Buffalo River 


  • 17 Nov 2016 9:14 AM | Anonymous

    Arkansas Times

    A new front in the war over hog waste in the Buffalo River watershed

    Posted By Benjamin Hardy on Wed, Nov 16, 2016 at 10:29 PM

    A second farm in the Buffalo River watershed is now seeking to serve as a disposal site for potentially millions of gallons of liquid hog waste and has nearly obtained final legal authority to do so, despite a five-year moratorium on new permits on contained animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, in the watershed.

    Previously, the fight over animal waste contamination near the Buffalo has mostly concerned C&H Farms, a mid-sized factory hog farm that has the capacity to hold about 6,500 animals and generates millions of gallons in waste annually. Environmentalists fear the waste, stored on site in lagoons, will seep into the region's porous geology and pollute the waters of the Buffalo. After an extended political battle, the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission last year approved a moratorium on any new permits for CAFOs in the watershed, though C&H continues to operate.

    This summer, a facility near Deer, Ark. called EC Farms found a loophole: Rather than obtain a new permit, it applied for a modification to its existing hog farm permit, which had once allowed it to run a relatively small operation of about 300 animals. EC Farms is currently not operational as a hog farm. However, the modified permit would allow it to "land farm" hog waste originating with another farm — specifically, with C&H. The modification, which was granted by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality over the summer, would allow EC Farms to spread over 6 million gallons of liquid hog waste on its property. ADEQ's decision to grant the permit modification attracted a long list of critical public comments, which can be seen at the end of this document. Three area residents  — Carol Biting, Lin Wellford and Dr. Nancy Haller, who call themselves "The Three Grandmothers" — petitioned for an appeal.

    On Wednesday morning at ADEQ headquarters in North Little Rock, PC&E Commission administrative judge Charlie Moulton heard arguments over whether the permit should stand. The room was packed. "I can say unequivocally this is the most well attended motion hearing I’ve ever had," Moulton said. 

    Attorney Richard Mays represented the petitioners. He told Moulton that the modified permit is "a roundabout way for C&H farms to avoid getting a permit to distribute this waste. The amount of this waste is the critical issue. You’ve got a 6,000 animal operation …[generating] million of gallons of waste." Mays said after the hearing that he believes C&H's own on-site waste storage and disposal capacity is nearing its limit, so it needs to find a place to dump the excess.

    Tracy Rothermel, general counsel for the ADEQ director's office, argued that the appeal should be dismissed, citing a number of issues in how the petitioners worded their appeal and saying they failed to lay out their full legal and factual objections. Bill Waddell, an attorney for EC Farms owner Ellis Campbell, agreed.

    But Wellford said she and the others didn't realize they needed a lawyer when they first petitioned. (Mays only began representing them later.) She told a reporter that the EC Farms permit modification was "choreographed to get around the moratorium" on new CAFOs in the Buffalo. Wellford also questioned why ADEQ, the state's environmental regulator paid for with public tax dollars, was actively defending EC Farms "and yet the Buffalo River is being allowed to be degraded. ... This resource is supposed to exist as a resource for my grandchildren and your grandchildren."

    Waddell, the counsel for EC Farms, told the judge that his client "has tried to comply with the regulations in asking for a permit. He’s not asking for any favoritism, or anything that he’s not entitled to under the law."

    Moulton found plenty of fault with the petitioners' complaints. But in the end, he also questioned whether ADEQ had the authority to convert EC Farms' previous permit — which once allowed it to raise hogs — into a new permit that authorized the spreading of large quantities of manure.

    "You’re basically converting one type of facility to another … a sow facility to a land farming facility," he said. "[Those are] two different types of permits, isn’t that what happened?"

    Rothermel said the permit simply "evolved." It "isn’t really a new permit. ... Aspects were removed from the permit, and then updated aspects were added," she said. However, Moulton pointed out that ADEQ's regulations identify two different types of permits that operate under two different types of regulations. "That’s not my language. That’s the department’s language," he said.

    Moulton said he needed both parties to deliver briefs on the issue, and set Tuesday, Nov. 29 as the date for the next hearing. 
  • 17 Nov 2016 9:01 AM | Anonymous


    Judge to rule on Arkansas farm's altered permit, could spread 6.7 gallons of hog manure

    By Emily Walkenhorst

    Posted: November 17, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.

    An administrative law judge will decide on a motion to dismiss or a motion for summary judgment on an appeal of an environmental permit modification that would allow a farmer to spread up to 6.7 million gallons of hog manure on his property in the Buffalo River watershed.

    At the hearing on the motions Wednesday, about 50 people watched quietly in what Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission Administrative Law Judge Charles Moulton called the "most well-attended motion hearing I've ever held" in his more than 30 years of experience.

    The hearing touched on a contentious issue in recent years for people who support the Buffalo National River: the balance between large animal agriculture and protection of the river, or whether a balance can be achieved at all.

    The farmer in question Wednesday was Ellis Campbell, a cousin of Richard and Phillip Campbell of C&H Hog Farms in Mount Judea. Ellis Campbell, owner of EC Farms, applied to have his environmental permit modified to allow him to apply hog manure that comes from his cousins' farm onto his land. C&H has been accused of posing a pollution risk to the river because of its federally classified "large" size, although state-funded researchers are still monitoring the farm to see if it has polluted at all, and have so far released no definite finding.

    At the hearing, Bill Waddell, attorney for Campbell, and Tracy Rothermel and Basil Hicks of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality asked Moulton to dismiss the appeal by three Arkansans of a permit modification issued to Campbell by the department that allows him to spread hog manure on his land. They argued the permit had been approved according to regulations and that the petitions of appeal did not clearly state their factual basis for objecting to the permit's modifications or properly reference public comments. Without clearer objections, Waddell argued, further hearings would be challenging for the appellees.

    "If they're going to do something more than they list, then that's clearly off limits because we can't guess as to what we're going to be defending here," Waddell said.

    Richard Mays, attorney for the three women who appealed the permit modifications, argued that the modifications allowing for manure application were "tantamount" to adding another hog farm in the watershed, which would be prohibited under a 5-year moratorium on medium or large hog farms in the watershed.

    "It's a way of getting around the regulation, that's what it is," Mays said.

    In a hearing that lasted more than two hours, Moulton told Mays that he wasn't sure that concern or other concerns Mays mentioned had been specifically outlined in the petitions as required by law. But Moulton said one of Mays' clients, Carol Bitting, made a legitimate case that Campbell should have applied for a new permit instead of seeking a modification to his existing permit, which was for the operation of a small hog farm.

    Regulation 5, section 5.601 of the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission's environmental regulations states that a "separate permit may be issued for a land application site if the operator submits an application" meeting certain criteria. Moulton said the 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. Land application refers to the applying of substances such as manure to the ground.

    Campbell's active permit at the time he requested to have it modified allowed for him to have 300 sows on his property and to apply their manure on his land. But Moulton wondered if Regulation 5, section 5.601 required him to submit a new application if he was no longer operating a farm and was only accepting waste from his cousin's operation in another part of the county.

    Rothermel argued that a new permit wasn't required because hog manure was already allowed under the previous version of the permit.

    "It's not being permitted for anything new," she said.

    Further, Waddell argued, Regulation 5, section 5.601 uses the word "may" rather than "shall," meaning a separate permit wouldn't be required.

    Bitting argued in her public comment on the modification that "a separate permit must be obtained for waste application only." Bitting then referenced Regulation 5, section 5.601 in her appeal.

    Moulton asked the parties' attorneys to submit briefs by Nov. 29 on whether EC Farms should have applied for a new permit. Moulton said he would try to rule on other aspects of the parties' motions before then.

    Ellis Campbell first received a permit for a small hog farm and the application of those hogs' manure on his land in Newton County in 1998, according to Department of Environmental Quality records.

    In 2013, he ceased operations at what was then called C&C Hog Barn, but his permit was still active and paid for and had not expired. In 2015, he applied to modify the permit to allow for the application of C&H Farms' hog manure.

    This summer, Bitting, Nancy Haller, Lin Wellford and the National Park Service appealed the approval of the permit modification. Bitting and Haller live in Newton County, and Wellford lives in Carroll County. The National Park Service eventually requested to withdraw from its appeal after being unable to obtain legal counsel, according to an Aug. 30 filing.

    Metro on 11/17/2016

  • 15 Nov 2016 3:01 PM | Anonymous

     Three grandmas persevere

    Buffalo hearing

    By Mike Masterson

    More than 100 showed up at the Don Nelms fine art gallery in Jasper last week to raise funds in support of our Buffalo National River. Some came from families who've lived five generations in the Buffalo watershed.

    Just as significant will be those who care equally for the Buffalo taking time to turn out Wednesday morning at 9:30 at the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (cough) building, 5301 Northshore Drive in North Little Rock.

    That's when a representative of the agency will hear an appeal by the "Three Grandmothers" opposing the permit that allows C&H Hog Farms of Mount Judea to spray waste generated by their operation across even more acres of karst terrain on the long-dormant C&C Hog Barn farm owned by one of the same families within the Little Buffalo River and Buffalo National River watershed.

    Dr. Nancy Haller, Carol Bitting and Lin Wellford have retained attorney Richard Mays in their valid appeal to stop the state's initial wrongheaded modification to their present wrongheaded permit. They believe the facts were not adequately researched before approving this permit modification, and doing so further threatens the country's first national river.

    It's bad enough the Department of Environmental Quality, purported guardians of our environment, so quickly and quietly permitted the hog factory into this sacred region. Now they blindly approve spraying millions of gallons of raw waste onto hundreds of additional acres.

    So if you live anywhere near Little Rock and care about the Buffalo, I'm sure these ladies and most of our state's population would surely appreciate seeing your supportive faces.

  • 14 Nov 2016 12:38 PM | Anonymous

    Arkansas Times

    This week: A fight over hog waste in the Buffalo River watershed

    by Max Brantley

    November 14, 2016

    Coming this week: A Pollution Control and Ecology Commission hearing Wednesday morning on the appeal of state approval of a modified permit for a farm to spread waste from the C and H hog factory feeding operation at Mount Judea on land in the Buffalo River watershed.

    Several petitioners, including the National Park Service, have expressed concern that the permit for EC Farms creates a potential for damage to the Buffalo River, Little Buffalo River and Big Creek.

    Arguments against the permit have been dismissed by the state as irrelevant because this is modification of an existing permit, not a new permit. Wrote the Park Service:

     "We continue to be concemed that the permit itself should be reviewed, given that the area is underlain with karst terrain and the potential for significant affects to the watershed remain. Due consideration of real and potential impacts must be made in light of ongoing discoveries and interpretations of hydrogeological data suggesting waste conductivity in the underlying karst system beneath many of the proposed spreading fields. Finally, we believe that this action constitutes a modification in the operation of C&H Hog Farm with the potential to introduce more waste into an already stressed ecosystem."

    The record submitted for the hearing can be found here.

    Carol Bitting, one of those appealing the modified permit, contends the waste will be spread over "cave-riddled" areas south of Jasper along Highway 7. She worries about trucks that will be hauling hog waste and also says the permit change will reduce the frequency of monitoring.  Reduced monitoring could lead to more runoff into water of nutrients that can promote algae growth in streams in the watershed, she argues.

  • 14 Nov 2016 10:21 AM | Anonymous

    EPA favors some state water quality rules, not others

    By Emily Walkenhorst

    Posted: November 13, 2016 at 3:02 a.m.


    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved of and disapproved of parts of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's water quality regulations nearly three years after the state submitted the regulations for review.

    The announcement of the review comes as the department plans for another review process in 2017 and is in the middle of a public stakeholder process of reviewing and potentially revising the water quality assessment methods it uses to determine whether a water body is "impaired."

    Among the parts approved by the EPA are the first numeric nutrient standards in Arkansas: two standards for Beaver Lake that Beaver Water District officials said would help the district protect the drinking water for Northwest Arkansas. Those standards were not in dispute by the EPA, but were on hold while the EPA and the state Department of Environmental Quality debated other elements of the state's water regulations during the EPA's review.

    Most of the state's water regulation changes were approved by the EPA, although some elements of the state's water quality standards approved by the EPA have yet to be reviewed under the federal Endangered Species Act, which would require the consultation of additional federal agencies.

    Among the parts disapproved are two items previously rejected by the EPA regarding mineral concentrations in Flat Creek and modifications to how the state determines "turbidity," which refers to how clear the water is, that removed a reference to the impact of waste discharges and set two different standards depending on when water samples were taken.

    One item the EPA has disputed previously was not contested by the EPA in the review: Allowable minerals levels in Arkansas' varying "ecoregions." State regulations had previously outlined standards for allowable minerals levels in water bodies that covered the state by ecoregions, which were given different standards according to the geographical area if a water body did not already have site-specific standards.

    In 2014, the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission approved changing state standards to treat those standards as guidelines, rather than requirements. At the time, officials argued that the standards had been created arbitrarily decades before and did not necessarily reflect the natural conditions of the water bodies. The change came at the recommendation of the Department of Environmental Quality after a series of working groups to revise the state's water quality standards.

    The EPA rejected that change, arguing that it stripped water bodies of protective standards.

    On Oct. 31, the EPA wrote in its 183-page review of Arkansas water quality standards that it would take no action, stating that it "also recognizes the current state of the science and that the agency's own efforts related to the development of recommended minerals criteria are ongoing."

    Instead, the EPA requested that the state Department of Environmental Quality come up with an approach to adopt new standards within the next 12 months, also outlining interim goals leading up to the eventual adoption of the new standards.

    "The main point of interest is the no action that was taken on 2.511B as it relates to ecoregion values," said Caleb Osborne, associate director in charge of the office of water quality for the state department. "The state has agreed with the EPA that we're going to have 12 months to develop an approach and path forward," he added.

    With the EPA taking no action, that means the state's change to water regulations to make ecoregion standards guidelines instead of requirements still will not be effective under the Clean Water Act, but the EPA and the state will coordinate when needed on developing new standards.

    The Beaver Lake standards approved by the EPA after years of waiting were designed to limit the amount of nutrients in Beaver Lake, said Beaver Water District Manager of Environmental Quality Bob Morgan.

    "The lake is not receiving the protection of the standard that we hoped that it would have," Morgan said in an interview before the standards were approved. "It's not keeping us from doing anything. ... If an issue popped up and the standard was in place, then there's a mechanism in state law that starts toward getting issues worked out."

    The Beaver Water District provides drinking water to more than 330,000 Northwest Arkansans.

    A collaboration of groups developed the nutrient standards after years of studying, including the Beaver Water District, the EPA, the Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Geological Survey, FTN Associates, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the Arkansas Water Research Center.

    The standards limit the amount of chlorophyll in the lake to 8 micrograms per liter and sets a standard of secchi transparency at 1.1 meters. The levels of chlorophyll in water can indicate algae levels, and secchi transparency refers to the clarity of water.

    Morgan said the new nutrient standards would affect permits to discharge wastewater in the lake's watershed and would be a more proactive approach to water quality management.

    So far, the district has been able to work with entities discharging wastewater on voluntary incentives and has not had any major water quality issues that couldn't be addressed because of the lack of nutrient standards, Morgan said.

    Metro on 11/13/2016

  • 07 Nov 2016 12:00 PM | Anonymous


    More algae seen on Buffalo River

    Sampling IDs several types

    By Emily Walkenhorst 

    The National Park Service has collected two samples of algae at the Buffalo National River that appear to indicate more types of algae in the river than previous sampling by another federal agency revealed.

    In September, after tourists reported algae on a 30-mile stretch of the river from U.S. 65 to Spring Creek, the U.S. Geological Survey sampled algae and found it to be mostly harmless. The algae found was from the genus Oedogonium.

    In October, Chuck Bitting, the natural resource program manager for the Buffalo National River, said he wanted to do more testing along that stretch. Bitting, whose wife was one of several people who spotted algae while canoeing, had wanted to return to the area to ensure that none of the algae is a type commonly called blue-green algae that can be harmful to humans and wildlife.

    Bitting said his team didn't find any blue-green algae but tested two samples that appeared to show algae from the genuses of Oedogonium, Spirogyra, and either Cladophora or Pithophora. Instead of sending the samples to the U.S. Geological Survey to be tested, Bitting and another researcher placed the samples under a microscope, took pictures and sent the magnified images to the agency, which determined what algae they were looking at, he said.

    Spirogyra, Cladophora and Pithophora are also known as green algae, which is not as harmful as blue-green algae but can depress oxygen levels for fish in the water at night, Bitting said. Green algae also produces oxygen during the day, but Bitting said he didn't know if the algae produces more oxygen than it consumes. At the least, he said, algae is an obstruction for fish.

    Bitting said the algae could be caused by many things, and he doesn't have enough information to pinpoint a specific cause.

    He said levels of algae-causing nitrates and phosphorous in the river have steadily increased since annual testing began in 1985. That could be because of human activity, including leaking septic systems or agriculture in the river's watershed.

    Bitting said he was disappointed that the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality didn't do its own testing and relied on the U.S. Geological Survey instead.

    The department previously received information from the U.S. Geological Survey regarding its September tests, and a spokesman said last week that the department had received no information from the National Park Service related to its October tests.

    "ADEQ has been working collaboratively with the [National Park Service] on water quality-related issues," read the department statement sent to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "In fact, ADEQ has previously offered the use of continuous dissolved oxygen monitors to [the National Park Service] for evaluating the effects of algal blooms on aquatic life."

    The National Park Service has detected too-low oxygen levels in Big Creek before, but has never found too-low oxygen levels in the Buffalo River, Bitting said.

    Metro on 11/07/2016

    Print Headline: More algae seen on Buffalo River

  • 06 Nov 2016 8:52 AM | Anonymous


    Poultry farms split neighbors

    Plans for 1,000 houses raise concern for area’s watershed

    By Stephen Steed

    Posted: November 6, 2016 at 1:28 a.m.

    EVENING SHADE -- Tempers flared Tuesday night in Evening Shade, putting the Sharp County town of 432 at odds with the largely idyllic setting of the television sit-com of the same name, with its real-life residents debating the growth of the poultry industry in the area.

    The expansion of operations in Batesville, Pocahontas and Corning by Ozark Mountain Poultry and Peco Foods calls for construction of some 1,000 poultry houses in about five counties within the watersheds of the Strawberry, Spring and Eleven-Point rivers.

    Until the issue moves into the federal courts -- or to other towns -- Evening Shade is at the forefront of the debate.

    To some, the expansion means jobs, even new careers.

    Others see a threat to their streams and water wells, and point to the Illinois River and other Northwest Arkansas streams that have high levels of phosphorus and nitrates as examples of what they don't want to see happen in their area.

    "I want to welcome all of you, from both sides of the issue," Curtis Middleton, the organizer of what he termed "a public service meeting," said early in the evening, when it wasn't yet apparent there were two factions in the crowd of about 100 lining the bleachers and taking up folding chairs courtside of Burt Reynolds Gymnasium/Linda Bloodworth Thomason and Harry Thomason Auditorium.

    Middleton, an Evening Shade resident since 2005, is founder of the Arkansas Rights Koalition, a nonprofit started in July 2015 after Middleton discovered that neighbor Jerry Tracy was planning to build six poultry houses to grow about 182,000 birds per batch.

    Middleton's group said in August that it intended to sue the federal Small Business Administration, the U.S. Farm Service Agency, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service -- alleging that they failed to conduct an adequate environmental study of the poultry operations' impact on wildlife, air quality, natural resources and on six specific threatened or endangered species of bats and mussels, and one plant.

    Middleton, an environmental consultant, built a two-story plantation-style home deep into a picturesque valley, about 8 miles of gravel and dirt roads west of Evening Shade. Tracy has a small home atop a hill on about 120 acres a half-mile north of Middleton's place.

    A nearby farmer who works for one of the two poultry companies said, "I feel like I'm caught right in between -- both ways -- in where I live and where I work." He asked not to be identified. Several other people in town shooed away a reporter -- in a friendly way -- a few hours before the start of the meeting. "I don't have many friends, and I don't want to lose the few I got," one said.

    Community at odds

    "We are not against the farmers or the poultry producers," Middleton told the crowd. "We are against the bad practices followed by state and federal agencies."

    The crowd mostly sat silent through the addresses of the night's featured speakers: John Ikerd, a retired professor of agriculture economics at the University of Missouri; and Terry Spence, a consultant and farmer from northeast Missouri. Now aligned with various environmental and social-justice groups, both have long fought against industrial agriculture and large, concentrated animal farms.

    "You have a powerful situation brewing here, with your clean air and clean water, while you still have it," said Spence, who became an activist when a meat processor put 80,000 head of cattle within three-quarters of a mile of his farm near the Missouri-Iowa border.

    Farmers, especially young ones, will rue the day they signed their contracts, Spence said. Aside from initial indebtedness in which the average poultry house costs $300,000 to build, they will be financially responsible for upgrades deemed necessary by the poultry company and could be held liable for any environmental damage, he said.

    Within an hour, the meeting devolved into shouting from the bleachers.

    "It's only the lazy that are hungry," one man yelled, after Ikerd lamented the number of people who are "food-insecure."

    "We were feeding people just fine before Obama and Hillary came along," another shouted.

    Another tried to calm the crowd. "We have to co-exist, but it's not right for the state of Arkansas or the federal government to allow someone to put a chicken house within a hundred yards of my home," the man said.

    "If I own that land, I can do whatever the hell I want with it," another responded.

    A Cave City police officer asked a particularly agitated section of the crowd to calm down, to little effect.

    "Some time back, things got tough," one woman shouted. "I didn't want a chicken house next-door to me, but we almost became chicken farmers. You got to make a living."

    She also said she thought that the naming of the proposed Tracy farm by Middleton and another supporter, Paul Hinson, in a possible lawsuit against the three federal agencies pits "two families against one" and was engulfing the rest of the community.

    "We're not here to be against the farmer," Hinson said. "But we are here to be good stewards of our community and of our land."

    Not long before the amplifier was turned off and the meeting came to a fairly subdued end, Ikerd, in a breaking voice, said, "I don't know one instance where this kind of controversy hasn't ripped a community apart, and I can see it happening here right now."

    Job prospects

    Evening Shade has long relied on and made some money from Evening Shade, the television series. The show ran from September 1990 to May 1994. Burt Reynolds starred and the Thomasons, both native Arkansans, produced the series.

    During that time, the Evening Shade School Foundation sold enough Evening Shade Cookbooks to build the Reynolds/Thomason facility, dedicated in 1993. Now owned by the Cave City School District, which is where Evening Shade kids have gone to school since a consolidation several years ago, the facility is leased for dances, concerts, holiday events and meetings.

    "This area -- Sharp County -- is so poor, and it desperately needs jobs," Cave City Superintendent Steven Green said. He was unable to attend Tuesday's meeting because his school was hosting a donkey basketball game. "Maybe these poultry houses will create a few," he said. "But I know there has to be a balance. Our good water is one of our best resources."

    Peco Foods Inc., based in Alabama, and Ozark Mountain Poultry, based in Rogers, have announced expansion plans for northeast Arkansas. Peco said it would spend $165 million on its processing plant in Pocahontas and feed mill in Corning (Clay County), creating 1,000 jobs. Both companies also have plants in Batesville, about 30 miles south of Evening Shade.

    Peco said it would need a network of nearly 600 growers, primarily of broilers, to service its growth. Ozark Mountain Poultry has said it will need about 400 growers as it expands in Batesville and in Magness (Independence County) with a $25 million feed mill. Both companies are eligible for various tax breaks and incentives from the state.

    Unemployment in several counties in the area neared or surpassed double digits in 2014, when some of the expansion plans were first announced. Unemployment rates were 12.2 percent in Clay County, 9.3 percent in Randolph County, 9.4 percent in Sharp County, 8.3 percent in Independence County. The state average was 7.4 percent in March 2014.

    The statewide unemployment rate in September was 4 percent. The average in those counties is a tick above, at 4.1 percent.

    By the numbers

    If 1,000 poultry houses sounds like a lot, "it's not even close" to the numbers in Washington and Benton counties, the state's top two poultry producers, said Marvin Childers, president of the Poultry Federation of Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

    Those two counties accounted for 822 of the state's 5,895 poultry-related farms, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. About 300 of the farms were in the broiler business. If each farm had five poultry houses, the two counties would have a combined 1,500 broiler houses.

    "That's the point," said Middleton. "We're looking at many, many times the number of poultry houses we have now. Multiply the effects of a thousand of them in a short period of time. But, again, we're not against the farmer. We just want the government to do what it's supposed to do."

    Sharp County had 32 broiler houses; Independence County, 28; Randolph County, 28, according to the 2012 Agriculture Census.

    Tracy, the Evening Shade farmer, was among those who shouted from the stands at the meeting. After the meeting, he was a little sheepish, admitting that he and friends "got a little emotional."

    Still, he said, he took the night's meeting personally.

    He teaches diesel mechanics at Arkansas State University at Newport. "I just want to stay home, run a business and watch my kids grow up. Now, what's wrong with that?" Tracy, 46, said.

    His contract for six houses, if built, is with Ozark Mountain Poultry. He said he was confident that the poultry industry in general and Ozark Mountain, in particular, have improved on their technologies enough that environmental problems like those seen in Northwest Arkansas won't occur a couple of hundred miles to the east.

    Angie Haley, 42, said she hopes that's the case.

    "We're really proud of our water," Haley, a member of the Evening Shade City Council and the town's librarian, said a few hours before the meeting.

    The water is fresh and pure, from a deep and bountiful spring just east of town, she said. While water is piped in to the 300 or so customers of the Evening Shade Water Department, it's also available right from the spigot near its spring.

    "We don't want to lose that," she said.

    SundayMonday Business on 11/06/2016

  • 01 Nov 2016 7:59 AM | Anonymous

    Fran Alexander: What we eat

    Healthy eating means knowing where it comes from

    By Fran Alexander

    Posted: November 1, 2016 at 1 a.m.


    Most of us have heard, "You are what you eat." As advice to eat right to grow strong or as an admonishment for eating junk, the phrase has proved useful for self-discipline, personal guilt or parental nagging.

    However, we rarely think about where our food comes from when we stroll by selections packaged and lined up neatly on grocery store displays. The fertilized fields and livestock pens where our sustenance is grown are dim realizations that we do not mentally include when we think about what we are eating. Yet, how and where our food becomes food is as much a part of what we eat as the finished product itself. Production and consumption are two sides of one coin, which is why it is imperative we know if pesticide residue, or animal antibiotics, or sea water contamination have become part of our food, which becomes part of us.

    Understanding how our food is produced has hit especially close to home in Arkansas in the last couple of years with the knowledge that a confined animal feeding operation is sitting on porous ground near a creek that feeds into the Buffalo National River. Called "CAFOs," these factory farms produce meat like other industries produce gadgets and gizmos.

    To better comprehend pros and cons of industrial agriculture, three organizations will host a free program at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Fayetteville Public Library. The event features John Ikerd, an internationally known author and speaker, once a proponent of large corporate agriculture. He has titled his presentation, "Why bigger is not better."

    Ikerd, professor emeritus from the University of Missouri in Columbia, is particularly focused on what sustainable food production is and the impact food makes on what sustains that production -- soil, water, air, people, communities and the economics surrounding those parts of the food puzzle. With degrees in agricultural economics, Ikerd has authored books that reflect his specialty, with such titles as: "Sustainable Capitalism: A Matter of Common Sense," "Essentials of Economic Sustainability," "Crisis and Opportunity" and "Small Farms are Real Farms."

    On Ikerd's web page, he writes, "While factory farms are often touted as the future of agriculture and a logical strategy for rural economic development, decades of rural economic and social reality provide compelling evidence of the direct opposite. Whenever and wherever family farms have been replaced with CAFOs, 90 percent or more of the independent family livestock and poultry producers have been driven out of business."

    His description of real farming sounds like an ecosystem functioning because of the integration of the work of farmers, their families, their neighbors and their surrounding communities with merchants, fire departments, barbers, churches and schools. He points out that in contrast, factory farms gain an economic advantage because they pay low wages to a few workers, and because of massive production they export to more profitable markets elsewhere in the world. Often they externalize what should be their costs, and "extract the wealth [from a community] while leaving their chemical and biological waste behind."

    Those nearby residents and other Arkansawyers defending the Buffalo River fear this residue of chemicals and waste will kill this river, the life blood not only of plant and animal ecosystems, but the economic generator for people who make a living because the river exists.

    Knowing what we eat requires tracing our food backward to the conditions of its generation. Ikerd says, "The treatment of farm animals ultimately is an ethical or moral question, not a question of cost-benefit ratios or productivity. In CAFOs, animals are treated as inanimate mechanisms in a factory, not as living, sentient beings in a herd or flock. The fundamental questions are whether it is ethically or morally right for hogs to spend their lifetime in crates so small they cannot even turn around; [or] whether laying hens should be kept in cages with each having space smaller than a sheet of writing paper."

    We would not pick something out of a sewer for dinner, but our ignorance of what we consume can do us similar harm. In 2013, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated, "Use of antibiotics in food-producing animals allows antibiotic-resistant bacteria to thrive while susceptible bacteria are suppressed or die. Resistant bacteria can be transmitted from food-producing animals to humans through the food supply."

    As we used to say in the early days of computer software development, "Garbage in = garbage out." The same formula works on our bodies and what we put in them.

    Commentary on 11/01/2016

  • 01 Nov 2016 7:15 AM | Anonymous

    MIKE MASTERSON: Gentlemen’s agreement

    Farms or habitat

    By Mike Masterson

    Posted: November 1, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.


    Months before a University of Arkansas agriculture professor was appointed head of the Big Creek Research and Extension Team formed to monitor waste from a hog factory in the Buffalo National River watershed, Dr. Andrew Sharpley's remarks to a 2013 conference revealed preferential regulatory practices and his priorities as an advocate for agriculture.

    It's been three years since Teresa Marks, the previous Department of Environmental Quality (cough) director, said she didn't even realize her agency had issued a permit to C&H Hog Farms in Newton County until it had. Neither did former Gov. Mike Beebe, the National Park Service, or even Environmental Quality's own local inspectors know.

    Beebe said the factory was his biggest regret in office. In an attempt to rectify such a wrongheaded decision, Beebe agreed on Sept 5, 2013, to form and fund the Big Creek team.

    Centered at the University of Arkansas' Agriculture Division, the team was to ensure the toxic raw waste stored on-site and sprayed on fields around Big Creek (a major tributary of the Buffalo) wasn't polluting the karst-riddled watershed.

    During an Extension Service conference in North Dakota in April 2013, Sharpley discussed the nature of so-called Discovery Farms. He'd said Arkansas farmers who participate in that experimental program strive to maintain a balance between profits and environmental preservation.

    To me, his words reveal a relevant mindset when it comes to preserving the water quality of our country's first national river while describing a purported "gentlemen's agreement" involving the state's leniency in regulating and monitoring Discovery Farms.

    In 38 minutes of speaking, he describes how he regularly assuages concerns of farmers invited to participate in the program and that Marks even served on a Discovery Farms committee. His talk strikes me as nothing short of disdain for the role of a pesky Environmental Protection Agency and the troubling protective approach regarding the state Department of Environmental Quality's regulatory practices. Decide for yourself.

    "We wanted to have some protection for farmers," Sharpley told the audience. "We wanted EPA and ADEQ to give those farmers some protection from being cited if there was a problem, because we know we might find problems on these farms. But they wouldn't, they wouldn't write anything in paper but basically we have a gentlemen's agreement that if you do find a problem, because they're working under this program we'll give them some leniency to show that they're doing their best with the resources they've got to address those issues.

    "That's always a question when we ask farmers if you would like to be involved in this program. The first question they always ask is are EPA going to come knocking on my door? We can't say no. Unfortunately, EPA are pretty aggressive in our part of the country and I suspect they're coming to a neighborhood near you too. If they're not already there, they're coming. And they would probably be coming further if they hadn't been sequestered and lost some dollars."

    Suppose a similar policy applies today to C&H? Fair question.

    While there's been discussion about including C&H among the state's eight Discovery Farms, Arkansas has yet to do so. Understandably, there's plenty of public opposition to the idea in the factory's present location. Yet it appears the state might be moving in that direction, according to Buffalo River Watershed Alliance leader Gordon Watkins. Two Discovery Farm technicians already serve on Sharpley's team. Watkins said current Environmental Quality Director Becky Keogh told him her agency is indeed considering C&H as a Discovery Farm.

    Watkins' group and others strongly oppose that move because the Buffalo watershed is widely seen as "no place to be conducting risky experimental practices, especially given the alarming statement of Dr. Sharpley that there is a 'gentleman's agreement' with regulators to look the other way when permit violations occur."

    He adds, "This sort of collusion to allow permit violations is not only totally unacceptable in the Buffalo River watershed, it raises serious questions about the Discovery Farm program in general."

    Since Discovery Farms supposedly are considered "model farms" where new practices are developed to be replicated elsewhere, there also are concerns that placing C&H in this category would perpetuate its presence in the watershed. Moreover, it could become a model for other swine factories, thereby opening the door for the proliferation of such places in the watershed or other environmentally sensitive locations, Watkins said.

    As with Watkins, I'm stunned by Sharpley's comments on protecting Discovery Farms from the reality of their problems through a "gentlemen's agreement" rather than regulating effective environmental quality above all else.

    That certainly would include above special interests bent on protecting potential polluters.


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

    Editorial on 11/01/2016

  • 25 Oct 2016 12:21 PM | Anonymous

    Duo's 'Still a River" CD all about Buffalo

    Posted: October 25, 2016 at 1 a.m.


    Most paddlers who've gazed at the majesty of the Buffalo National River are thankful that it's still a river, free of the dams that were planned years ago.

    So what better title than "Still a River," for the latest musical project by Kelly and Donna Mulhollan, who make up the Fayetteville duo Still on the Hill. Their compact disc and concert series tells the story of the Buffalo River in 11 original songs written by the Mulhollans.

    Tunes tell about the joy of floating on the revered Buffalo, as in the disc's first song, titled "Ponca to Pruitt." The album dives into into the history of the Buffalo. Lyrics tell stories about people who've lived along the Buffalo such as Eveline and Peter Tyler, namesakes of the Tyler Bend access and visitor center on the river south of Harrison. Another song is about Granny Henderson, who raised livestock and grew a garden while living along the Buffalo. She was featured in a National Geographic article about the river.

    The album is great listening, but even better is hearing Still on the Hill do the songs live in the free concerts they're performing in Northwest Arkansas and around the state. Not only are the concerts free, but everyone in the audience gets a free "Still a River" CD, one per family.

    They've just completed their first round of shows and are gearing up for another tour. The next free concert is at 3 p.m., on Nov. 25 at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, part of the park's Green Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. The Mulhollans will perform "Still a River" at 2 p.m. on Dec. 10 at the Bentonville Public Library. They'll be at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville on Feb. 3. More concert dates are in the works.

    Everything is free thanks to donors who sponsored the project, including individuals, the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, Ozark Society Foundation and National Park Service.

    "Still a River" is a natural follow-up to their "Once a River" CD and concerts about Beaver Lake, Kelly said. The couple did those concerts last year.

    After telling those stories about the White River and a reservoir, they focused on the Buffalo, still a free-flowing river with no dams.

    "We appreciate that one river was spared," Kelly said.

    The songs are a celebration of the river and don't delve into controversy, such as the hog farm near Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo.

    Paddlers on the upstream end of the Buffalo have floated under Bee Bluff. One of the tunes tells how some local boys schemed to get the gallons of honey created by the bees, high upon the cliff face.

    "At one concert, a woman came up to us and said 'one of those boys was my grandfather'" Kelly said.

    A great-granddaughter of Granny Henderson came to the concert in Harrison, Kelly said. Other relatives and friends of people in their songs have come to the "Still a River"shows.

    Each CD comes with a booklet that explains more about each tune, illustrated with photos and art of the river.

    Inspiration for a lot of the songs came from Ken Smith's book, "Buffalo River Country," first published in the 1960s.

    "It's such a poetically written book," Kelly said. "We're real admirers of Ken for his work and for building miles and miles of trails along the river. He's one of the true heroes of the Buffalo."

    The concerts feature Donna's special "Power Point" presentation that use artwork on quilts instead of pictures on a screen. She did a similar "Power Point" project that was a hit during their Beaver Lake concert series.

    Those concerts were held primarily in Northwest Arkansas in the Beaver Lake watershed. "Still a River" has more of a statewide interest, Kelly said. Concerts are planned across the state.

    They hope "Still a River" accomplishes for the Buffalo what "Once a River" did for Beaver Lake.

    "We hope by singing these songs it will make people aware and become good stewards of the Buffalo."

    Flip Putthoff can be reached at fputthoff@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWAFlip

    Sports on 10/25/2016

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