Buffalo River 


  • 05 Mar 2017 10:08 AM | Anonymous

    Permit hearing set for C&H Hog Farms

    By Emily Walkenhorst

    Posted: March 5, 2017 at 1:02 a.m.


    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality will hold a public hearing Tuesday evening on C&H Hog Farms' application for a permit to continue its Mount Judea operations.

    The public hearing is at 6 p.m. at the Jasper School District auditorium in Jasper.

    The department gave preliminary approval of the facility's permit application Feb. 15, pending a public comment period.

    The 30-day comment period ends at 4:30 p.m. March 17.

    C&H Hog Farms Inc., near Mount Judea in Newton County, sits on Big Creek about 6 miles from where it converges with the Buffalo National River. It is the only federally classified large hog farm in the river's watershed and is currently permitted to house up to 6,000 piglets and 2,503 sows.

    C&H applied for a permit under Regulation 5, the state's no-discharge permit program, after the department canceled the type of permit the facility previously had. Provisions of the proposed new permit are not much different, the department has said.

    The new permit further clarifies that discharge from the facility is not allowed outside of a major flood event, defined as a 24-hour, 25-year event. The hog manure ponds will still be required to leave room at the top to prevent overflow in the event of rain. And while C&H has altered the number of hogs it intends to keep on site, officials don't expect a significant difference in the amount of waste they will produce.

    C&H, which has operated since 2013, has been accused of posing a pollution risk to the river because of its size.

    State-funded researchers working at and with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture continue to monitor the farm to see whether it is affecting the river and have so far released no definite finding. A drilling project conducted last fall found no evidence of a hog manure pond leaking. Researchers working with C&H opponents say dye tracing has indicated how water can flow from near the farm into the river.

    The Buffalo National River had 1.79 million visitors in 2016, the highest total ever.

    NW News on 03/05/2017

  • 05 Mar 2017 7:54 AM | Anonymous

    Joplin Globe

    Fight for first national river goes on

    BUFFALO NATIONAL RIVER — On May 24, 1962, conservationists meeting on the campus of the University of Arkansas chose a doctor named Neil Compton as president of their fledgling organization. The group called itself the Ozark Society, and one week later, Compton typed a letter to U.S. Sen. William Fulbright, an Arkansas Democrat, signaling the group’s intention to fight for the preservation of the Buffalo River.

    “It is throughout its entire length spectacular and beautiful,” Compton wrote.

    The genesis for that letter — and the vote to organize the Ozark Society — stemmed from a hearing four months earlier in the community of Marshall before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Proponents of a dam organized as the Buffalo River Improvement Association had hijacked that hearing, Compton told Fulbright, manipulating it to favor their plan for two dams, one near the mouth and the other near Gilbert, and silencing “those of us who wish to save this stream.”

    I was but 5 weeks old. I wouldn’t discover the Buffalo for another couple of decades, after it had been protected as a national park and declared America’s first national river in 1972. I put in for my first trip at Mount Hersey, just downstream of Big Creek on the upper river. I floated for the afternoon, camped on a gravel bar across from a bluff and spent the night listening to whippoorwills. The river — spectacular and beautiful — did not disappoint.

    Looking back, I see now that even with that first trip to the Buffalo I began buying into an illusion that comes with a declaration of protection, be it a national park or wilderness designation, and that is the belief that because a place had been saved once, that it has been saved forever. In fact, the opposite is true. Opponents of protected places, be they dam builders, industrial agriculture or development, only have to win their fight once and the place is lost forever; supporters of protected places have to win every time a challenge arises.

    In 2012, 50 years after Compton wrote that letter, a new front opened in the battle for the Buffalo, 6 miles up that same Big Creek, where a permit was granted by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality for a large farm of 6,500 hogs, producing 2 million gallons annually of untreated waste.

    From the start, opponents of that permit as well as many of the hog farm’s neighbors shared a sentiment that Compton would have recognized: They suspected the process had been hijacked, in this case by a cozy relationship between regulators appointed by politicians and their allies in corporate agriculture, leading to a “done deal,” while those who opposed the hog operation were kept in the dark to silence them.

    While there have been modifications to the permit since, the river’s defenders haven’t had much of a chance to weigh in on the permit itself. Until now. The hog farm last year had to apply for a new permit to keep operating, and that opened a 30-day public comment period that ends March 17, and it includes a public hearing on Tuesday in Jasper, Arkansas, in the school auditorium.

    11 percent

    For me, more trips followed that first float, with friends, with family, then with kids, sometimes all of the above, sometimes alone. Floating the Buffalo today, with its towering river birches and sycamores, guided by herons, patrolled by bald eagles, it has the feel of a place protected. 

    It’s an easy trap to fall into, especially when poking about the bluffs and waterfalls on the upper river, canoeing past elk at Steel Creek, or getting an escort from river otters one evening while float camping along the lower river. 

    But that’s just the illusion. The reality is that this is a shoestring park, just a thin corridor of green space along much of the river. In fact, only 11 percent of the watershed of America’s first national river is protected. Outside that 11 percent, there are few guarantees.

    “I think people would assume that the first national river ever created would be afforded a little higher protection.”

    That’s what Gordon Watkins, president of Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, told me last week. His is one of the groups that is now leading the fight to protect the river from the hog farm, along with the Ozark Society and others.

    Different administrations have prohibited large industrial farms in the watershed, he noted, but administrations change. Today, if the permit is granted, the farrowing operation on Big Creek will house nearly 2,700 sows and hundreds of piglets at any given time, with two waste ponds holding 2.3 million gallons of hog manure that opponents worry might one day seep into the ground and then the river, or overflow and contaminate both the creek and the Buffalo. 

    Of even greater concern is what Watkins characterized as the “insidious creeping contamination” that could result when liquid waste from the hog farm is applied on dozens of nearby fields, all in the watershed of Big Creek. The owners of the farm say they have taken appropriate precautions and that regulatory safeguards exist, but many others don’t want to take that risk.

    Watkins is a farmer who lives along the Little Buffalo, the Buffalo’s biggest tributary and who also rents cabins to some of the 1.4 million visitors to the park each year.

    “It is going to continue to fall on citizens to hold their feet to the fire,” he said, referring to those responsible for issuing operating permits and their elected leaders.

    If history offers any lesson, it might be this: Attempts 55 years ago to sneak through a proposal ultimately backfired. They became the catalyst for conservation action — and not just for the Ozark Society. The Arkansas Chapter of the Nature Conservancy was organized in 1961 in response to proposals to dam the Buffalo; it recently bought more than 1,400 acres along Big Creek that it plans to protect. The latest fight for the Buffalo could be the catalyst for another generation of conservationists.

    Compton interview

    In 1992, after Bill Clinton was elected president, I spent part of a week in Northwest Arkansas asking people what we might expect of the new president. One of the people I interviewed was Compton, then living in Bentonville, Arkansas. It had been 30 years since that letter, 20 years since the Buffalo became America’s first national river. 

    Clinton had received the endorsement of major environmental organizations, and I was curious to see what Compton thought as an icon in the conservation community. He was direct, and beneath it, there seemed to be a frustration. He noted that there were 600 miles of streams in Northwest Arkansas that were unsafe for swimming because they were heavily contaminated with poultry and livestock runoff from industrial agriculture, much of it taking place while Clinton served as Arkansas attorney general and later governor.

    Compton said Clinton’s heart wasn’t in the environment but rather “in politics,” and therein was the problem. It was unwise to trust something so “spectacular and beautiful” but also so vulnerable and assailable to the political/regulatory machinery that is increasingly being captured by big-moneyed corporate interests. 

    And just as he signaled to Fulbright that the war was on, he signaled to his supporters as well that the war was not over, even though they won the battle in 1972.

    In his book, “The Battle for the Buffalo,” Compton wrote that its fate was still subject to whims of lawmakers.

    “For that reason, it must be constantly monitored by level-headed conservationists and defended from exploitation ...”

    “The challenge goes on,” Compton is also quoted as saying. “I challenge you to step forward to protect and care for the wild places you love best.”

    Andy Ostmeyer is metro editor at the Globe. His email address is aostmeyer@joplinglobe.com.

    River concerts

    • The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance will hold a 45th birthday party and benefit concert for the Buffalo National River on Sunday, March 12, at George’s Majestic Lounge, 519 W. Dixon St., in Fayetteville, Ark.

    New Orleans musician Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes and the Louisiana Sunspots, a six-piece band, will be performing at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6 p.m. There is a $15 entry fee at the door. Net proceeds and other donations go to assist the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance.

    Sunpie, who is originally from Arkansas, served as a Buffalo National River naturalist for four years and as a ranger for the National Park Service for 30 years while also pursuing his musical career. He recently completed a 58-city tour spanning 34 countries, playing in the bands of both Paul Simon and Sting in their “Paul Simon and Sting Together” tour. He also has performed for more than 20 years at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and shared the stage at festivals with such artists as Willie Nelson, BB King, Dr. John, The Neville Brothers, Willie Dixon and Phish. 

    • National Park Radio, a modern folk group from Harrison, Ark., will perform at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 22, at the Steel Creek Campground near Ponca on the Buffalo National River. 

    Bring lawn chairs and blankets. Food vendors will be on site. Buffalo National River Partners is sponsoring the event, which is part of an Earth Day celebration that also will include a cleanup float at 10 a.m. Sunday, April 23, from Pruitt to Hasty. 

    For more information or to register, visit Buffalo National River’s calendar of events at www.nps.gov/buff.

  • 04 Mar 2017 9:38 AM | Anonymous

    Voice for our river

    By Mike Masterson

    Posted: March 4, 2017 at 2:35 a.m.


    Our state's Department of Environmental Quality (cough) will pretend like it's listening next Tuesday as we the people they supposedly serve cuss and discuss issuing a "no discharge" state permit for the controversial C&H Hog Farms.

    That would be a change to the current federal operating permit the agency wrongheadedly approved in the sacred Buffalo National River watershed.

    This agency sure didn't sufficiently allow for public input in 2012 when it quickly and quietly satisfied special interests and political connections by installing the mega-waste-manufacturing factory with more than 6,000 swine.

    You may recall that neither the former agency director nor the governor said they knew C&H's permit had been issued until it had been. Issuing it anyway turned out to be Democrat former Gov. Mike Beebe's biggest regret in office, he conceded. Now accountability for protecting the purity of the country's first national river falls on the shoulders of GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

    Any contamination of our Buffalo in the face of so many credible warnings will come on his watch.

    The period for public comment on renewing the C&H permit ends March 17. Many of you have asked what you can do. This is the time to get your position on record with the Department of Environmental Quality and the governor's office about removing this factory from such a wholly inappropriate landscape.

    Folks at the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance insist the original C&H permit was improperly and hastily approved because, disgracefully enough, it really was. This time, they're ready to express the relevant and significant points of fact that should have been aired five years ago come Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. in Jasper's high school.

    This group has amassed plenty of credible reasons for legitimately denying this permit now that the process is finally transparent.

    For instance: The permit alteration C&H owners have applied for would change from operating under a regularly reviewed federal regulation with a five-year expiration to a state version without expiration or review requirement. It's also being sought without making significant changes to the factory's method of discharging its enormous amounts of raw waste.

    The alliance contends the C&H application should be denied because changes in eliminating pollution from the factory's waste source have not been proposed or accomplished. The only significant change is to add another 599 acres on which to spread even more waste, potentially worsening any existing problems.

    In a news release, the alliance also contends, "While ADEQ and the applicant ... have gone to great lengths to avoid acknowledging that karst [fractured limestone] underlies this facility, scientific data clearly and unequivocally shows otherwise. Both the ERI studies ... in the fields and around the ponds, as well as the recent investigative drilling prove (as other reputable geologists have long contended and dye trace studies have shown) most of the spreading fields as well as the facility itself are situated atop karst."

    The alliance said the presence of karst should have led to a full environmental impact study, while triggering the requirement for a detailed geologic investigation because of the inordinate environmental risks that poses.

    The group also cites an alleged failure to comply with guidance in federal regulations involving possible excessive application of raw animal waste in spray fields, the failure to perform a "substantive evaluation of the impact of sudden breach or accidental release from waste impoundments" (lagoons), and the failure to "develop an emergency action plan which should be considered for waste impoundments where there is potential for significant impact from a breach or accidental release."

    In the same vein, the alliance alleges a "failure to account for proximity of a waste impoundment to sensitive groundwater areas, or to investigate groundwater flow direction, especially the failure to identify an improperly abandoned hand-dug well" less than 600 feet below the lagoons.

    I'll not cover the 80-something-page list of compelling and detailed arguments here. But rest assured, the Department of Environmental Quality will receive the full permanent record of what I believe is a very real potential calamity.

    It's most relevant to me that the group says the C&H permit also "fails to take into account evidence that discharge into Big Creek, and possibly the Buffalo National River, is already occurring."

    They explain that data collected by the Big Creek Research and Extension Team shows nitrate levels are consistently higher in Big Creek downstream of C&H fields than above them. The National Park Service, with concurrence of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, has requested that Big Creek now be declared as impaired due to low dissolved oxygen levels because of nutrient overloading. A recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey also confirmed low levels in Big Creek.

    But despite the evidence, our state's "environmental quality" folks haven't agreed that Big Creek is now an impaired stream. Suppose that's because they'd then have to determine the source of all those impairing nitrates? Oh, heaven forbid.


    Mike Masterson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

    Editorial on 03/04/2017

  • 01 Mar 2017 8:35 AM | Anonymous
    New "Beautiful Buffalo River" Action Committee Channels Clean River Agenda


    KUAF Radio - Listen to the broadcast here

  • 24 Feb 2017 8:34 AM | Anonymous

    Sierra Club Magazine


    C&H Hog Farms produces millions of gallons of animal waste deep in the “Jewel of Arkansas” 

    BY JONATHAN HAHN | FEB 24 2017

    Arkansas is often referred to as flyover country, seen only in passing from behind the double pane glass of an airplane window. What people are flying over happens to be the home of one of the most iconic watersheds in the United States—an area of rolling bluffs and streams so lush and pristine that in 1972 a Republican president, Richard Nixon, designated Arkansas’ Buffalo River the first National River in the United States. This coming March 1, it will be 45 years to the day since Nixon put the river under the protection of the National Park Service. 

    According to the law Nixon signed, the designation of the Buffalo National River was “for the purposes of conserving and interpreting an area containing unique scenic and scientific features, and preserving as a free-flowing stream an important segment of the Buffalo River in Arkansas for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations...” 

    Now, a “future generation” of Arkansas residents who inherited America’s first National River fear that an industrial-scale Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO, threatens the sensitive ecology they call home. C&H Hog Farms, originally under contract with Cargill until the Brazilian meat processor JBSpurchased Cargill’s pork division in 2015, dumps millions of gallons of hog urine and feces each year into giant waste lagoons, or ponds, just a few miles from the Buffalo River. That waste is then sprayed onto fields that are on the hillside or adjacent to Big Creek, a major tributary flowing into the Buffalo. C&H is the only CAFO operation of its size in the Buffalo River watershed and, according to concerned residents, it should never have been allowed there in the first place. 

    The Buffalo National River stretches across some 135 miles, from the Ozark Mountains to the White River, in a weave of interlacing channels—with free-flowing mountain water and waterfalls, limestone bluffs, and a sprawling labyrinth of more than 300 caves. It is home to a rich array of aquatic and other plant and animal life, such as rare freshwater mussels, in addition to three federally endangered bat species. It is one of the last undammed rivers in the United States. 

    The river is also a major economic driver for the state. According to a National Park Service report, the 1,463,304 visitors who came to the Buffalo National River in 2015 spent $62,243,200 in communities near the park, supporting 969 local jobs.

    C&H is a privately owned CAFO industrial swine farm in Big Creek, near Mount Judea in Newton County, that maintains approximately 6,000 hogs in large barns. It is co-owned by Richard and Phillip Campbell and their cousin Jason Henson (the "C" and "H," respectively, in "C&H") and operates under contract with JBS, which supplies the hogs. The facility, via its application, is permitted to store around 2.3 million gallons of feces and urine in two large waste ponds per a 180-day cycle. As with most CAFO operations, there is no sewage treatment for the waste beyond a process for distributing it on land via nearby application fields—a practice that often contaminates groundwater and poses serious risks to public health (see "The CAFO Industry's Devastating Impact on the Environment and Public Health" from the March/April 2017 issue of Sierra and accompanying video). The estimated amount of total manure C&H applied to its fields, some 498 acres of grassland, was just over 2.5 million gallons according to its own annual report for 2016. C&H was built just six miles from where Big Creek hooks up with the Buffalo River, and less than a mile from Mount Judea School—one of the poorest K-12 schools in the state. Several of the application fields are within just a few hundred feet of the school’s playground. 

    The siting of such an operation so close to the Buffalo River and a public school, and the surreptitious way in which it was permitted into existence, are now the contention points between the family of farmers who own C&H, and those who believe it is a threat to the river’s ecology, and their very way of life. 

    Gordon Watkins is the president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, an all-volunteer non-profit group of local stakeholders that was formed in response to C&H Farms. “It’s just a totally unacceptable risk,” he says. “There are so many other options that could’ve been taken, such as locating this particular business elsewhere where it would be less impactful, especially to the Buffalo.” 

    Watkins came to the Ozarks in 1973 as part of the back-to-the-land movement, just after the Buffalo was designated a National River. He is owner of Rivendell Gardens, which for over 40 years has grown vegetables and berries in addition to cows, pigs, and turkeys. Currently the farm mostly produces hay and blueberries, while operating a local cabin rental business. “I’m invested both as a longtime resident, one who loves the Buffalo River, and one who depends on the Buffalo River to generate a large part of my income for my cabin business,” Watkins says. “For the state to have allowed this to happen is a travesty.” 

    “It took us totally by surprise that anybody would ever put a hog CAFO farm near the Buffalo River,” says Dr. David Peterson, president of the Ozark Society. The Ozark Society was founded in 1962 to conserve the Buffalo River and played an instrumental role in keeping it from being dammed. It has been involved in a variety of conservation and outdoors initiatives since then. Now it has joined a coalition of groups to oppose C&H. “It was done sneakily,” Peterson says, referring to the siting. “There were a lot of protocols that weren’t followed.” 

    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) granted C&H a Regulation 6 general permit in August 2012, and construction of the facility got underway. Few knew about what was happening until December 2012, when the Park Service found out and began notifying the public. There was almost no public notice about the C&H application for the permit, and ultimately no public comments provided, which is highly unusual—for a project like this, there are normally hundreds of comments from the public. In this case there were none, because no one knew about it.

    A Regulation 6 permit had never been granted to a large swine operation until C&H applied for one, and no other operation has received one since. All hog CAFO permits in Arkansas require local notice: neighboring landowners must be notified, and announcements have to be posted online and in the local paper. But the Regulation 6 permit for which C&H applied lacked the standard notification requirement. The only information publically available about the C&H application was a brief notice buried in the ADEQ website, discoverable only if someone knew about the application in the first place. 

    Such an abject lack of transparency over something as monumental as putting millions of gallons of hog waste into a National River watershed has left local residents baffled, and outraged. 

    “If we had the opportunity to give public comments when that initial C&H permit was up for review in 2012, I’m confident that it would’ve been denied,” Watkins says. “But we didn’t have that opportunity. So now, it has been an uphill battle to make any progress with correcting the problem.” 

    Also, the Regulation 6 permit allowed the farm to come into operation with no site-specific conditions. Little was done to take into account the specific geology on which the operation would be located. The original application for the permit made no reference to the Buffalo River. It did mention the CAFO would be built on Big Creek, but identified it as being on the White River watershed, not the Buffalo River watershed—a significant omission. Just as significant, the application didn’t mention that the geology of the area is made of karst—a porous form of limestone and other soluble rocks particularly susceptible to groundwater contamination. The Buffalo watershed has a lot of sinkholes and caves; when it rains, everything flushes right down into the river. 

    Dye-tracing studies were conducted around C&H to investigate where waste might flow, if the waste ponds leaked. During the tests, dyed water injected into wells appeared not only in Big Creek, but on the other side of the Buffalo River, flowing into sinkholes and laterally below the river. It also flowed upstream into another Buffalo River tributary miles away. One of the dye traces went under a ridge and came up into the next watershed. 

    An assessment group called the Big Creek Research and Extension Team has released a series of quarterly reports showing consistently elevated levels of total nitrogen in the water—in some cases more than 150 percent—although the group makes no determination on whether those higher levels are the result of leakage from the C&H waste ponds or other sources. Hog manure contains high levels of nitrates and phosphorous that can cause toxic algae blooms and massive fish kills. 

    Bob Allen is a retired organic and environmental chemistry professor and the conservation chair of the Arkansas Canoe Club. “It’s not a matter of if there’s going to be ground contamination, it’s a matter of how much and when,” he says. “You cannot apply millions of gallons of hog feces and urine to a field that drains into the Buffalo River without some of it getting there. That’s pretty much a no brainer in my mind.”  

    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance pressured ADEQ to test if there was leakage under the C&H waste ponds. ADEQ hired an independent company to conduct the test, but only allowed for a single hole to be drilled, and the test was inconclusive. US EPA guidelines for investigating karst indicate that seven holes per acre should be drilled for such a test to be effective.   

    There is also the issue of overflowing. The design specifications for the waste ponds are that they must have a sufficient freeboard to guard against overflowing in a 25-year rain event. But if six or eight inches falls in 24 hours, which is not unlikely, the ponds could fill up and overflow the dirt banks. If that happens they will fail catastrophically and wash out. C&H has two waste ponds; Pond 1 is designed to overflow into Pond 2, but there is no concrete spillway should Pond 2 overflow. If Pond 2 had a catastrophic failure, it would dump millions of gallons of toxic manure into the Big Creek tributary leading into the Buffalo. 

    “We know that if any of these ponds leak, that potentially the bacteria and the phosphorous and the other wastewater can literally go down under the river and come up in another tributary,” says Carolyn Shearman, a member of the Sierra Club Central Arkansas Group executive committee. “This land is like Swiss cheese. We’re trying to be as protective as we can, monitoring phosphorous, sedimentation, and dissolved oxygen levels. If those oxygen levels sink to a certain point, the river will essentially be dead.” 

    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Ozark Society, the Arkansas Canoe Club, and the National Parks Conservation Association joined together with Earthjustice in a lawsuit in 2013 claiming the USDA-Farm Services Agency and the Small Business Administration conducted an improper environmental assessment of C&H Hog Farms when they guaranteed its loans. In 2014, U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Arkansas D. Price Marshall agreed, finding that the loans were arbitrarily given without properly assessing the environmental impacts. An appeal was upheld however, and the loan guarantees, which were on hold during the appeal, were allowed to stand. 

    In the wake of public outrage, in addition to thousands of state dollars spent researching the situation, the Republican governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, implemented a moratorium in 2015 on the construction of any new medium or large swine CAFO farms on the Buffalo National River watershed for the next five years. In September of 2016, he called for the Beautiful Buffalo River Initiative, featuring the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee, which includes officials from five groups including ADEQ, the Arkansas Heritage Commission, the Department of Agriculture, and others to make further recommendations. There is also a sub-group that has been formed to submit a watershed management plan. The stakeholders in the watershed plan include the Ozark Society and the Sierra Club, among others. 

    Meanwhile, C&H continues to operate as the only permitted industrial hog farm in the Buffalo River watershed. In June 2016, the farm applied to ADEQ for a Regulation 5 permit in order to keep operating, as their original Regulation 6 permit expired. C&H’s application was tentatively approved this past February 17, which activates a 30-day public comment period. Conservation and civic groups are weighing their next move. 

    “This land is like Swiss cheese. We’re trying to be as protective as we can, monitoring phosphorous, sedimentation, and dissolved oxygen levels. If those oxygen levels sink to a certain point, the river will essentially be dead.” 

    “The only victory we really have had is when the state legislature approved the moratorium on any other CAFOs in the watershed,” said David Peterson. “But it was by one vote. So in some sense, we’re hanging on by our fingernails.” 

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

    Bitting has been working with biologists in Oklahoma on testing water samples and working with local advocacy groups. “When C&H Hog Farms went into business, Big Creek was pretty much at its maximum limit of nutrients according to the water samples the National Park Service had pulled,” she said. “There were no stream assessments done at all. It was very poorly done.” 

    Bitting has taken scientists and university students on field visits to collect data and other samples, and is friends with others who work at the National Park Service, and at ADEQ. “It was devastating,” she said about when she first learned that the state had permitted a hog CAFO near the Buffalo River. “To me and a lot of people, we couldn’t even talk about it for a long time, because it just crushes your chest.”   

    Now, C&H is looking to transport its waste to another location known as EC Farms, which is a former swine operation that closed its doors and is currently just a series of application fields owned by a cousin of the Campbell brothers. EC Farms has requested a permit modification that would allow it to accept waste from C&H under a land application permit only. If it’s allowed to go through, C&H would have the ability to spread millions of gallons of waste into multiple watersheds, including Big Creek, the Little Buffalo, the Left Fork, and Hurricane Creek. 

    “The reason they are doing this,” Gordon Watkins says, “we think is because they have saturated their existing fields to the point where they won’t be able to use them anymore.” 

    The distance between the waste application fields permitted to EC Farms and those permitted to C&H Farms is about 20 miles, which means C&H could possibly be trucking thousands of gallons of manure and wastewater up and down the highway, all over the most scenic part of the county, also known as the Arkansas Grand Canyon. 

    Since JBS completed its purchase of the Cargill pork division over a year ago, and began its contractual relatoinship with C&H Hog Farms, there has been no effort to reach out to the local stakeholders here to address their concerns. When C&H was still under contract with Cargill, the company did send representatives for several such meetings. But ultimately, nothing was done.   

    Cargill declined to make someone available for this story; a company representative told Sierra that the staffers who were involved with C&H Farms at that time are no longer with the company. JBS USA and C&H Farms did not respond to multiple requests for comment. In published statements, most major meat producers such as Cargill, Tyson, and JBS maintain a similar position: CAFO farms are owned and operated by independent family farmers; anything that happens on their land is their business, and not the company’s responsibility. 

    Gordon Watkins says the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance has two primary goals: to close down the C&H hog farm, because it is the wrong facility in the wrong location and should never have been allowed in the first place, and to make sure no other CAFOs come into the watershed. One way to go about it would be to buy out the owners of the farm, make them whole, and shut it down. There were efforts early on in 2013 to do that, but those efforts have since gone nowhere. 

    The state of Arkansas made the mistake of allowing C&H Hog Farms into the Buffalo National River. Watkins believes it is now the state’s responsibility to make it right. “If C&H followed all the rules and they are not guilty of any violations, then the state needs to buy them out and correct the mistake so we can all move on,” he says. 

     “We have this shining jewel that is the image of what Arkansas could and should be,” says David Peterson. “Every place I speak, people are unanimous that we don’t want to trash the Buffalo River. Here we have this place that is beautiful and majestic, and it hurts us to think that it could be despoiled for the sake of one CAFO farm. The majority of Arkansans have been on the river. It’s our river, and they don’t want to see it spoiled for narrow economic reasons.” 

    “The Buffalo River is my home,” says Gordon Watkins. “My property is divided by the Little Buffalo, and I cross it to get to my house every day. Often I canoe across just to work on my cabin, or to take my kids to the schoolbus. I drink my water from a spring that flows out of the ground. I’m intimately connected to the water that’s part of the Buffalo. I drink it every day, I walk in it every day. I see it out my window. To think that it could be destroyed by a bad decision like this is just horrifying.” 

  • 17 Feb 2017 9:10 AM | Anonymous


    Hog farm gets tentative OK of new permit

    Opponent has ‘lots to say’ as comment period begins

    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality issued tentative approval this week for C&H Hog Farms' application for a new permit for its operations near Mount Judea.

    C&H applied April 7 for a new permit to keep operating. The department issued a draft decision approving the permit Wednesday, the day it also notified the public in the Newton County Times.

    C&H applied for a permit under Regulation 5, the state's no-discharge permit program, after the department canceled the type of permit the facility previously had. Provisions of the proposed new permit are not much different, according to Caleb Osborne, head of the department's water quality division.

    The new permit further clarifies that discharge from the facility is not allowed outside of a major flood event, defined as a 24-hour, 25-year event, Osborne said. The hog manure ponds will still be required to leave room at the top to prevent overflow in the event of rain. And while C&H has altered the number of hogs it intends to keep on site, officials don't expect a significant difference in the amount of waste they will produce.

    The tentative approval opens a 30-day public comment period on the proposed -- and technically existing -- operations of a pig farming facility whose existence has spurred push-back that has led to changes to department regulations, dozens of hours of public hearings, hundreds of public comments and hundreds of thousands of dollars in state-funded research on the facility's impact on its surroundings in the Buffalo River watershed.

    Opponents of C&H had complained in 2013 that the department's public notice process when the farm's owners first applied to operate in 2012 prevented people from learning about the permit and commenting on it. The department approved the farm's first operating permit after receiving no public comments in 2012.

    "The reason this is an important opportunity is because we were denied the opportunity in the first place," said Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which was formed in 2013 to oppose C&H's operations.

    Watkins said his group had "numerous pages of comments."

    "Believe me, we're going to have lots to say," he said.

    For example, Watkins said, his group plans to comment for the first time on the facility's nutrient management plan, which they believe is flawed.

    C&H officials did not return messages left Thursday. In the past, co-owner Jason Henson has noted the lack of findings of any pollution emitted from his facility and expressed exasperation at the opposition to the business.

    Watkins and others have been able to comment on permit modifications that C&H has applied for, such as an application to install synthetic liners underneath the farm's clay hog manure ponds. But no public comment period on the farm's entire operations has been opened since the summer of 2012.

    Only people who submit public comments can appeal a final permitting decision. In 2012, public notice of C&H's application was published only on the Department of Environmental Quality's website and not in a local newspaper as with most permits. Regulations surrounding public notice were later modified to include publication in a local newspaper and notification of certain local officials.

    C&H Hog Farms' operating permit expired Oct. 31, but the owners had applied for a new permit under a different state regulation last April. C&H Hog Farms then modified that permit request in June based on the department's approval of a permit modification at EC Farms to receive hog manure from C&H to spread on the ground as fertilizer.

    That approval was appealed, and the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission closed the appeal in January when it voted to adopt department Administrative Law Judge Charles Moulton's determination that EC Farms needed a separate permit for spreading hog manure on its property.

    People have 30 days from Wednesday, Feb. 15, to submit public comments. The comment period ends at 4:30 p.m. March 17. The department will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. March 7 at the Jasper School District auditorium in Jasper.

    C&H Hog Farms Inc., near Mount Judea in Newton County, sits on Big Creek about 6 miles from where it converges with the Buffalo National River. It is the only federally classified large hog farm in the river's watershed and is currently permitted to house up to 6,000 piglets and 2,503 sows.

    The new permit indicates that the facility would house up to six boars of about 450 pounds, 2,672 sows of at least 400 pounds and 750 piglets of about 14 pounds and estimates that the two waste-holding ponds would contain up to 2,337,074 gallons of hog manure. Additional waste and wastewater will be applied over certain sites as fertilizer.

    The Buffalo National River had 1.46 million visitors last year, the third-highest total since it became a national river and the highest since a record count of 1.55 million in 2009.

    C&H has been accused of posing a pollution risk to the river because of the farm's size. State-funded researchers working at and with the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture continue to monitor the farm to see whether it is affecting the river and have so far released no definite finding.Researchers working with C&H opponents say dye tracing has indicated how water can flow from near the farm into the river.

    The department hired a contractor in 2016 to determine whether the manure ponds were leaking into the ground after earlier research indicated a greater-than-anticipated level of moisture below them. The department asked contractor Harbor Environmental not to draw any conclusions from its research, which was released in December, and in January the department released its own findings that the moisture was simply groundwater.

    Metro on 02/17/2017

  • 11 Feb 2017 11:54 AM | Anonymous

    Back on the Buffalo

    By Mike Masterson

    Posted: February 11, 2017 at 1:57 a.m.


    The single bore hole drilled by our state's Department of Environmental Quality apparently found no leakage beneath the waste lagoons at C&H Hog Farms in Mount Judea. Anyone surprised?

    The hole was drilled through mostly solid rock to examine the results of an electrical resistivity imaging test conducted in March 2015 by Oklahoma State University hydrogeophysics professor Dr. Todd Halihan. Halihan's study initially identified a fracture and a sizable plume of unknown substance at 120 feet down.

    Although some indications of waste were detected by the drill hole, there wasn't enough to trigger official alarms. Wonder if the chlorinated water they used in drilling had anything to do with that? Critics, which include geoscientists and hydrologists, contend a single hole was insufficient to draw meaningful scientific conclusions.

    And so now we've been informed (by the state that wrongheadedly permitted the factory into our precious and fragile Buffalo watershed) that the tainted water found where Halihan's test had noted the plume was neither an alarming collection of raw hog waste nor peanut butter.

    The hole did reveal a sizable fracture characteristic of the limestone splits and caverns that permeate karst subsurfaces. It's this problematic karst subsurface that makes any hog factory such an environmental threat to the watershed of country's first national river. The Buffalo runs six miles downstream of Big Creek, where C&H is located.

    So we can all catch a few more winks at night knowing this single hole didn't reveal a lagoon leak, right? I only wish this bad dream was over.

    There remains a larger matter. How much continuously applied waste is required in karst terrain to finally overload the spray fields along Big Creek and seep into groundwater and on downhill to the Buffalo?

    University of Arkansas geoscience professor emeritus John Van Brahana and his team of volunteers have been studying that question from the time this factory began operating.

    Brahana, who's voluntarily performed the enormous public service, has lately prepared a peer-reviewed paper about his dye studies. Bottom line: The subsurface water on and around the factory's spray fields inevitably flow into Big Creek and underground openings to reach multiple locations along the Buffalo.

    "The Buffalo is the product of all activities that go on in its tributaries, and these waste-spreading fields are on very porous and permeable rocks," Brahana told me. "Sampling only surface water is looking at only a small entity of what caused those horrible algal blooms in the Buffalo last summer. Ignoring the subsurface carries a very serious risk."

    The personable scientist went on to say results of their dye studies enabled his team to document how groundwater flows rapidly from its input to output (about 2,500 to 3,000 feet daily). "When water levels are high from a lot of rain, the water in some locations flowed underground into basins on either side of Big Creek," he said. "It flowed through conduits and mini-caves in the limestone to reappear in creeks that were tributaries to Big Creek.

    "The dye we injected showed up at five locations in the Buffalo National River," he continued. "These results were verified by two external scientists who ran duplicate samples from our dye receptors. "

    He provided anonymous neutral samples along with the duplicate samples that tested positive. "The scientists did not know which contained dye," he said. "They found the same positives as our traces found."

    The Big Creek Research and Extension Team from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, which the state agreed in 2013 to fund for five years to monitor potential waste discharges from this factory, has released no findings of similar dye testing. Brahana said they don't do such studies.

    "Because [the Big Creek team] only samples surface streams around the farm and does not sample ground-water, which is a major component in the hydrologic budget in the Buffalo, they are missing contamination that bypasses their data collection stations," he said.

    Quick review: A state-funded research team from a department with a mission to promote agriculture rather than environmental protection is paid handsomely with state tax dollars to ensure our beloved Buffalo National River isn't contaminated with hog waste. With that purported goal in mind, you suppose this agri-oriented team, which answers to the state's environmental quality agency, might join Brahana in carefully analyzing groundwater flowing through the fractured subsurface as a most likely carrier of the nasty stuff?

    Brahana emphasized that Arkansans need to know the full picture of what's happening: "The politics of this continue to reflect decisions that impact our state. And the details of describing the science involved require that well-informed citizens be willing to become open to educating themselves so as not to be seduced by misinformation."


    Mike Masterson's column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

    Editorial on 02/11/2017

  • 03 Feb 2017 5:01 PM | Anonymous


    A Step Towards Environmental Justice In North Carolina's Hog Country

    By Sue Sturgis February 3, 2017

     After years of seeking help from state officials, people living near industrial hog farms across Eastern North Carolina had their fears about health-damaging pollution and industry harassment recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

    The EPA's External Civil Rights Compliance Office (ECRCO) sent a letter to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) last month stating that it "has deep concern about the possibility that African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans have been subject to discrimination" as a consequence of the state's oversight of its 2,000 hog farms. The farms typically store animal waste in open lagoons and spray it on nearby fields, leading to air and water pollution.

    The EPA is investigating a federal civil rights complaint related to hog farms that was filed in 2014 by the N.C. Environmental Justice Network, the Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help and Waterkeeper Alliance alleging discrimination by NCDEQ based on race and national origin. The complaint alleged that NCDEQ's 2014 renewal of the general permit under which industrial hog farms operate failed to adequately control animal waste and discriminatorily subjected communities of color to noxious odors, health problems and declining property values.

    Industrial hog farms are concentrated in Eastern North Carolina, the historic center of the state's African-American population and home to a growing Latino community and the state-recognized Lumbee Tribe. A 2014 analysis by UNC researchers found that the proportion of African Americans, Hispanics and American Indians living within three miles of an industrial swine operation are 1.54, 1.39 and 2.18 times higher, respectively, than the proportion of non-Hispanic whites.

    In 2015, the complainants and NCDEQ entered into an alternative dispute resolution process funded by the EPA. But the complainants withdrew from that process last year after NCDEQ attempted to bring representatives of the N.C. Pork Council and the National Pork Producers Council into what were supposed to be confidential mediation proceedings. So now ECRCO is  also investigating whether NCDEQ violated a federal law that prohibits intimidating an individual or group because of actions taken to secure rights under nondiscrimination laws.

    As part of its ongoing investigation, ECRCO visited North Carolina in November and interviewed over 60 people living near industrial hog farms. Most of those interviews took place in Duplin and Sampson counties, which have the state's greatest concentration of swine operations. The investigators heard stories from residents about living with the overpowering stench, constant swarms of flies and heavy truck traffic.

    "Some described feeling as though they are prisoners in their own homes," ECRCO said in its letter to NCDEQ.

    North Carolina residents have been raising concerns about industrial hog farms with state officials for at least 15 years, under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Though some residents told ECRCO they did not know where or how to file complaints with NCDEQ, others told investigators that doing so resulted in retaliation, threats, intimidation and harassment by hog farm operators and representatives of the politically powerful pork industry.

    Residents and Riverkeepers recounted numerous nerve-racking incidents: sustained tailgating, vehicles driving back and forth in front of their homes, confrontations in parking lots and intersections, even threats involving guns and other physical violence. As the federal investigators noted in their letter:

    Particularly egregious instances brought to ECRCO's attention include a local industrial swine facility operator entering the home of an elderly African American woman and shaking the chair she sat in while threatening her and her family with physical violence if they continued to complain about the odors and spray; the firing of a gun in the air when an African American REACH member tried to speak to a person sitting on their porch; and a truck that sped up and swerved toward a Riverkeeper who was standing on the side of a public road teaching a group of volunteers how to sample water from public ditches.

    The NCDEQ under the previous administration of Gov. Pat McCrory (R) argued for dismissal of the civil rights complaint but didn't deny that hog farms operating under the general permit had discriminatory impacts. ECRCO rejected McCrory's request, noting that NCDEQ's responses have not "served to diminish [its] level of concern."

    ECRCO is recommending that NCDEQ assess the general permit and related regulations and remedy adverse effects. It also called on NCDEQ to evaluate and adjust its policies to ensure protection of residents who provide information about environmental or civil rights complaints.

    Michael Regan, the new NCDEQ secretary under Gov. Roy Cooper (D), had a letter in Raleigh's News & Observer newspaper last week in which he said his agency takes ECRCO's concerns seriously and "will take this opportunity to thoroughly explore this matter with an open mind and a fresh set of eyes."

    Regan, who is African-American and grew up in the Eastern North Carolina city of Goldsboro, formerly worked in the EPA's air quality division and served as the Southeast regional director for the Environmental Defense Fund. He still faces confirmation by the Republican-controlled state Senate, though Cooper is challenging that newly-imposed requirement in court.

    Some of those involved in the civil rights case see reason for hope.

    "For far too long, NCDEQ has prioritized customer service for the benefit of polluters instead of environmental protection for the benefit of all North Carolinians," said Will Hendrick, staff attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance. "We are glad EPA shared our concerns and are hopeful that the new NCDEQ administration will view this as an opportunity to take long overdue action."

  • 02 Feb 2017 4:31 PM | Anonymous

    BRWA congratulates Ken Smith for recognition of his work to promote and protect the Buffalo!


    Haralson, Smith to be inducted into Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame


    Join your tourism industry colleagues as we honor this year's inductees into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame. Chuck Haralson, former chief photographer for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, and author Ken Smith will be recognized during a luncheon Monday, March 13, 2017, at noon during the 43rd Annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism.  

    The Hall of Fame honor is presented annually to an individual or individuals who have been actively involved in tourism for many years and who have made substantial contributions to the betterment of the industry as a whole.

    Haralson joined the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism in 1977 as a darkroom technician and in 1982 assumed the position of chief photographer. For more than 30 years, he traveled the state to capture Arkansas’s scenic natural beauty, travel attractions, cities and regions, natural and historic resources, outdoor and cultural activities, festivals and special events, wildlife, flora and fauna. Thousands of his photographs are included in Arkansas’s vast photo library, which supports the state’s travel and tourism industry. Haralson’s work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Audubon Magazine, Southern Living, Better Homes and Gardens, Women’s Day, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times. Arkansas textbooks include his work, along with billboards, postcards and calendars.

    Smith is the author of Buffalo River Country and the Buffalo River Handbook, two landmark publications that played an integral role in achieving the Buffalo’s designation as a National River and creating a tourism industry around this natural resource. Smith has dedicated his life to tireless advocacy on behalf of the Buffalo, devoting countless hours to building trails and promoting conservation of the river. He was formerly a civil engineer and park planner for the National Park Service from 1962 to 1974 and education director for The Ozark Society from 1974 to 1977. Since that time, he has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and researcher and is a leader of the Buffalo River Foundation.

    For information on the 43rd Annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism or to register to attend, contact the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism at 501-682-1088.

  • 28 Jan 2017 8:40 AM | Anonymous

    Arkansas Democrat Gazette

    Panel affirms judge's ruling on hog-manure permit fix
    By Emily Walkenhorst

    The owner of EC Farms in Newton County will need to pay a permit fee and get a new permit number for spreading hog manure on his hundreds of acres, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission affirmed Friday.
    But owner Ellis Campbell will not need to apply for a new permit, according to the ruling. Applying for a permit would allow the entire permit to be open to a 30-day public comment period.
    The Pollution Control and Ecology Commission ratified Friday the Jan. 7 decision by Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Administrative Law Judge Charles Moulton. In that same vote, which was a voice vote with no opposition, the commission also dismissed minute orders by other parties in the case that proposed alternate resolutions.
    Moulton found that EC Farms should have applied for a new permit instead of applying to modify its current permit to allow it to apply up to 6.7 million gallons of hog manure for C&H Hog Farms, owned by two of Campbell's cousins and another farmer. But Moulton also found that Campbell and the Department of Environmental Quality -- which had approved the permit modification -- could rectify the issue by creating a new permit number and having Campbell pay a new permit fee.
    Moulton had said previously that his decision would go before the commission in February, but commissioners had the authority to ratify the decision Friday.
    An attorney for Campbell and an attorney for Carol Bitting -- who appealed the department's decision to allow the permit modification -- presented arguments against Moulton's decision Friday.
    Bill Waddell, Campbell's attorney, argued that Moulton had come to the correct conclusion that Campbell did not need to apply for a new permit but disputed Moulton's rationale. Waddell argued that a modification, instead of a new permit, was sufficient according to state regulations. Given that the issue before the commission had never been addressed previously, Waddell requested that the commission adopt his proposed minute order supporting his argument.
    Waddell said after the meeting he would not appeal the decision to dismiss his minute order.
    Richard Mays, Bitting's attorney, argued that Moulton was correct in determining that a new permit was required under state regulations but wrong to conclude that the issue could be resolved by simply creating a new permit number and paying a permit fee, instead of opening up the permit to public comment. Mays requested that the commission adopt his proposed minute order supporting his conclusions.
    After the vote in favor of Moulton's decision, Bitting said she was "disappointed."
    Bitting has 30 days to appeal to circuit court but hasn't decided whether she'll do that.
    The commission rule cited in the permit dispute is Regulation 5's section 5.601, which states that a "separate permit may be issued for a land application site if the operator submits an application" meeting certain criteria. Moulton had said previously that Regulation 5, titled "Liquid Animal Waste Management Systems," appears to offer two different permits under its umbrella -- one for a hog farm and another for land application.
    A department permit that allows, among other things, the application of hog manure on land as fertilizer can be modified to apply only hog manure, according to filings submitted Nov. 29 by the department and a landowner.
    Attorneys for the department said nothing in Regulation 5 required EC Farms to void its current permit and apply for a new one. But Mays argued a separate permit is required when someone plans to operate only a hog manure land application site.
    During Friday's vote, several commissioners asked questions of Moulton, Mays, Waddell and Department of Environmental Quality attorney Tracy Rothermel.
    Commissioner Chris Gardner noted that land application-only permits would still use guidelines contained in the concentrated animal feeding operation portion of Regulation 5. If the guidelines are dictated by the same portion of the permit, Gardner said, he didn't understand why land application-only permits needed to be separate from concentrated animal feeding operations.
    Moulton said he couldn't determine any other purpose for the section for land application-only permits.
    Gardner said Regulation 5 needed to be revised to address issues of clarity.
    Moulton said he had written his decision several different ways before deciding to go with the one ratified Friday.
    "This is the most difficult recommended decision I've had in five years," he told the commission.
    Metro on 01/28/2017

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