Buffalo River 


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


    MIKE MASTERSON: Pandering to fear

    Sky’s not falling

    By Mike Masterson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Editorial on 02/13/2018

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

    Two Marshall men in contest to fill vacant state House seat

    By John Moritz

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The program is also known as Arkansas Works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Ragland said he planned to vote for Hutchinson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    SundayMonday on 02/11/2018

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

    MIKE MASTERSON: ‘Elitist’ Buffalo backers

    Morgan’s war

    By Mike Masterson

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Editorial on 02/06/2018

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

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

    By Emily Walkenhorst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Metro on 02/04/2018

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

    Panel on river outlines its goals

    Priorities include tourism increase

    By Emily Walkenhorst twitter_byline.png

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The report mentioned several other state agency priorities and accomplishments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Metro on 02/03/2018

    Print Headline: Panel on river outlines its goals

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

    MIKE MASTERSON: Arkansas' top attraction

    Good and bad

    By Mike Masterson

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

    Dance with the one who brung ya

    By RICHARD MASON Special to the Democrat-Gazette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Editorial on 01/28/2018

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

    REX NELSON: A conservation ethos

    By Rex Nelson

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

    Editorial on 01/28/2018

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

    BRENDA BLAGG: A tempered victory

    Road for opponents to hog farm remains long

    By Brenda Blagg

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Commentary on 01/24/2018

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

    Why ever permitted?

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

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

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

    Mike Masterson

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