to testimony, when the farmers were unable to sell their hogs and their operation grew from about 2,400 hogs to about 3,200 -- more than they could handle.


    Pat and Starlinda Sanders, who own the farm, said they couldn't sell their pigs because they had been ill. So they let pigs roam from their property to reduce crowding and began storing some dry-litter manure outside, where rain hit it, turned it back to a liquid and it drained off of the property.


    Department officials said the manure washed into Cedar Creek, which eventually drains into the Buffalo National River.


    Because some waste was liquid and had washed into nearby waterways, the department argued that the farm was using a liquid manure management system and needed a permit.


    A map showing the location of Sanders Farm

    "The defendants have been forthright about their actions and admitted they created this situation by releasing the hogs and have taken responsibility for their actions acknowledging the grave danger to the environment if allowed to continue," Inman-Campbell wrote in her ruling. "The court believes the defendants' testimony expressing their remorse for this whole debacle."


    The farm must stop releasing its hogs from the barns, use its dry-manure disposal system, empty the contents of the dry-manure stacking barns by March 15, revegetate the area between one barn and County Road 50, replace the wood walls of one stacking barn with cinder blocks and write a nutrient-management plan for the manure by March 15, according to the order.


    The farmers have begun to revegetate the land with grass and have contacted people who have agreed to collect the manure from the stacking barns and to draft a nutrient-management plan, Ginnaven said.


    In 2012, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission voted to remove dry-manure facilities from its Regulation 6 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, which cover concentrated animal feeding operations, which Sanders Farm would be.


    Regulation 5, under which many hog farms are permitted, is titled "liquid animal waste management systems."


    The regulation removal came at the suggestion of the Department of Environmental Quality, under the administration of director Teresa Marks. In 2003, the department, under the administration of Marcus Devine, pushed the commission to pass emergency rules to require permits for dry-manure operations.


    In both requests, the department cited changes at the federal level for their need to alter Arkansas' regulations.


    In 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expanded on the types of farms that needed permits, including medium and large concentrated animal feeding operations.


    The EPA later amended its regulations again for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits and made no reference to dry-manure hog operations.

    The state Environmental Quality Department's concentrated animal feeding operation regulations have always been more strict than those at the federal level, as evidenced by requiring permits for non-discharge liquid-waste hog farms, said Ryan Benefield, deputy director for the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and a former deputy director for the Environmental Quality Department.


    In 2011, after the EPA again changed its regulations, the department decided to remove the dry-manure requirements, which agricultural groups had previously sought.


    Benefield said he doesn't know how many dry-manure hog farms are in the state. The commission writes voluntary nutrient management plans for farmers, but he said he's not aware of any that have been written for hog farms that use dry manure.


    Because permits aren't required, it's difficult to gauge how many dry-manure hog farms are in Arkansas, said Steve Eddington, an Arkansas Farm Bureau spokesman.

    "I am aware that some of the free-range pork producers are utilizing dry manure, but there is no way that I am aware of to pinpoint the number of farms using that practice," Eddington said.

    Metro on 02/19/2018


  • 14 Feb 2018 12:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Hog-farm appeal input OK'd; environmental groups allowed in as permit denial advances

    By Emily Walkenhorst

    Posted: February 14, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.


    NWAOnline


    m.

    Mitchell PE MasilunThe C&H Hog Farms’ operation, shown May 4, sits near a Buffalo River tributary in Newton County.


    Two environmental groups can intervene in a hog farm's appeal of its permit denial, an administrative law judge has ordered.


    C&H Hog Farms has appealed the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's denial of its operating permit to the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, with a hearing tentatively scheduled for Aug. 6-8.


    The commission's administrative law judge, Charles Moulton, ruled Friday that the Ozark Society and the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, both of which oppose the farm's permit application, could intervene in the appeal, but he declined to rule on the extent to which they can participate.


    C&H Hog Farms is owned by Jason Henson, Philip Campbell and Richard Campbell and operates near Mount Judea in Newton County. It's in the Buffalo National River watershed, along Big Creek, about 6 miles from where the creek feeds into the Buffalo River. The farm has a permit to house 6,503 hogs at any given time and includes two storage ponds for hog manure and fields where hog manure is spread as fertilizer.


    Opponents of the farm argue that the rocky terrain makes operation of a large hog farm an unsuitable use for the land, and that it poses a risk to the river and groundwater by way of surface runoff and porous rock underground.


    C&H owners applied for a new permit to replace their expiring one in 2016, but the department denied the application in January of this year, which would effectively shut down the farm. It is allowed to remain open during the appeal process.


    The Department of Environmental Quality denied C&H Hog Farms an operating permit in part because the company 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. 


    The study and the plan were both recommended by the Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook, and the department determined they were necessary because of C&H's location in the recreational river's watershed.


    C&H asserts in its appeal that the department never asked for the study or plan. Additionally, C&H contends that the department approved the farm's previous permit under nearly identical conditions, meaning that it previously considered the farm in compliance with the handbook under nearly identical conditions.


    In a filing Thursday, attorneys for C&H argued that the environmental groups, per regulations, can only make arguments based on the aspects of the permit application that the groups specifically commented on and thus cannot participate in C&H's claims on "procedural issues" in the department's permitting process. The filing asked Moulton to deny the groups' motions to intervene.


    C&H has appealed the department's decision based on "procedural issues" and "substantive grounds," the filing reads.


    Moulton ruled that the Ozark Society and Buffalo River Watershed Alliance could intervene under Regulation 8.604, which allows "any person who submitted comments during the public comment period" to petition for intervention, according to his order.


    But Moulton declined to rule on the extent to which the groups can participate in the appeal because the groups had not had time to respond to C&H's arguments.

    Richard Mays, one of the attorneys for the environmental groups, said they have until Monday to file their response to C&H's arguments.


    Mays said that because the department didn't deny the permit over "procedural issues," his clients didn't have the opportunity earlier to comment on those issues. Now that C&H is raising those concerns in its appeal, his clients should be allowed to respond.


    "They claim they've raised procedural issues," Mays said in an interview Tuesday. "That's a very vague term that doesn't have a fixed meaning."


    Mays argued that the department raised substantial issues, not procedural ones.

    Messages left for C&H attorney Bill Waddell were not returned Tuesday afternoon.

    Metro on 02/14/2018


  • 13 Feb 2018 11:25 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Comments split on haze rule; utilities back state plan opposed by environmental groups

    By Emily Walkenhorst

    Posted: February 12, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.


    NWAOnline



    Utilities and a consumer group largely favor the state's proposed changes in the way it will implement a federal rule to reduce haze, but environmental groups oppose it, according to comments submitted to the state.


    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality received 499 comments -- mostly from individuals -- on the more contested portion of the Regional Haze Rule that utilities anticipate would cost them collectively more than $2 billion and that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated would cost less than $500 million.

    The state's plan would require lower-cost controls for reducing sulfur dioxide that reduce emissions less. The state argues that the EPA's plan is not cost-effective, although it did not define "cost-effective."


    Utilities would have three years to comply.


    The positions are a reversal of how the same groups felt about the EPA's proposal to implement the Regional Haze Rule in Arkansas. Utilities and consumer groups largely opposed that plan because of the cost to utilities and the expected trickle down to customer bills. Environmental groups supported the EPA's proposal because of the expected decrease in haze-causing compounds that they said were also detrimental to public health.


    Comments from environmental organizations on the state's proposed plan largely concerned whether the department did what commenters believed it was legally required to do under state and federal air laws.


    Many individual comments were identical messages sent through an automated system that supported more stringent emissions controls on Entergy Arkansas' two largest coal plants, White Bluff near Redfield and Independence near Newark. The comments expressed concern for visibility, ozone pollution and public health.


    The Regional Haze Rule, approved by Congress in 1999, requires states to take measures to improve visibility in national wilderness areas. The wilderness areas targeted by the Arkansas plan are Caney Creek and the Upper Buffalo River in Arkansas and the Hercules-Glades and Mingo areas in Missouri.


    Instead of emissions-reducing scrubbers, the state's plan would ask utilities to begin using lower-sulfur coal to fire the White Bluff plant for a cost of $1,150 per ton of sulfur dioxide reduced. A question to Entergy officials about how much that would cost overall went unanswered Friday.


    The state plan also removes the Independence plant from having to comply with the plan because it is not technically required to comply under Best Available Retrofit Technology analysis because of the later installation date of its boiler.


    The White Bluff and Independence plants, each 1,700 megawatts, are by far the state's largest coal-fired plants and were the largest targets of the haze plans.

    The state's plan did not change the federal plan's requirements for natural-gas plants.

    In their comments, the National Parks Conservation Association, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club argued that the cost for Entergy to comply with the EPA's plan was comparable to other costs approved in other state and federal implementation plans. In contrast, Entergy argued in its comments against requiring scrubbers because other state and federal implementation plans had determined those costs to be excessive.


    A chart made by the environmental groups showed that some plans required higher costs and others required lower costs.


    The environmental groups also noted that the department did not define "cost-effective."


    Entergy and other utility groups contended that the state did not need to conduct any further reasonable progress analysis for meeting progress goals outlined in the Regional Haze Rule at the Independence plant because Arkansas was already meeting its visibility goals for the first planning period.


    The environmental groups posited that the plan did not adequately consider Missouri's visibility improvements and did not supply information on how visibility at Missouri's wilderness areas would be affected.


    They also argued that the state, per the Arkansas Air Pollution Control Act, was required to consider the public health effects of sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide can contribute to ground-level ozone, which can cause respiratory problems at high enough levels.


    Last month, the EPA approved the state's proposed changes to nitrogen oxide emissions reductions, but utilities said they had already installed the low-nitrogen oxide burners the EPA had required at a cost of several million dollars per burner.

    The state's proposal concerns the first Regional Haze planning period, which ends this year. It started in 2008.


    The state submitted a plan to comply in 2012, but it was partially rejected by the EPA, and the state never replaced it. The Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association sued in 2014 to force the creation of a plan, which a federal judge ultimately ordered the EPA to issue.


    The EPA finalized the plan in the fall of 2016, which was challenged in court, and the EPA has allowed the state to redraft its own plan for the 2008-18 period while the bulk of its plan remains under a stay in federal court.

    Metro on 02/12/2018


  • 13 Feb 2018 11:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MIKE MASTERSON: Pandering to fear

    Sky’s not falling

    By Mike Masterson

    Posted: February 13, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.


    NWAOnline

    The predictable campaign aimed at frightening the good folks in and around Newton County into believing their farms and ranches are somehow in danger of closing remains in full swing politically. Unjustified fear, rather than scientifically justifiable concerns over serious risk, is an easy tactic.


    Two candidates from Marshall vying in today's special election to replace GOP District 83 Rep. David Branscum say they favor C&H Hog Farms being left just where our state's Department of Environmental Quality (cough) in 2012 wrongheadedly allowed it to begin operating six miles upstream from the Buffalo National River.


    Donald Ragland and Timmy Reid both say they favor leaving the factory in this precarious location along Big Creek. Their reasoning sounds to me like a joint promotional flier from the Farm Bureau and Pork Producers, who have been aggressively promoting this divisive location for a large animal factory.


    Both candidates cite fear of the regulations that all domestic animal factories in sensitive ecological areas who emit liquid waste must follow.


    In a news account, Reid, a cattle farmer, sounded as if C&H losing its permit for failing to complete necessary subsurface water flow testing was a precursor to Chicken Little's sky falling: "If we don't get behind this hog farm, we're going to lose everything," he told a reporter. "We've going to lose it all. Our rights are at stake."

    Reid and Ragland, a former sheriff, cited other causes of pollution such as kayaking and feral hogs roaming in the watershed creating problems, perhaps equal to a factory spraying millions of gallons of potent raw swine waste--roughly equivalent to a city of 30,000--regularly onto karst-riddled land.


    I can't tell if either grown man truly believes that. Count me as a no. Brian Thompson of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance had this to say about misusing fear for calculated political sway: "We strongly encourage these candidates to carefully consider the economic implications of their platforms. We also encourage voters to ask the hard questions regarding their special-interest backers and if those backers are funded from outside of Arkansas. Incidentally, one candidate blames feral hogs for polluting the river. Damaging though they are, feral hogs eat what is in the watershed (acorns mostly) and do not add nutrients such as phosphates or nitrates to the water, unlike a large industrial feedlot. We hope these candidates stick to the facts."


    Nor do I believe anyone's right to farm is in any way connected with a right to pollute. And it's a very real risk this factory's location presents, according to facts, because spray-field runoff and subsurface waters invariably flow downstream through karst terrain.


    It's no surprise the Farm Bureau and other politicized special interests have amplified their campaign since the Department of Environmental Quality last month denied the factory's application for a revised permit.


    I haven't seen the agency taking any undue action or enforcement against any other true farmers or ranchers in the region, nor do I expect that. Have you?


    This is rare and specific mayhem created solely by the state. It is based on a factory that should never have been maneuvered into this location to pose a genuine threat to the state's top-rated attraction.


    The opposition to this location is not an attack on farms or farmers in any way. To make it seem so is obviously cynical and disingenuous.


    It can be painted to even remotely appear that way only because the Department of Environmental Quality originally failed to enforce the specific details and requirements plainly spelled out in the handbook it uses to permit meat factories into such fragile locations.


    The most pertinent question I have is who within this agency's water department and administrative hierarchy chose to ignore the rules back in 2012? Who inside the department bypassed effective public notice and bent its own requirements into pretzels to get this factory approved? That is who created the situation and who should be identified by name and held accountable under oath, regardless of if those people remain within the agency, or have since been invited into more lucrative jobs.

    You know how bad it was when the director at the time said even she didn't know her own agency had issued the permit until after it had been. The department's local inspection staff based in Jasper said they didn't know about it. The National Park Service didn't know. And even the former governor was kept in the dark, adding later that the approval of this factory where it's located was the biggest regret of his years in office.


    Meanwhile, I do agree with candidate Ragland that, because of its shameful role in this gawd-awful mess, the state should make the factory owners financially whole in rightfully closing the factory for the benefit of all in our state and nation who revere the country's first national river.

    ------------v------------

    Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

    Editorial on 02/13/2018

  • 13 Feb 2018 10:51 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    http://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2018/feb/13/sky-s-not-falling-20180213/


    MIKE MASTERSON: Pandering to fear

    Sky’s not falling

    By Mike Masterson


    The predictable campaign aimed at frightening the good folks in and around Newton County into believing their farms and ranches are somehow in danger of closing remains in full swing politically. Unjustified fear, rather than scientifically justifiable concerns over serious risk, is an easy tactic.

    Two candidates from Marshall vying in today's special election to replace GOP District 83 Rep. David Branscum say they favor C&H Hog Farms being left just where our state's Department of Environmental Quality (cough) in 2012 wrongheadedly allowed it to begin operating six miles upstream from the Buffalo National River.

    Donald Ragland and Timmy Reid both say they favor leaving the factory in this precarious location along Big Creek. Their reasoning sounds to me like a joint promotional flier from the Farm Bureau and Pork Producers, who have been aggressively promoting this divisive location for a large animal factory.

    Both candidates cite fear of the regulations that all domestic animal factories in sensitive ecological areas who emit liquid waste must follow.

    In a news account, Reid, a cattle farmer, sounded as if C&H losing its permit for failing to complete necessary subsurface water flow testing was a precursor to Chicken Little's sky falling: "If we don't get behind this hog farm, we're going to lose everything," he told a reporter. "We've going to lose it all. Our rights are at stake."

    Reid and Ragland, a former sheriff, cited other causes of pollution such as kayaking and feral hogs roaming in the watershed creating problems, perhaps equal to a factory spraying millions of gallons of potent raw swine waste--roughly equivalent to a city of 30,000--regularly onto karst-riddled land.

    I can't tell if either grown man truly believes that. Count me as a no. Brian Thompson of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance had this to say about misusing fear for calculated political sway: "We strongly encourage these candidates to carefully consider the economic implications of their platforms. We also encourage voters to ask the hard questions regarding their special-interest backers and if those backers are funded from outside of Arkansas. Incidentally, one candidate blames feral hogs for polluting the river. Damaging though they are, feral hogs eat what is in the watershed (acorns mostly) and do not add nutrients such as phosphates or nitrates to the water, unlike a large industrial feedlot. We hope these candidates stick to the facts."

    Nor do I believe anyone's right to farm is in any way connected with a right to pollute. And it's a very real risk this factory's location presents, according to facts, because spray-field runoff and subsurface waters invariably flow downstream through karst terrain.

    It's no surprise the Farm Bureau and other politicized special interests have amplified their campaign since the Department of Environmental Quality last month denied the factory's application for a revised permit.

    I haven't seen the agency taking any undue action or enforcement against any other true farmers or ranchers in the region, nor do I expect that. Have you?

    This is rare and specific mayhem created solely by the state. It is based on a factory that should never have been maneuvered into this location to pose a genuine threat to the state's top-rated attraction.

    The opposition to this location is not an attack on farms or farmers in any way. To make it seem so is obviously cynical and disingenuous.

    It can be painted to even remotely appear that way only because the Department of Environmental Quality originally failed to enforce the specific details and requirements plainly spelled out in the handbook it uses to permit meat factories into such fragile locations.

    The most pertinent question I have is who within this agency's water department and administrative hierarchy chose to ignore the rules back in 2012? Who inside the department bypassed effective public notice and bent its own requirements into pretzels to get this factory approved? That is who created the situation and who should be identified by name and held accountable under oath, regardless of if those people remain within the agency, or have since been invited into more lucrative jobs.

    You know how bad it was when the director at the time said even she didn't know her own agency had issued the permit until after it had been. The department's local inspection staff based in Jasper said they didn't know about it. The National Park Service didn't know. And even the former governor was kept in the dark, adding later that the approval of this factory where it's located was the biggest regret of his years in office.

    Meanwhile, I do agree with candidate Ragland that, because of its shameful role in this gawd-awful mess, the state should make the factory owners financially whole in rightfully closing the factory for the benefit of all in our state and nation who revere the country's first national river.

    ------------v------------

    Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

    Editorial on 02/13/2018


  • 11 Feb 2018 11:06 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Two Marshall men in contest to fill vacant state House seat

    By John Moritz

    Posted: February 11, 2018 at 3:22 a.m.

    NWAOnline


    A special election for a rural state House district seat has at its center a controversial hog farm operation near the Buffalo River -- and both Republicans in the race say they're for the farm.


    The District 83 special primary election, which is being held Tuesday, will determine who replaces state Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall, who left the position to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


    No Democrats are running in the special election, so Tuesday's winner will be the next representative for the district.


    "The hog farm," said Donald Ragland and Timmy Reid, both of Marshall, when they were asked in separate interviews what was the No. 1 issue they were hearing about from voters.


    They were referring to C&H Hog Farms, which has been subject to years of controversy surrounding the number of pigs housed there along a tributary to the Buffalo River, the first ever designated national river. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality recently rejected the farm's application to renew its operating permit, a decision that is being appealed.


    "If we don't get behind this hog farm, we're going to lose everything, we're going to lose it all," said Reid, 53, a cattle farmer making his first run for public office. "Our rights are at stake."


    Ragland, a 71-year-old former sheriff, noted that four of the five counties in the district -- Newton, Pope, Searcy, Boone and Carroll -- drain into the Buffalo River, where tourism is a major part of the economy, along with farming.


    "There's not even a Walmart in this district, that's how rural it is," Ragland said. "It's not like there's going to be any big plants or anything moving in here."


    Ragland and Reid said they don't share conservationists' concerns that a mishap at the hog farm could send hog manure into the watershed. 


    They said the river is being dirtied by a proliferation of tourists. Ragland said kayaking has drawn more people to the river, while Reid blamed feral hogs for polluting the river.


    Overbearing regulations are at the heart of the problem for the hog farm, according to the Republican pair.


    Ragland added that the hog farm's owners should be compensated through the state Claims Commission if the farm is forced to shut down. (The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported last year that the farm paid $8,823 in property taxes. The number of people employed there was unavailable.)


    When asked about health care in the district, both candidates offered rebukes of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, but they were less critical of Arkansas' "private-option" Medicaid expansion program, which uses state and federal dollars under former President Barack Obama's law to buy private insurance for more than 285,000 low-income Arkansans.


    The program is also known as Arkansas Works.


    Ragland called Arkansas Works "the best thing we've got right now."

    Reid said, "If we work on it and get it right, I'll support it."


    Asked what sets the two candidates apart, Ragland said, "I've been a Republican all my life. ... My family, my great-grandparents were Republicans."


    Records at the secretary of state's office, however, suggest otherwise. Ragland voted in Democratic primaries three times before 2001, and has voted in Republican primaries a dozen times since.


    Clarifying his remarks Friday, Ragland chalked up his voting history in the 1990s to the lack of Republican candidates in then-heavily Democratic Arkansas, especially in local races.


    Reid has voted in less than half the total elections Ragland voted in since 1996, according to state voting records, and Reid voted in Republican primaries in 1996 and 2014.


    Reid said he'll appeal to Republican voters in the primary by opposing the "tax and spend" policies of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Reid accused the Republican governor of spending beyond the state's means and was doubtful when told that the governor's proposed budget for next fiscal year is projected to have a $64 million surplus.

    "I would have to see some proof of that," Reid told a reporter. 


    "I don't know if it is or not, you're the one that knows that not me. I haven't looked into that."


    Ragland said he agreed with the governor's decision to cut income taxes for low-income Arkansans in 2017, and while he said he was open to further income tax cuts, he was skeptical of other reductions to the state's revenue.


    "We don't need to be cutting any more taxes," Ragland said, specifying that he disagreed with then-Gov. Mike Beebe's move to cut the sales tax on groceries. "When we're cutting taxes, we cut somebody that really needs that service" funded by state revenue.


    Specifically, Ragland said money could be spent on education, especially vocational training, and improving the district's miles of winding Ozark Mountain roads.

    "[U.S.] 65's not great through this area," Ragland said in an interview at Carl's Restaurant along the roadway. "Our rural roads are just gone through a lack of maintenance. The money's just not been there, and there's certainly not been any expansion on any county roads."


    If elected, Reid said he would push the Legislature to cut the state's top corporate income tax rate from 6.5 percent down to between 2.5 percent and 3 percent. Asked about the governor's income tax cuts, Reid said, "It's not something I've really looked at." The majority-Republican Legislature has approved income tax cuts for several categories of taxpayers, and the governor has said he would like more.


    Reid declined to say whether he would vote for Hutchinson or for Hot Springs gun range owner Jan Morgan in the Republican gubernatorial primary.


    "She's OK," Reid said. "I've met her. I know her personally but I've not met the governor. Maybe he needs to make his way up to Northwest Arkansas and meet some people up here."


    Ragland said he planned to vote for Hutchinson.


    Although campaign yard signs for both candidates dot along U.S. 65 through the town of Marshall, campaign finance reports tell a different story of support.


    Ragland has a sizable fundraising lead over Reid, according to the most recent reports.


    Reid listed receiving a single donation to his campaign, for $100, according to his most recent report filed last month. The donation came from Jenny Gray, who is listed as a homemaker from Marshall. Reid lent his campaign $6,100 and has spent $5,863.

    According to Ragland's disclosure filings, he has raised $11,760, spent $3,428 and lent his campaign $3,500. Ragland's top reported donors were Warren A. Stephens, Bruce Hawkins' lobbying firm DBH Management Consultants and the Arkansas Health Care House Public Affairs Committee. Each gave $1,000.


    Two other special primary legislative elections are being held Tuesday -- in Senate District 16 and Senate District 29. The legislative fiscal session starts Monday.


    Information for this article was contributed by Emily Walkenhorst of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

    SundayMonday on 02/11/2018


  • 06 Feb 2018 8:38 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MIKE MASTERSON: ‘Elitist’ Buffalo backers

    Morgan’s war

    By Mike Masterson

    Posted: February 6, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

    NWAOnline


    Meanwhile, back on the front lines in the battle to save our beautiful Buffalo National River from contamination, Jan Morgan, the GOP gubernatorial challenger to fellow Republican Asa Hutchinson, has produced a Facebook video that miscasts thousands of Arkansans interested in protecting our state's valuable river from contamination by millions of gallons of swine waste as "economic elitist environmentalists" from outside.


    Morgan further mischaracterizes the many thousands of Buffalo supporters, as well as members of the state's Ozark Society, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and Arkansas Canoe Club as out-of-state environmental elitists and out-of-state influences.


    Yes, you read that correctly, all you elitist out-of-staters. Some shockingly uninformed pronouncements, especially since all the people and organizations I know who support protecting the special river are bona fide Arkansas residents who understand its value.


    Meatpacker JBS-USA is the Brazil-headquartered corporation with whom the C&H owners contract. JBS purchased C&H three years ago from the Cargill Inc. of Minnesota, which launched the factory. Would those two be considered out-of-state economic elitist influences?


    Morgan's sweeping judgments clearly are from a hip-shooting gubernatorial candidate who seeks to govern us. I found her needless fearmongering unexpected and startling.


    One news account of the video characterized Morgan as having "gone to war" against those opposing this misplaced factory. "She has friends in the Arkansas Farm Bureau," the story reads. I'll bet she does, along with other politically active buddies in the pork-producing industry.


    In her video, Morgan also quotes factory co-owner Jason Henson saying that after four years of continuously spreading millions of gallons of raw waste across fields beside Big Creek (a major tributary of the Buffalo flowing six miles downstream), it is "absolutely false" to say he is polluting the river.


    That may be true to this point. But there already is ample reason for public concern over serious potential risk to the Buffalo River and its watershed.


    Non-elitist Arkansas geoscientists who know and understand the fractured limestone underlying this factory and its spray fields warn it's only a matter of time until a serious mishap occurs. Either that, or the watershed's ecosystem becomes overloaded with nutrients from waste and makes its way downstream to the Buffalo. Then it's too late.

    I fully expect Big Creek to rightly wind up on the state's list of impaired waterways this year because of low dissolved oxygen from excess nutrients, a serious threat to aquatic life.


    Canoers photographed an explosion of algae blanketing large sections of the Buffalo last summer. The bloom, fueled by nutrient contamination, had become so thick it was impossible to paddle through it in many spots. They called it the worst overgrowth they'd ever encountered. We need to know where it's coming from.


    Also, (non-elitist) UA geosciences professor emeritus John Van Brahana, with his team of Arkansas volunteers, has spent four years tracking groundwater flow around the factory. They discovered dye surfacing in area wells and springs and even 12 miles away in the Buffalo, traveling much faster and farther than originally expected.

    Brahana believes Morgan unfortunately has taken "a very divisive stance and, through misrepresentation and fear, has created a very misleading and inaccurate account of on the ground conditions."


    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality last month denied C&H's request for a revised operating permit based on scientifically justifiable inadequacies in its application. The factory continues to operate on a stay pending its appeal to the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.


    The department should have insisted on realistic requirements before allowing C&H into this watershed, which today has a temporary moratorium on any future such factories.


    The bottom line has nothing to do with name-calling or unfounded emotional rhetoric that panders to people's unrealistic fears. It's about statewide concerns over the unnecessary risk to the state's top-voted attraction that in 2016 drew 1.8 million visitors who left $78 million with area merchants and supported some 1,200 jobs.


    I don't believe the area's business owners, or those who enjoy the Buffalo, are environmental elitists. They surely don't endorse any nonsense about government takeovers of people's farms. This issue is solely about terrible location.


    Decades ago, well before C&H's location was even a bad idea with Cargill, the same agency under the late director Randall Mathis placed a protective moratorium on such animal factories specifically within the Buffalo watershed. It is simply the worst possible place in our state to license such a potentially polluting operation. Yet there are special interests who want to make sure the serious risk to the Buffalo remains entrenched.


    We can now add governor-wannabe Jan Morgan to their ranks, although she might want to see what happened to the once magnificent Neuse River in North Carolina after swine factories began operating there.

    ------------v------------

    Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

    Editorial on 02/06/2018

  • 04 Feb 2018 9:43 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    State agency's comments on hog farm in Buffalo River watershed show little detail on ruling

    By Emily Walkenhorst

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


    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality denied C&H Hog Farms an operating permit in part because the company 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.


    The department stated in a response to Comment 352 by Marti Olesen, a C&H opponent, that a groundwater flow study is recommended in the Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook, Chapter 7. Chapter 2 of the handbook recommends an emergency action plan.


    The department determined that both were necessary "due to the specific siting of this facility," according to its response to Olesen's comment.


    Along with its final permit decision issued last month, the department responded to more than 17,000 public comments by narrowing them to 443 separate comments and responding to them in 422 pages published on its website.


    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reviewed those comments and responses, and found little detail on the department's decision to deny the permit. Also found were numerous instances where the department defended its initial permitting decision in favor of the hog farm against commenters who believed state regulations should have been more strict or more stringently applied.


    The department also defended itself against data that showed increases in nitrates in a well on the farm and nearby waters as not being significant differences or unexpected for a watershed of its type.


    C&H, owned by Jason Henson, Philip Campbell and Richard Campbell, is near Mount Judea in Newton County. It's located in the Buffalo River watershed, along Big Creek, about 6 miles from where the creek feeds into the Buffalo. The farm has a permit to house 6,503 hogs at any given time, and includes two storage ponds for hog manure and fields where hog manure is spread as fertilizer.


    Opponents of the farm argue that the rocky terrain makes operation of a large hog farm an unsuitable use for the land, and poses a risk to the river and groundwater by way of cracks below the surface.


    C&H has been operating on an indefinite extension of its expired permit.

    The department denied the farm's application for a new permit Jan. 10, but the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission issued a stay of that decision Jan. 17.


    The farm's owners appealed the department's decision, saying the department never informed them that they needed the information the department later said was lacking.

    The stay will continue until the appeal process concludes. The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission is scheduled to hold a preliminary hearing on the appeal via teleconference Tuesday.


    The hog manure stored in the farm's storage ponds and sprayed onto nearby land is rich in nitrates and phosphorus -- nutrients that in too high of amounts in water can cause algae to grow and harm fish by reducing oxygen levels.

    The groundwater flow study would have tracked the way water would have flowed from C&H's property.


    Chapter 7 of the handbook states that karst areas, characterized by limestone and other rocks, can be problematic because they are permeable and allow the potential for groundwater contamination and sinkholes.

    "As such, its recognition is important in determining potential siting problems," the chapter's topography section reads.


    Chapter 2 mentions the "emergency action plan" once, stating "development of an emergency action plan should be considered for waste impoundments where there is potential for significant impact from breach or accidental release."


    The department also noted that the farm's geologic investigation of the hog manure storage ponds, which would have identified the conditions affecting the ponds, did not comply with the handbook's Chapter 7 recommendations for such studies.


    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance contended that the inspection should have involved six bore holes in the ground examining the terrain, as recommended in the handbook, but noted that it included only three. The department did not explain why it believed the geologic investigation did not comply with the handbook.


    The compaction test and permeability analysis also did not comply with the handbook's Chapter 10 recommendations, the department said in its response to comments.


    Compaction refers to how pressed together soils are. It's tested to determine how easy it is for liquids to filter through soil. Permeability refers to how easily materials, such as water, can filter through soil.


    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance argued that the compaction test was poor because it used only one sample. The group also argued that the permeability analysis for the hog manure pond liners was deficient because it didn't include particle analysis, which would have examined the elements of the soil and how fine the particles were. The department did not explain why it believed either test was incomplete.


    In addition to contending that it hadn't been asked for information that the department now says it needs, C&H asserts in its appeal that the department approved the farm's previous permit under nearly identical conditions, meaning that it previously considered the farm in compliance with the handbook under nearly identical conditions.


    The handbook, along with the Field Office Technical Guide, is a publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service. Department Regulation 5.402 requires facility designs and waste management plants to company with the publications. C&H sought a Regulation 5 permit, which includes that requirement.


    Bill Waddell, an attorney representing C&H, said last week that he could not discuss the department's responses to comments with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, citing the ongoing appeal process.


    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Ozark Society and three of its members have filed motions to intervene.


    Gov. Asa Hutchinson met Thursday with agricultural leaders about C&H's permit denial, according to a news release from the Arkansas Agriculture Department, and said he believed the farmers should be able to supplement their application with any previously missing or incomplete information.


    C&H applied in 2016 to continue operating under a no-discharge Regulation 5 permit, as opposed to a Regulation 6 permit that allowed the farm to discharge even though the farmers said they would not. In the application, C&H also asked to slightly modify its operations by increasing the number of sows it's allowed to house and decreasing the number of piglets. The farmers also asked to increase the number of fields where they are allowed to spray hog manure as fertilizer.


    The department spent 643 days reviewing C&H's application and responding to the comments made on it.


    The comments were often repetitive in nature, and the department frequently responded to comments with short, stock paragraphs that were repeated numerous times.


    For example, the department responded to all of the baker's dozen Arkansas Farm Bureau comments with statements that were a repeat of responses previously given. Most of them simply declared that the department had made its decision based on the stipulations of Regulation 5, the regulation under which C&H had applied for a new operating permit.


    Comments varied in legal references, technical expertise, tempered concern, emotional pleadings and fiery criticism. One commenter asked not only that the department relocate the farm but also force former department director Teresa Marks, whose administration approved C&H's original permit, to live near a hog farm and apologize to current department employees.


    The majority of comments opposed C&H, but many were from supporters who asserted that C&H, under intense scrutiny since it first opened, has implemented more environmental safeguards than required and has become a model hog farm for the rest of the state.


    Many comments did not address regulations specifically, and some served as a means of interviewing the department about its work and provided suggestions.

    Few of the department's responses indicate why the department denied the permit, and many responses defended the hog farm for being in compliance with regulations where many commenters had accused it of not being in compliance.


    The Ozark Society and numerous other commenters cited data that they believed showed increases in nitrates and E. coli in Big Creek and worsening dissolved oxygen levels in Big Creek. The department stated repeatedly that data did not show significant increases or conditions in the watershed that were incompatible with other watersheds.


    David Peterson, president of the Ozark Society, said that while the department was correct in denying the permit, it still did not see what he and others say about the risk from C&H.


    "That's what they can't seem to do," he said.


    Many comments and their responses continued to highlight the difference between the concerns many hog farm opponents have and regulations that don't address them.


    For instance, dozens of commenters expressed concern about hog manure being applied as fertilizer on the karst terrain of the Buffalo's watershed, but the department continually responded by noting that department regulations don't prohibit spreading manure on karst land.


    Many also said they wanted C&H's new permit, if granted, to have an expiration date so the farm's permit can continue to be reviewed every few years. But Regulation 5, unlike the Regulation 6 permit C&H previously operated under, doesn't have such expiration dates.


    Many commenters also noted concern that the department was not upholding Clean Water Act requirements to prevent Extraordinary Resource Waters like the Buffalo River from degrading. Many commenters added that the department did not have a plan to implement the anti-degradation requirement.


    The department stated repeatedly that it had an anti-degradation implementation plan, in spite of years of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asserting that the department does not.

    Metro on 02/04/2018




  • 03 Feb 2018 10:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Panel on river outlines its goals

    Priorities include tourism increase

    By Emily Walkenhorst twitter_byline.png

    This article was published today at 2:36 a.m


    NWAOnline

    The state committee devoted to caring for the Buffalo River sent its first report to Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson this week, outlining the priorities of the committee and the state agencies its members run.


    The Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee, created by Hutchinson after years of conflict over the permitting of a large hog farm in the river's watershed, is required to report its progress annually.


    In its 10-page report submitted Tuesday, the committee laid out future objectives to increase tourism and expand the number of farms while also preserving and improving water quality. The report details more specific goals, including more testing of waters, more approved septic systems and more conservation programs and practices on farms, but it does not contain a framework for achieving those things.


    The committee's rules and responsibilities explain it may establish subcommittees or working groups to meet its goals.


    Hutchinson reviewed the report this week and said it indicated that a "baseline has been set for measuring the health of the watershed and setting priorities for the future."


    "The Action Committee has brought people together from government to the agriculture community and to tourism, and we all agree on the importance of protecting the Buffalo River watershed while recognizing the importance and value of agriculture," he said in a statement sent to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.


    The Buffalo National River attracted nearly 1.8 million visitors in 2016.


    The committee consists of the heads of seven state agencies: Becky Keogh of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality; Bruce Holland of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission; Wes Ward of the Arkansas Agriculture Department; Dr. Nathaniel Smith of the Arkansas Department of Health; Kane Webb of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism; Pat Fitts of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission; and Shelby Johnson of the Arkansas Geographic Information Systems Office.


    Game and Fish, and Geographic Information Systems are considered "partners" of the committee and not members.


    One page of the report touted the drafting of the Buffalo River Watershed Management Plan, which concluded in January. The plan was prepared by FTN Associates for the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which intends to submit it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency later this month for acceptance.

    If the EPA accepts the plan, it could be used as a leveraging tool for people who desire to do conservation projects in the watershed, particularly in one of the six sub-watersheds identified in the plan as priorities.


    The report mentioned several other state agency priorities and accomplishments:


    • The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has committed $300,000 in the past two years to the Unpaved Roads Program, which is designed to tend to unpaved roads that often contribute gravel to nearby bodies of water. The commission intends to continue funding the program.

    • The Arkansas Geographic Information Systems Office developed a report on the roads within the watershed, which is published on the committee's website.

    • Five of the agencies that have members in the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee serve on the Feral Hog Eradication Task Force, which seeks to reduce the number of feral hogs in the state and thus the amount of environmental crop damage caused by them. Those agencies are the Natural Resources Commission, the Agriculture Department, the Department of Health, the Department of Parks and Tourism, and the Game and Fish Commission.

    • The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality also has created a tool for people to report nuisance algal blooms and has responded to reports of such blooms in the Buffalo River along with the National Park Service.

    • The committee built a website that outlines its meetings, minutes, presentations, links to data repositories on watershed water quality and links to conservation programs for Buffalo River stakeholders.

    • The Department of Health and the Natural Resources Commission are studying failing septic systems in the watershed.

    • The Department of Environmental Quality spent $4,100 on a study of E. coli in Mill Creek, and the department and the U.S. Geological Survey are studying nutrient and bacteria in the creek's watershed. The agencies are each spending $86,000 on the study, with contributions of $3,250 each from the Department of Health, and the Game and Fish Commission. Mill Creek is one of the major tributaries to the Buffalo River.


    David Peterson, president of the Ozark Society, said he thought many of the ideas from the committee were good ones, noting the Mill Creek study that will determine the animal sources of elements in the creek.


    "That's a positive step," he said.


    Peterson also said he liked the idea of spending money to improve unpaved roads, but that it was unclear whether the money would be used on roads in the Buffalo River's watershed. The success of efforts to contain feral hogs, which have plagued many states, or to address algae outbreaks remain to be seen, as well, he said.

    "Those are not bad ideas," Peterson said. "The question is whether they will carry through."


    Metro on 02/03/2018

    Print Headline: Panel on river outlines its goals


  • 30 Jan 2018 8:55 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MIKE MASTERSON: Arkansas' top attraction

    Good and bad

    By Mike Masterson

    Posted: January 30, 2018 at 2:17 a.m.


    NWAOnline


    First, some good news. A USA Today readers' poll has just named our Buffalo National River, the country's first to be so designated, as the state's best in its list of "Top Ten Arkansas Attractions."


    That's not surprising since nearly 1.8 million visitors came to enjoy our national treasure in 2016, sharing some $78 million with related businesses and area communities.


    Now, the bad news. The very same 154-mile-long Buffalo was named in a 2017 report by the American National Rivers advocacy group as among the country's "Most Endangered Rivers."


    The Buffalo was ranked the nation's ninth most imperiled based on the potential threat of contamination from the controversial C&H Hog Farms operating with 6,500 swine on karst-riddled terrain in the Buffalo watershed six miles upstream from the river.

    It's no doubt a dichotomy defying rational comprehension that one national survey ranks our national river as Arkansas' top-rated visitor attraction while in the same year another includes it among America's most endangered rivers.


    At this point it's only fair to insert that earlier this month the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (cough) denied the hog factory's request for a revised permit under a different regulation because of a number of deficiencies in the owners' application.


    In rejoicing that development, let's stand fellow Arkansans and call those hogs, although the factory continues to operate on a legal stay while preparing its appeal to the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.


    Being named Arkansas' top attraction certainly is a terrific honor and a big responsibility for our state government which, along with the National Park Service, bears official stewardship over preserving the Buffalo's purity and beauty for the entire country.


    USA Today's other Arkansas finalists were as follows in order from 10th place to second: Blanchard Springs Caverns, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, downtown Eureka Springs, Petit Jean State Park, Little Rock Central High, Garvan Woodland Gardens, Museum of Native American History, Mount Magazine State Park, and Old Mill at T.R. Pugh Memorial Park in North Little Rock.


    A panel of experts partnered with the paper's contest editors to come up with each state's initial 20 nominees. Those finishing in the top 10 were determined during four weeks of popular voting.


    Now, had they asked me, I'd have created a list that included Crystal Bridges, Eureka Springs and Blanchard Springs Caverns in the top four and thrown in the magnificent White River trout haven below Bull Shoals for good measure and popularity. But the Buffalo would have remained in first place.


    Also, hats off to the Johnny Morris Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in nearby Springfield, Mo., for being named USA Today's Best New Attraction in the U.S. It's a richly deserved recognition, all 350,000 square feet and 1.5 million gallons of that bona fide marvel.


    Meanwhile, back at the factory, the Department of Environmental Quality's recent decision to deny the application for a new permit was indeed a welcome breath of fresh air for many Arkansans and those across America who love the river and all it offers.


    As I've written previously but can't overstate, I'm certain the owners and operators of the factory are a decent family who know the swine business from squeal to tail. The problem has been solely with the location and the state's terrible decision to ever allow them to begin operating there. In that respect, I believe once this factory is closed, the state should do everything possible to assist these people financially.


    Then Arkansas badly needs to place a permanent moratorium on any further such factories in the national river's watershed.


    Robert E. Blanz, the Department of Environmental Quality's chief technical officer, sent a letter to the owners the other day that details specific reasons for denying their insufficient permit application.


    Amid the technical jargon, I understand those shortcomings include: The application doesn't contain a groundwater flow study around the facility's waste lagoons, which is necessary in such an environmentally sensitive location. It doesn't offer a specific recommended emergency action plan. It fails to present a required geologic investigation of both waste lagoons. The application doesn't comply with required technical geologic investigation of the lagoon berms, and there are significant issues with the lagoon liners.


    Finally, the compaction test and permeability analysis fail to comply with accepted agency standards and there is insufficient assessment of high-risk areas of the waste application sites such as soil thickness and water capacity.


    One highlighted passage on the agency's website also caught my eye as relevant with its wide authority to issue or deny Individual No Discharge Permits. 


    It reads: "An individual permit is tailored specifically for each application and allows ADEQ to put specific conditions on each permitted facility or activity depending on its unique conditions."


    It sure seems to me the country's first national river and our state's top attraction constitutes a seriously unique condition.

    ------------v------------

    Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.


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