Buffalo River 


  • 28 Jan 2018 10:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Dance with the one who brung ya

    By RICHARD MASON Special to the Democrat-Gazette

    The headline here was a comment made by legendary Texas coach Darrell Royal back in the SWC days when someone asked if he was going to throw the ball more.

    What does that have to do with Arkansas? Everything. We're not dancing with who brung us. We may say the Natural State, but we're sure not dancing to the Natural State tune, and we can't expect to succeed in enhancing our quality of life if we don't do the Natural State dance. And we're not dancing.

    If we really believe our natural beauty is the centerpiece of our state, then we'll dance with Mother Nature instead of destroying our natural beauty. I could fill up this column with examples such as "Hog farm on the Buffalo watershed." No one in their right mind who gives a whit about our state's natural beauty could possibly think a hog farm on the Buffalo watershed is dancing with who brung ya.

    And just think about all the dozens of empty or near-empty industrial parks that are bare scraped-off acres sitting empty with only a lottery's chance of ever seeing an actual plant or factory being located there. The list goes on and on, and everything on that list is basically anti-Natural State.

    That's the problem. So how do we switch dancing partners?

    The solution is simple. But it requires a total reversal of the way we approach almost everything we do in Arkansas. We must approach our daily decisions, whether big or small, with the same question. Will this enhance the Natural State, or will it diminish it? The second part of that question is just as important: What can be done to stop those who are destroying the beauty of the Natural State?

    I believe if we enhance our natural beauty, then all of its benefits will be protected and we will truly have a state where cities, towns, and woodlands will have an ever-increasing quality of life. Skilled high-tech professionals who are fed up with the traffic and pollution in our mega cities will gravitate to a true Natural State, where they can have the enhanced quality of life everyone wants.

    What can the average Arkansawyer do to enhance the Natural State? Let's start with the items that add up by making a small addition every year compounded by thousands of others making similar additions.

    The most natural thing I can think of is our trees. We have a lot of trees, but we have thousands upon thousands of blank places that are just crying for trees. Before you point at that empty parking lot, check out your front yard. Remember, a great shade tree in your front yard can cut your utility bill by as much 25 percent and give the appraised value as much as a $10,000 boost.

    Every positive addition to items such as trees to the Natural State adds to our quality of life. If you would like to be a part of a great group of tree planters, join with Street Trees Little Rock and give a donation or help plant a tree.

    The blank parking lots in every town in the state cry for greenery, and the stuck-in-the-1950s landlords who think trees are fluff are keeping the shopping center tenants from reaching their stores' potential. Government studies have confirmed the obvious: Landscaped shopping centers do 25 percent more business than blank lots.

    But it's not just a landscaped shopping center, it's everything that--for a better word--is ugly. If you look down your gateway street into your town, is it ugly? Is it full of garish, oversized signs? Are the utility wires cluttering the treeless street? Yes, it's easy to see ugly if you pay attention to your surroundings, but that's part of the problem. We just blank out those ugly scenes with thoughts such as "It would cost too much." Or, "It's not important." Or "Trees would just get in the way and maybe I couldn't see the 60-foot tall McDonald's sign."

    But let's face it, folks, we're not leading the pack in good taste and environmental progress. No, we're bottom feeders who ignore cities that are making quality of life improvements. All of the items I have mentioned are already in place in progressive towns, and we'll catch up someday---maybe. But we need to start.

    And as our population becomes more proactive, it will happen. So why not be a troublemaker and start insisting on some of the obvious additions to our state that will bring us up to the Natural State image? Yes, when you go to a city council meeting in Arkansas and start insisting on a sign ordinance or planting trees, or putting utilities underground, you will be called a troublemaker.

    Being proactive is more than planting trees. It also consists of opposing things that are detrimental to our ecosystem. A good example is the forestry bill proposed by U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman. My opinion, and the opinions of many others who don't want our national forests to become corporate timber farms, is that we should oppose the bill, but if Congressman Westerman thinks it is such a great bill, he should come down to El Dorado and hold a town hall meeting to explain why.

    Congressman, just give me a date, and I'll reserve the largest facility in South Arkansas for a town hall meeting, and I'll guarantee you a great crowd. And while you're here, you can tell us why the $142,000 in contributions from the forestry industry didn't influence the writing of the bill.

    Richard Mason is a registered professional geologist, downtown developer, former chairman of the Department of Environmental Quality Board of Commissioners, past president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, and syndicated columnist. Email richard@gibraltarenergy.com.

    Editorial on 01/28/2018

  • 28 Jan 2018 9:35 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    REX NELSON: A conservation ethos

    By Rex Nelson

    Posted: January 28, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.


    There are few predictions that can be made with confidence these days when it comes to national politics. In Arkansas, though, it's safe to assume that Republican control of state government will continue for a long time. The surprise in this state wasn't that the shift from Democratic to GOP control happened. It was how quickly it occurred.

    At the end of 2010, five of the six members of the Arkansas congressional delegation were Democrats, all seven of the statewide constitutional officers were Democrats, and there were large Democratic majorities in the state Senate and the state House of Representatives. Now, all six members of the state's congressional delegation are Republicans, all seven of the statewide constitutional officers are Republicans, and there are large GOP majorities in both houses of the Arkansas Legislature. I don't see that changing in November.

    The Democratic stranglehold on Arkansas politics lasted 130 years. I suspect the pendulum will swing before 13 decades pass, but here's a sure way for the GOP to lose control in Arkansas earlier than its members would like: Forget the history of your own party and fail to understand your constituents and what makes them tick.

    The resurgence of most Republican state parties in what had been the solidly Democratic South began when Southerners deserted their previous party to protest Democratic support of civil rights reforms at the national level. Congressional approval of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was anathema to many white Southerners. Large numbers of these Southerners voted for Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and for George Wallace on the American Independent Party ticket in 1968. They then voted for Richard Nixon's re-election in 1972 and likely have voted for almost every GOP nominee since then.

    Arkansas is different. The modern Arkansas Republican Party is the creation of Winthrop Rockefeller, who lost to Democratic Gov. Orval Faubus in 1964 but came back to win two-year terms in 1966 and 1968. Rockefeller was the first Southern governor since Reconstruction to appoint blacks to high-level positions in his administration and was the only Southern governor to join hands with black civil rights leaders following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis five decades ago. Rockefeller was an advocate for an improved education system, prison reform, and conservation of the state's natural resources. As you can see, the history of the Arkansas Republican Party is nothing like that of its counterparts in places such as Mississippi and Alabama.

    When it comes to understanding the voters, the first thing officeholders must understand is that we call ourselves the Natural State, and Arkansans take that seriously. The percentage of Arkansans who hunt, fish, hike and otherwise enjoy the outdoors is higher than the national average. In a column at the end of 2017, I wrote about trends I've noticed in my travels across the state. I noted a renewed emphasis on conservation. Public concern about commercial hog-growing operations in the Buffalo River watershed has ignited a new era of activism in Arkansas.

    Conservation shouldn't be confused with environmental extremism. A balance must be reached in a state where farming and forestry are major parts of the economy. When in doubt, however, the safest route in Arkansas is to side with the conservationists. That can be hard for elected officials to do when their top donors are pushing for no regulation. But when it comes to the ballot box, there are a lot more Arkansans out there hunting, fishing and hiking than there are people giving big campaign donations so they, in turn, can make more money. The math is simple.

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a moderate Republican on most issues, understands this. I'm not sure that legislators do.

    In that same end-of-the-year column, I noted that some of the Arkansas heroes of the 20th century were people who organized efforts to preserve our state's beauty and natural resources. Officeholders would do well to read the stories of men such as Dr. Neil Compton of Bentonville and Dr. Rex Hancock of Stuttgart.

    Compton was the founder of the Ozark Society and led the fight to prevent dams on the Buffalo River. The Ozark Society was formed during a meeting on May 24, 1962, at Fayetteville. John Heuston writes for the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture that Compton was "a physician of obstetrics by profession and a conservationist by avocation" who led "a vigorous and eventually successful campaign to stop the construction of two dams on the Buffalo River (Gilbert and Lone Rock) that were proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."

    Nixon signed legislation on March 1, 1972, that made the Buffalo the nation's first designated National River to be managed by the National Park Service. Compton's 1992 book The Battle for the Buffalo River: A Conservation Crisis in the Ozarks was nominated for a National Book Award. Compton died on Feb. 10, 1999, at age 86.

    Hancock, a dentist, led the battle to prevent channelization of the Cache River in east Arkansas. He was born and raised in Missouri, but his interest in duck hunting led him to move to Stuttgart in 1951. Congress had first approved funds in 1950 for the Corps of Engineers to dredge the Cache. Hancock helped form an organization called the Citizens' Committee to Save the Cache and received national media attention for his dogged determination. A federal court halted dredging operations in 1972, and the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge was later created. Hancock, who served as president of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation and as a regional director of the National Wildlife Federation, was named by Outdoor Life magazine as the national Conservationist of the Year in 1973. He died on July 8, 1986, at age 63.

    Most Arkansas officeholders are too young to remember Neil Compton and Rex Hancock. They would be wise to read their stories. After all, we're the Natural State.


    Rex Nelson is a senior editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

    Editorial on 01/28/2018

  • 24 Jan 2018 8:35 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    BRENDA BLAGG: A tempered victory

    Road for opponents to hog farm remains long

    By Brenda Blagg

    Posted: January 24, 2018 at 1 a.m.


    That highly controversial hog farm in the Buffalo National River's watershed has been denied a state permit for its continued operation.

    It might seem time for jubilation, but the fight for the integrity of the free-flowing national river is hardly over.

    C&H Hog Farms, which supplies swine to pork producers, initially received a state permit in 2012 through a process that famously happened without public input.

    Soon after, residents of the Mount Judea (Newton County) area, where the farm is located, and Buffalo River enthusiasts from all over the state and nation realized what had happened. They organized and fought back, often futilely.

    They're still fighting and won't stop until the concentrated hog-feeding operation, located near a tributary of the Buffalo, is a distant memory -- and no more are allowed to threaten the treasured river that attracted nearly 1.8 million visitors in 2016.

    Time on C&H Hog Farms' initial permit, granted in 2014, expired a while back; but the business is still operating while it appeals the state's denial of an extension.

    Obviously, the farmers who own C&H have invested heavily in the hog operation. They don't want to lose their investment and are doing what they can to win a permit extension for what is now a 6,500-pig feeding operation.

    The pigs aren't the problem. It is the waste they generate, estimated to amount to more than 2.3 million gallons of hog manure that is supposedly contained in two waste-holding ponds. And then there is the additional waste and wastewater that gets applied to the farmland that overlays the region's porous karst topography.

    Does that waste make its way to the adjacent Big Creek? Or into the Buffalo?

    There has been a lot of monitoring and scientific studies and steps to hold C&H to a high operating standard in the intervening years. But the fear that the watershed could be polluted remains as strong as ever.

    There are strong objections not just to the way the original permit got approved for the large hog far but also to the lengthy delay in getting a decision on C&H's application for a new permit.

    They applied for a new permit in April 2016 and didn't get a decision from the state until a couple of weeks ago.

    The denial finally came from the state Department of Environmental Quality earlier this month.

    Importantly, the farmers were protected in that long interim (463 days) as state regulators allowed C&H to operate on their expired permit.

    So, when the agency declined to issue a new permit, was that a death knell for the hog farm?

    No. C&H has appealed that decision to the state board that oversees the agency, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.

    Last week, the commission stayed the agency's decision, allowing C&H to continue operations until the appeal process is over.

    If the farmers had not gotten the stay, they would presumably have had to submit plans for shutting down the operation and cleaning up the site.

    They got the stay, so there will be no shutdown or cleanup for a while longer. The hog farm can keep operating on that expired permit throughout this appeal process.

    You can get way deep in the regulatory weeds to try to understand why the permit application stalled for so long. Remember, the decision to allow the first permit was unduly rushed and shrouded with too much secrecy.

    So, chalk part of the delay on the new permit up to a more transparent process and closer scrutiny by the regulators amid unrelenting objections from opponents to this or any other large animal-feeding operation in the Buffalo's watershed.

    Denial of the permit could eventually mean those foes will prevail. Just don't get too excited.

    Even with the recent denial, delay continues to work for the hog farmers. They'll keep feeding those thousands of pigs as the appeal continues.

    They've had to pay a huge price, including the cost of lawyers and others to keep up their side of the fight. But they're still in it, just as are the many thousands who are determined to protect the Buffalo River.

    Commentary on 01/24/2018

  • 23 Jan 2018 3:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Why ever permitted?

    I'm interested to see how the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (cough) can adequately explain how in 2012 it so quickly, quietly and wrongheadedly granted a general operating permit to C&H Hog Farms in the sensitive Buffalo National River watershed without insisting on extensive geologic and groundwater flow studies in such karst-riddled terrain.

    Why didn't it strictly then follow its own manual's requirements for licensing such a large concentrated animal feeding operation before even considering such a misguided permit? Were certain members of that politicized agency perhaps doing a favor?

    If I were the agency's director, I'd be asking every staff member and whoever approved the original permit in such an inappropriate location some pointed questions.

    Mike Masterson

  • 23 Jan 2018 3:38 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Buy out that factory


    Much has appeared in the pages of the Democrat-Gazette concerning the confined feeding site near Jasper. I do not call this a farm, for it does not embody what one traditionally envisions with that word. This is a factory operation, albeit with living creatures, but a factory in reality. This factory never should have been allowed to set up operations in its present location and I believe it would not have if the proper protocol had been followed, but that's another letter.

    It would seem the primary concern in shutting this probable environmental disaster is the livelihood of the owners. I have to question how you balance the income of three owners against the well-being, livelihood and enjoyment of the hundreds of people who make a living off the Buffalo River and the thousands of people who flock to its waters for fun and relaxation.

    I don't think anyone can argue with the fact the operation is in the wrong place or that the owners would suffer monetarily. So if this is all about money (as most things unfortunately are these days), let us find a way to remedy the situation.

    Mike Masterson has been a vocal critic since the beginning. I challenge you, Mr. Masterson, to start a fund to buy out C&H. If every person who has ever recreated on the Buffalo contributes just $5 to $10, the fund would be huge. I am confident that with your wide readership you could present a check to C&H that would not only put a smile on their faces, but enable them to "farm" piggies in a more suitable location.



  • 23 Jan 2018 3:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Maybe this solution


    How about this for a possible solution to the hog farm near the Buffalo River?

    Offer to trade out their hog-feeding permit for a medical marijuana grow permit, allow the pigs currently on site to grow out, gradually replacing their space with indoor marijuana grow operations.

    God knows there is probably enough natural fertilizer in those two ponds on site to grow some pretty potent weed, and everybody's happy!


    North Little Rock

  • 23 Jan 2018 3:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Closure is only victory in fight against hog farm


    Thousands of letters have been sent to the governor of Arkansas and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality asking that the C&H hog factory farm in the Buffalo River watershed be denied their permit for operation.

    Now the State Regulation 5 permit to C&H has been denied by the Department of Arkansas Environmental Quality.

    Is this a victory? Only if the hog factory farm ceases operation in the watershed.

    Was this a victory? Only if the hog factory farm ceases operation in the watershed.

    The hog factory farm requested a stay before they had even appealed, which is a questionable order of procedure. The current granted stay is until Feb. 10 and will likely be extended when C&H appeals the ADEQ decision. This means they will continue operation in the Buffalo River’s watershed while the legal morass of the anticipated appeal process unfolds, which could take months, even years.

    This raises many questions and concerns. Not small among them are the following:

    • Aren’t many of C&H Hog factory farm fields at or above optimum levels of phosphorus?

    • What about the likelihood of “legacy” phosphorus continuing to build and ultimately impacting the Buffalo National River?

    • What about the hundreds of small businesses that are dependent upon the health and quality of the Buffalo River to continue their livelihoods?

    • Will Gov. Hutchinson support a permanent moratorium (the current moratorium is temporary) of hog factory farms and the spreading of hog waste in the Buffalo River watershed?

    We the people of Arkansas need to require no less than closure of C&H and a permanent moratorium of medium- and large-scale hog operations, including the spreading of hog waste from such facilities, in the Buffalo National River watershed.


  • 20 Jan 2018 9:17 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansas swine farm in Buffalo River watershed files appeal over denial of a permit

    By Bill Bowden

    Posted: January 20, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.


    The attorney for a Newton County hog farm has filed an appeal of the state's decision to deny the farm's permit to continue operating.

    William Waddell of Little Rock filed the appeal Thursday on behalf of C&H Hog Farms, arguing that the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality denied the permit because C&H didn't provide information that it was never asked to provide.

    Waddell wrote that the department's decision was "arbitrary, capricious, not in accordance with state and federal law, in violation of the Arkansas and United States Constitution, and not supported by generally accepted scientific and engineering knowledge and practices."

    Waddell wants the opportunity to present evidence and make an oral argument before the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, which is the appellate body of the state's Environmental Quality Department.

    C&H owns and operates a concentrated animal feeding operation in Mount Judea. C&H has about 6,500 pigs at its farm near Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo National River.

    The Buffalo River, administered by the National Park Service, encompasses 135 miles of the 150-mile-long river, which traverses Newton, Searcy and Marion counties before flowing into the White River just inside the Baxter County line. 

    The national park attracted nearly 1.8 million visitors in 2016.

    Concerns for the Buffalo River have galvanized opposition to the farm. Opponents fear that pig manure stored in pits or spread on land could pollute the scenic, free-flowing river that's popular with floaters, fishermen, hikers and campers.

    C&H had until Feb. 10 to file the appeal after the Jan. 10 denial of the farm's application for renewal of its operating permit in the Buffalo River watershed.

    The department stated in its permit denial that it did not have sufficient information to ensure compliance with Regulation 5.402, which sets out the design and waste management systems as described in a technical guide and the Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook, both published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    After a hearing Wednesday in Little Rock, the commission issued a stay in the case. C&H can continue operating until the appeal process is concluded.

    Attorneys for the farmers argued that the stay should be granted on the grounds that failure to grant it would close the farm and cause irreparable harm to the farmers' livelihoods. 

    C&H is owned by Jason Henson and his cousins Phillip Campbell and Richard Campbell.

    Opponents of the farm argued that the stay couldn't be legally granted when the permit is not under review.

    The department didn't take a position at the hearing.

    Henson didn't return a telephone call Friday seeking comment about the appeal, and Waddell said he wasn't authorized to discuss it.

    In the appeal, Waddell listed four "issues" with the permit denial:

    • Issue 1: Denial of the permit wasn't an option because C&H had submitted a timely and complete application for renewal of its Regulation 6 permit. Regulation 6 pertains to state administration of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

    Two weeks after C&H applied April 20, 2016, to renew its Regulation 6 permit, the state decided to stop issuing those permits. They were set to expire Oct. 31, 2016.

    "The department made the decision not to renew this general permit after an extensive review of all comments received during the public comment period," Becky W. Keogh, director of the Environmental Quality Department, wrote in a notification May 4, 2016. "Only one facility had received coverage during the five-year term of the general permit. ADEQ determined such limited use was inconsistent with the intent of a general permit and, thus, did not warrant renewal."

    According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, individual permits are written to reflect site-specific conditions of a single discharger, whereas a general permit is written to cover multiple dischargers with similar operations and types of discharges.

    "Individual permits are issued directly to an individual discharger whereas a general permit is issued to no one in particular with multiple dischargers obtaining coverage under that general permit after it is issued," according to the agency.

    Earlier, on April 7, 2016, C&H also applied for a no-discharge permit under the commission's Regulation 5.

    The purpose of Regulation 5 is to establish the minimum qualifications, standards and procedures to issue permits for confined animal operations that use liquid animal waste management systems and to issue permits for land application sites within the state, according to the regulation.

    After the department's decision to stop issuing Regulation 6 permits, it returned C&H's Regulation 6 permit application and told the company it would be considered for a Regulation 5 permit instead, Waddell wrote.

    On Feb. 15, 2017, the department issued C&H a draft permit under Regulation 5. The comment period on the draft permit ended April 6, 2017.

    "Following the close of the comment period, ADEQ requested C&H to provide additional information, and by Dec. 29, 2017, ADEQ confirmed that all requested additional information had been submitted and received," Waddell wrote.

    The department denied the final permit Jan. 10.

    • Issue 2: The department failed to provide public notice of its proposed decision and an opportunity for comment before denying the permit, according to the appeal.

    • Issue 3: The permit denial was arbitrary, capricious and the department shouldn't be allowed to deny the permit for the reasons it stated, Waddell wrote.

    "Within days of issuing the permit decision, ADEQ represented that it had all of the additional information it required, and without providing any notice or an opportunity to respond, ADEQ denied the permit for the purported reason that information was lacking," according to the appeal.

    The decision should be reversed and C&H should be allowed to provide the additional information required, Waddell wrote.

    • Issue 4: Statements made in the department's response to comments shouldn't be considered in the appeal and were inappropriate to support the permit denial, Waddell wrote.

    Responses to some commenters provided "vague" references to information that was lacking in the permit application, including a groundwater flow study and geologic investigation of the waste storage ponds and berms, Waddell wrote.

    "None of the responses to comments makes any substantive findings on any of these issues, but rather states that adequate information has not been presented," according to the appeal.

    In some cases, the responses transformed recommendations in the Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook into "requirements that were not communicated to C&H before the denial of the permit application," Waddell wrote.

    C&H Hog Farms' original permit, granted in 2014, was never appealed to the commission because no one who opposed it submitted any public comments. Appeals must be based on issues raised in public comments that a commenter believes were not adequately addressed in the final permit decision.

    Many opponents of C&H have said they didn't comment on the original permit because they didn't know about it, noting that notice of the permit application was required to be posted only on the department's website rather than in a newspaper, as is required of other permits.

    Metro on 01/20/2018

  • 18 Jan 2018 10:22 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Listen here: Arkansas Public Media

    Controversial C&H Hog Farm Gets A Favorable Hearing, Still Faces Steep Permit Denial Appeal


    The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission’s unanimous vote today not to enforce any immediate action following a decision earlier this month to deny C&H Hog Farm an operating permit was a win for the beleaguered and controversial swine operation, but a slight and temporary one.

    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality announced on Jan. 11 its decision to deny the permit after more than 21 months. The hog operation has been operating on a lapsed permit until now.

    The commission voted unanimously — with one member, Dr. Gary Wheeler, abstaining — not to actively enforce the permit denial until an appeal of the decision can be heard, though to date C&H hasn’t filed any appeal, a fact that administrative law judge Charles Moulton repeated often.

    The hog farm supplies JBS U.S.A., a global meat processing company, hogs for pork processing. It’s lapsed permit capped the number of piglets at 4,000 and sows at about 2,500. The new permit sought to bump the number of sows and piglets and add boars. It estimated that animal waste ponds at the facility might hold more than 2.3 million gallons of manure.


    The department denied the permit on the grounds that the application lacked critical information, specifically, “the requisite geological, geotechnical, groundwater, soils, structural, and testing information specified in Reg. 5.402” and “required by the Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook.”

    Following the vote, farm co-owner Jason Henson – the H in C&H – called the whole matter unfair.

    “This is a very serious matter to us. I mean this is — we feel we’re being treated unfairly, and the stay to let us prove our innocence in court is all we were asking for.”

    In fact, the appeals process does not entertain or adjudicate “innocence,” and lawyer Richard Mays, an opponent of the farm’s original permit and its new application, said reversing the agency’s denial is a tall order.

    “They’re in a very difficult position right now. The agency has denied the permit. It is a decision that basically depends upon the expertise and judgement of the agency, and these appeals are going to have to throw into question whether the agency abused that discretion. That’s a very high standard.”

    Mays, who represents the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, denied that the commission’s unanimous vote gave the farm any “momentum” going into the appeals process, if they appeal, but he did say the vote today felt “equitable.” It permits the business to continue to operate, which is important to the livelihoods of many at the hearing.

    But it doesn’t reverse the agency’s ultimate decision.

    Henson and many others, from the state farm bureau to the pork producer JBS U.S.A., spoke on behalf of the farm. Lots of opponents were there too, saying that waste runoff from the farm demonstrably damages the water quality of the Buffalo River.

    The farm and its advocates have until Feb. 10 to file an appeal. Administrative law judge Charles Moulton said that, if it’s denied or no appeal is filed, the next step would be for the farm to make a closure plan and turn it into the state.

    This story is produced by Arkansas Public Media. What's that? APM is a nonprofit journalism project for all of Arkansas and a collaboration among public media in the state. We're funded in part through a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, with the support of partner stations KUAR, KUAF, KASU and KTXK. And, we hope, from you! You can learn more and support Arkansas Public Media's reporting at arkansaspublicmedia.org. Arkansas Public Media is Natural State news with context.

  • 18 Jan 2018 9:31 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    State ecology panel gives hog farm a reprieve

    By Emily Walkenhorst

    Posted: January 18, 2018 at 3:51 a.m.
    Updated: January 18, 2018 at 3:51 a.m.

    The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission issued on Wednesday a stay of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's decision to deny C&H Hog Farms' application to continue operating in the Buffalo National River's watershed.

    Operators of the farm with its 6,503 pigs on Big Creek must appeal the department's decision by Feb. 10 to maintain the stay. If the farmers do so, the stay would continue until the appeal process concludes.

    Attorneys for the farmers argued Wednesday at a hearing that the stay should be granted on the grounds that failure to grant it would close the farm and cause irreparable harm to the farmers' livelihoods.

    Opponents of the farm argued that the stay could not be legally granted when the permit is not under review.

    The department did not take a position at the hearing.

    C&H Hog Farms operates on the Buffalo River's fifth-largest tributary -- Big Creek -- 6 miles from where it enters the Buffalo River. Concerns for the river, which attracted nearly 1.8 million visitors in 2016, have galvanized opposition to the farm.Its detractors fear that pig manure stored in pits or spread on land will pollute the scenic, free-flowing river popular with floaters, fishermen, hikers and campers.

    "We feel that we've been treated unfairly, and we hope this will give us an opportunity to bring that to light," said Jason Henson, a co-owner of C&H Hog Farms.

    Henson owns the farm with his cousins Richard Campbell and Phillip Campbell on family land near Mount Judea in Newton County.

    Opponents of the hog farm said they were not surprised by the commission's decision but were nonetheless frustrated.

    "I'm disappointed on behalf of the Buffalo River," said Brian Thompson, a board member on the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which had filed a motion to deny the farm's request for a stay. The alliance formed in 2013 to oppose the hog farm.

    The Pollution Control and Ecology Commission is the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's appellate body. The department approves and denies permits and permit modifications, and its decisions can be appealed to the commission.

    C&H Hog Farms' original permit was never appealed to the commission because no one who opposed it submitted any public comments. Appeals must be based on issues raised in public comments that a commenter believes were not adequately addressed in the final permit decision.

    Many opponents of C&H have said they did not comment on the original permit because they did not know about it, noting that notice of the permit application was only required to be posted on the department's website rather than in a newspaper, as is required of other permits.

    If the commission had not approved a stay Wednesday, the department would have asked C&H to submit plans to close and clean up its operations.

    During the nearly two-hour hearing on the motion Wednesday, attorneys and commissioners debated whether the farm could request the stay at all, given that its attorneys had not filed an appeal of the department's decision.

    Department regulations stipulate that the commission may not issue a stay on a permit denial while the permit is under review unless under "appropriate circumstances to avoid substantial prejudice to any party."

    "At this point there is no review," Buffalo River Watershed Alliance attorney Richard Mays said.

    "It's not appropriate. It's not timely to decide whether to stay a decision that's not even before you," Mays continued.

    C&H attorney Bill Waddell said he had not yet filed an appeal because it was unclear to him and his clients why the department had rejected the application.

    The department stated in its permit denial that it did not have sufficient information to ensure compliance with Regulation 5.402, which sets out the design and waste management systems as described in a technical guide and a federal handbook that is published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service.

    But Waddell stated repeatedly that he and his clients had reached out to the department to ensure it had all the information it needed.

    The commission's administrative law judge, Charles Moulton, cut off Waddell, stating that the question at hand Wednesday was whether a stay should be approved, not whether the denial was appropriate.

    Mays also argued that C&H's attorneys had provided no documentation explaining the damage they would face if they were forced to shut down.

    If shut down, Waddell said, C&H would lose its pigs via breach of contract with hog supplier JBS Live Pork and would have to buy them back if they were able to restart in the future.

    "It would be another eight to nine months from today before they could get back into an income producing or income stream," Waddell said.

    The commission heard 10 public comments Wednesday, including five from C&H supporters who expressed concern that not getting a stay would force the owners of C&H to lose their livelihoods.

    "We're going to lose everything if you don't grant me this stay. That's the way it is," Henson said. "JBS will pull their hogs out immediately, there's no ifs ands or buts about this. This is our livelihood that you're fiddling with here."

    Jerry Masters, executive vice president of Arkansas Pork Producers Association, and others noted that the department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had not found any environmental violations.

    "These folks are the gold standard of what we need from pork producers in Arkansas," Masters said.

    Other supporters argued that data collection done by University of Arkansas, Fayetteville researchers and a drilling project conducted in 2016 found no causes for concern.

    But opponents of C&H cited different data in arguing the opposite. U.S. Geological Survey data show a lack of dissolved oxygen in recent years in Big Creek downstream of C&H, they said. Low dissolved oxygen can harm aquatic life and be a precursor to algae.

    Opponents said said they fear an incremental degradation of Big Creek and the Buffalo National River if the farm continues to operate.

    Thompson of the watershed alliance argued that the farm never should have been built in the first place, according to the technical guide and field handbook, which recommend finding a waste management system other than C&H's holding ponds if porous karst terrain is found 5 feet below the bottom of a holding pond. In the case of C&H, karst was detected in the drilling study to be above that level, Thompson said.

    "In other words, it's saying that this thing shouldn't have even been built there," Thompson told the commission. C&H poses a continued risk, he said.

    Moulton told commissioners that he thought they had three options on C&H's request. They could deny the stay by citing a lack of jurisdiction because no appeal had been filed; they could approve the stay to last only the duration of the period in which C&H can appeal; or they could initiate their own review of the permit in the absence of an appeal, triggering the public notice of the review to the more than 10,000 permit commenters.

    He called the dilemma the "quintessential unorthodox situation." He said he wasn't aware of any legal precedent for the situation.

    Commissioner Joe Fox, the state forester, motioned to approve a stay during C&H's window to appeal, with several seconds.

    Commissioner Gary Wheeler, who represents the Arkansas Department of Health, said he was concerned about the commission's authority to issue the stay and that he was unsure of the harm C&H faced by not being granted the stay and what the conditions of the farmers' contract with JBS are.

    "I am concerned that we would be making this decision without really having the authority of the statute," he said.

    After many questions about the proposed stay, the commission's regulations and the impact of voting either way, the commission handily approved the stay.

    Wheeler abstained from the vote, and Commissioner Robert Reynolds recused because of a conflict of interest over the type of permit C&H sought. The other commissioners, who were all present either in person or via telephone, voted in favor.

    A map showing the location of C&H Hog Farm

    Metro on 01/18/2018

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