Buffalo River 
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  • 24 May 2013 8:48 AM | Anonymous
    Agency sticks with its OK for hog farm

    LR lawyer says response to letter not good enough

    RYAN MCGEENEY
    ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE


    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality is standing by its 2012 decision to issue an operational permit to C&H Hog Farms, the large-scale concentrated animal-feeding operation in Mount Judea.
    In a May 15 letter to the department, Little Rock lawyer Hank Bates claimed the farm’s permit application was flawed and should be revoked until several “omissions, errors and misrepresentations” were addressed by the department and the farm owners. The letter included documentation for a half-dozen purported inconsistencies in the application’s nutrient management plan, the 263-page document that details the farm’s design and plan for safely disposing of the manure of about 2,500 sows and as many as 4,000 piglets at any given time.
    Bates sent the letter on behalf of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, a coalition of several environmental and economic advocacy organizations that have voiced concern about the impact of potential water and air pollution from the hog barn for several months. Bates, a partner at the firm Carney, Bates & Pulliam, said he was not being paid for work done on behalf of the alliance.
    In a response signed by department director Teresa Marks and sent to Bates Wednesday and publicly issued Thursday, the department addressed some of the concerns raised in Bates’ letter.
    In his letter, Bates said soil tests performed by the University of Arkansas Soil Testing and Research Laboratory indicated that the majority of the 630 acres surrounding the C&H Hog Farms production facility, upon which the facility operators plan to spread hog waste as fertilizer for warm-season grasses, were already saturated with phosphorus. The farm’s nutrient management plan later states that “[b]ased on current soil tests, there are no fields at this time that are identified as having high and/or very high soil phosphorous (P) levels.”
    The department’s response says that terms used in assessing a soil’s nutrient levels such as “optimal” or “above optimal” refer to the amount of a given nutrient needed to successfully grow a given crop.
    “[T]he optimum and above optimum soil phosphorus levels are indicative of the agronomic viability of the land application site,” the department’s letter says. “The permit does not limit application based solely on agronomic rates but … is one of many site specific factors and management practices included in the [phosphorus]-index.”
    The department’s response does not address the contradiction between the soil-test results and the statement that none of the farm’s fields is high in phosphorus.
    In streams, excessive levels of phosphorus can cause algae blooms, clouding waterways while choking off other aquatic life dependent on sunshine.
    Bates’ letter also raises the concern that the nutrient management plan does not list the flooding probability for four of the 17 fields that make up the farm’s 630 spreadable acres. Those portions of the planning worksheet instead read “#N/A.” The soil maps included with the nutrient management plan identify these fields, which lay adjacent to Big Creek, a major tributary to the Buffalo National River, as prone to “occasional flooding.”
    The department’s response identifies the use of “#N/A” in other portions of the plan as a simple problem of data-entry error, but does not make direct reference to the use of “#N/A” in the flooding probability estimation for the four fields.
    The department also explained that while flooding frequency is factored into the permitting process, propensity for flooding does not necessarily disqualify an area of land for use when spreading manure.
    Bates’ letter also expresses concerns that the nutrient management plan inaccurately estimated how much phosphorus will be lost from the hog manure between collection and distribution over the farm’s fields. The plan estimates that 80 percent of the phosphorus content in the manure will be lost before being applied to the land, but Bates contended that most of the nutrient content will simply become concentrated at the bottom of the waste lagoons but eventually spread with the rest of the manure.
    The department’s response says that the farm operators plan to agitate the lagoons, removing waste solids and applying them as part of the manure mixture to five fields, four of which are the fields where the flooding frequency was not properly identified elsewhere in the nutrient management plan. The department’s response does not state how often the lagoon holding the waste solids will be agitated.
    Other concerns in Bates’ letter go unaddressed in the department’s response. These include the nutrient management plan’s use of nitrogen-based analysis for one portion of the farm (again, the same four fields mentioned above) instead of the phosphorus-based analysis used for the rest of the farm’s 630 spreadable acres, and the plan’s recommendation to apply 57 pounds of phosphorus per acre, per application, over the entire acreage, while the university soil test results recommend applying no phosphorous to most of the area.
    The department’s response concludes by saying that the department does not agree with Bates’ assertion that C&H Hog Farm’s operational permit should be revoked, based on the information included in his letter.
    Bates said Thursday that the department had failed to adequately address the concerns raised in his letter.
    “[The Environmental Quality Department’s] response to our letter enumerating the inadequacies in the C&H Hog Farms permitting process undefined specifically the Nutrient Management Plan undefined is really a non-response,” Bates said via e-mail. “[The department’s] response inspires little to no confidence that the agency will be enforcing the permit and protecting the Buffalo River as this factory farm ramps up operations.”
    Katherine Benenati, a spokesman for the Environmental Quality Department, said Thursday that department staff members were working to further address unanswered questions in Bates’ letter.
    Bates said that he is scheduled to meet with Environmental Quality Department representatives June 7.


  • 23 May 2013 7:34 AM | Anonymous
     State legislators tour hog farm, face critics

    RYAN MCGEENEY
    ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE


    JASPER About two dozen state legislators concluded a two-day tour Wednesday of what have become the two of the most discussed features of Newton County in recent months: the Buffalo National River and C&H Hog Farms.
    Tuesday, after a presentation on the Buffalo National River’s founding and history by Kevin Cheri and information about the river’s impact on tourism in the state by Department of Parks and Tourism Director Richard Davies, the lawmakers managed to float a portion of the river during a brief respite from the day’s rains. Wednesday, legislators heard from two area organic farmers before touring C&H Hog Farms, the large-scale concentrated animal-feeding operation in Mount Judea. After the tour, about a half-dozen of the legislators drove to the Ozark Cafe in Jasper for a late lunch sponsored by Cargill Inc. C&H Hog Farms is contracted to provide piglets for Cargill’s pork production operations.
    Rep. Homer Lenderman, D-Brookland, said he was impressed by his tour of the farm.
    “I was amazed at the air quality,” Lenderman said. “From 30 feet away, you could barely smell the hog operation. It looked to me that they had gone above and beyond the call as far as making sure they were in compliance with all current environmental regulations.”
    As the legislators ate their meal in the Ozark Cafe, about 60 protesters stood on the lawn of the Newton County Courthouse, which sits directly across the street. Most were affiliated with the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which has publicly protested C&H Hog Farms and filed a notice of intent to sue the Farm Service Agency, which provided the environmental assessment for the farm site and helped guarantee the loan to build the facility.
    Much of the concern regarding the farm focused on fears that waste from the farm, which is permitted to house about 2,500 full-grown sows and as many as 4,000 piglets at one time, will pollute either the area’s groundwater through its karst geology, surface waters through runoff into nearby Big Creek, or both.
    “If they’re monitoring the water quality like they’re supposed to do, I think this is an unfounded fear,” Lenderman said. “I think [the owners of C&H Hog Farms] will be good neighbors.”
    As the legislators continued to eat Wednesday, members of the protest alliance gradually put away their signs and filtered into the Ozark Cafe to eat, in some cases sitting at adjacent tables from the politicians.
    Gordon Watkins, an organizer with the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and an organic farmer and rental-cabin owner in Parthenon, sat with other protesters in the cafe’s large secondary dining area, only feet away from Lenderman and the event’s organizer, Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall.
    Watkins said he found the mixture of events connected with the tour confusing.
    “I’m not really clear what the goal was,” Watkins said. “If it was to expose members of the [Agricultural] Committee to the Buffalo River area, I didn’t see how the hog farm fit into that.”
    Watkins also said that bringing in organic farmers to speak to the legislators might cause some lawmakers to conflate organic farming with the concentrated animal-feeding operation, an idea Watkins said is patently false.
    Watkins said that although none of the legislators crossed the street to speak with him or any of his fellow protesters, he felt it was a good opportunity to let the lawmakers know that many of the state’s residents were concerned about the farm’s operation.
    “We were here to let these folks know, loud and clear, that there are folks really concerned about the Buffalo River, and we think this hog farm is risky business,” Watkins said. “Not everybody thinks this is the greatest thing since a pocket on a shirt.”
  • 21 May 2013 9:56 AM | Deleted user
    PRESS RELEASE
      FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    Date:   May 21, 2013
    Contact:  

    Perry Wheeler, National Parks Conservation Association,

     P: 202-419-3712



    Groups Urge Continued Focus on Faulty Permitting Process for Factory Hog Farm Near Buffalo National River

    Background: On May 21 and 22, Arkansas state legislators will tour C & H Hog Farms, which was approved through an inadequate permitting process that did not factor in the potential for numerous environmental and health impacts to the region and Buffalo National River. The agencies that approved the loan and permit for the factory farm failed to consult with the National Park Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is charged with protecting endangered species in the region. Local residents could face health impacts, along with a constant unpleasant odor, due to exposure to ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane. Additionally, the farm's Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) contained significant errors, omissions and misrepresentations, which were highlighted in a letter to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality last week, urging them to revoke the permit. The letter and associated attachments can be found here: http://buffaloriveralliance.org/Default.aspx?pageId=1558368

    Statement by Michael Dougherty, President of the Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce and Member of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance

    “As state legislators prepare to tour C & H Hog Farms, the National Parks Conservation Association, Ozark Society, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and Arkansas Canoe Club urge that the focus remain on the faulty permitting process that has allowed this industrial hog factory to proceed. The presence of this concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in the Buffalo River Watershed continues to cause an uproar throughout the state and endangers the local economy, America's first national river – the Buffalo, as well as the quality of life for thousands of surrounding residents.

    “The individuals who are set to operate C & H were put into an unfortunate position by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA). The situation we have now is a result of a failed permitting process, and Cargill – the international agri-giant who will supply the hogs – and the agencies involved should be working toward a resolution that pleases everyone. By forcing a permit through that has tremendous holes with a lack of adequate public input, these agencies have endangered our treasured landscape and the livelihoods of many individuals – including the owners of C & H. The organizations concerned about the impact of C & H are pro-farm, but we are also pro-Buffalo National River, and the threat to the nation’s first national river is real.

    “Buffalo National River brought over 1 million visitors to the region, who supported roughly $38 million in economic activity in 2011. Visitors spend money in our stores. They rent our vacation homes. They eat in our restaurants. They fish and kayak in our river. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and USDA's Farm Service Agency owe it to the people of Arkansas and to the residents who depend on this river to show the true impacts of this factory farm through an open and transparent process. We’re calling on Cargill, ADEQ and the federal government to make this right.”

  • 15 May 2013 7:24 PM | Anonymous
    ADH says hog waste could threaten health of swimmers in Buffalo
    http://mikemastersonsmessenger.com/health-department-had-cafo-concerns/
  • 15 May 2013 6:47 PM | Anonymous
    Northwest Arkansas Times

    Officials Boost E. Coli Testing In River, Creek

    Opening Of C&H Hog Farms Elevates Concern For Buffalo

    By Ryan McGeeney
    Posted: May 15, 2013 at 3:16 a.m.
    ·
    ·
    Administrators with the Buffalo National River have increased the frequency of E. coli monitoring at the river’s confluence with Big Creek near Hasty from quarterly to weekly.
    Faron Usrey, an aquatic ecologist with the river, said he began collecting weekly samples the first week of March at three monitoring stations in an effort to determine whether C&H Hog Farms, the recently constructed concentrated animal feeding operation in Mount Judea, is affecting the level of fecal coli form entering the Buffalo River.
    “We’ve started a weekly sample just to get a background level of E. coli in the river,” Usrey said.
    The 23-acre C&H Hog Farms is permitted to house about 2,500 full grown sows and as many as 4,000 piglets. The owners of the farm have land-use agreements for about 630 acres where hog manure from the farm can be spread as fertilizer.
    Jason Henson, co-owner of the farm with his cousins Philip and Richard Campbell, said in an interview last week that Cargill Inc. began delivering sows to the facility in early May. Henson expects the farm to reach its full operating capacity within three months.
    Although the farm’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requires buffer zones of more than 100 feet from waterways, environmental advocates have voiced concern that heavy rains may wash residual nutrients into groundwater and the waterways.
    Buffalo River administrators take samples from Big Creek just before its confluence with the Buffalo and from stations both above and below the confluence. Situating the stations that way allows officials to distinguish how pollutants are entering the river, Usrey said.
    The samples are analyzed to identify the number of E. coli colonies within 100 milliliters of water. In freshwater bodies used for recreational activities such as swimming, the Environmental Protection Agency’s guidance sets acceptable levels of E. coli at 298 colonies per 100 milliliters.
    According to data supplied by Usrey, weekly sample analysis from the three sites around the confluence of Big Creek and the Buffalo National River range from as little as three colonies in a sample collected March 27 at the Carver access site to as high as 131 colonies in a sample collected March 20 at the same location.
    “The samples we’ve taken have been extremely low, especially considering the size of the creek,” Usrey said.
    On Monday, the National Park Service published a four year assessment of E. coli levels in the Buffalo National River. The report, authored by Usrey, lists 35 water-quality monitoring sites along the Buffalo National River, 23 of which monitor tributaries near their confluence with the river. Nine monitor water within the river itself, and another three sites monitor water quality at Luallen Spring, Mitch Hill Spring and Gilbert Spring.
    The report said that E. coli concentrations generally were well within standards set by the federal Clean Water Act and the Department of Environmental Quality. Higher levels of E. coli were measured at the river’s Ponca access point, the confluence with Tomahawk Creek in Searcy County and the Mill Creek confluence.
    Buffalo National River officials have posted warnings about the presence of E. coli on the Buffalo near Mill Creek since 2010, after a sewage treatment plant in Marble Falls failed, discharging raw sewage into the Buffalo tributary. The discharge began in January 2009 and continued for more than a year before the town was able to borrow a pump from the Arkansas Rural Water Association and route the sewage to a waste-treatment plant.
    The Mill Creek warning signs are still posted, said Kevin Cheri, Buffalo National River superintendent. Park administrators are only now beginning to discuss whether the water quality has recovered to the point that administrators may remove the signs.
    Usrey said it costs about $30 to analyze each water sample for the presence of E. coli. Usrey uses an analysis system developed by IDEXX laboratories that causes the E. coli colonies to become phosphorescent in the sample tube, visible under a black light.
    Usrey estimated the park would need to add about $30,000 to its annual budget to hire an additional technician to monitor, analyze and report weekly samples from the Big Creek confluence, and to pay for the testing material itself. Considering that the park is operating under an effective 10 percent budget cut - the result of four years of declining National Park Service budgets and a 6 percent cut enacted through the federal budget sequester - Cheri said finding the funding for an additional position would be a challenge.
    “The park is strapped,” Cheri said. “We have closures and reduced services, so that luxury is not there. We’ve contacted our regional office, and it’s under consideration as an ‘emergency need.’”
    Cheri said he had considered contacting other state agencies for financial assistance in funding the additional position.

    Northwest Arkansas, Pages 7 on 05/15/2013
  • 15 May 2013 6:17 PM | Anonymous
    From Arkansas Times:

    Buffalo River Watershed Alliance asks revocation of hog farm permit

    Posted by Max Brantley on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 12:33 PM

    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and others have written to Teresa Marks, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, asking her to revoke the permit issued for the C&H factory hog farm at Mount Judea, near a major tributary to the Buffalo River.
    The letter says Marks had once said she'd revoke the permit if significant errors were found in the application.

    The Alliance, at this link, lists in some detail what it believes to be significant shortcomings. To name but one, the Alliance says an environmental assessment by the Farm Services Administration had "45 significant errors, misstatements, inaccuracies and other problems." Among others, the National Park Service was not notified about the hog feeding operation undefined which will produce waste from 6,500 pigs undefined and excluded from the assessment of impact despite the farm's presence in the national river's watershed.

    Little Rock lawyer Hank Bates sent the letter in behalf of the Alliance, the Ozark Society, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Arkansas Canoe Club. His letter specifically objects to the nutrient management plan. It says the plan calls for spreading hog waste laden with phosphorous onto fields that already have more phosphorous than they need. Inevitably, rain will put the phosphorous into the streams, which will produce algae and alter the Buffalo River ecosystem.
  • 13 May 2013 7:23 AM | Anonymous
    Guest writer


    Our heritage, too


    Hogs pose no danger to Buffalo

    BY JASON HENSON
    SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE


    No one loves the Buffalo River more than my 7-year-old daughter. She swims, fishes and enjoys that national river. It is one of the great benefits of living and raising a family in Newton County.
    So imagine my surprise when our efforts to farm are being called by some an all-out assault on the water quality of the Buffalo River.
    Yes, I am the hog farmer whose proposal was reviewed and approved by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in compliance with standards set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. That decision seems to have set off a firestorm in some people’s minds.
    Simply mentioning “hog farm” and “Buffalo River” in the same sentence has people assuming some catastrophic event.
    What most don’t realize is the extensive safeguards we have in place to avoid such an event. The hog farm, which I own with my cousins Richard and Phillip Campbell, was designed by a licensed engineering firm. It includes the latest technologies and efficiencies. In fact, our farm exceeds several of the Department of Environmental Quality and EPA standards, not because we are required to do that, but because of our interest in protecting this watershed, the Buffalo River and the visitors to this great treasure.
    My cousins and I are environmentalists. That’s our heritage. I learned to swim in Big Creek, which runs through our farm and feeds into the Buffalo River about five miles from our property. To say that we would do anything to contaminate those waters is ludicrous.
    We are a small family-owned farm, not the “corporate farm” others have portrayed us to be. We are honored as a past winner of the Newton County Farm Family of the Year award. We were born and raised in this county, and eight generations of our family have called this area home. Eight generations.
    My family’s roots run deep in our rocky soil, and we hope to be here for generations to come.
    Yet some question our motives and sensibilities when it comes to the way we make our living. Frankly, they are barking up the wrong tree.
    My cousins have operated a hog farm in this area for the past 12 years, with no violations or issues. We intend to keep it that way. The process to meet the standards set forth by the Department of Environmental Quality and EPA were extensive and took two years to complete. It was only after that was completed that we were allowed to secure the loans necessary for the farm at this location.
    Yet some act like we will be dumping hog manure straight into the Buffalo River. I realize that is a sensational and attention-grabbing thought. But the fact is we are engineered for that not to happen, but that’s not nearly as dramatic, inflammatory or attention-grabbing.
    Some discount our track record of success and our history of stewardship while they react with raw emotion. They ignore common sense, without realizing we are actually on the same side of environmental stewardship.
    Newton County is one of the poorer counties in the state, and our school district, Mount Judea, is one of the smallest. While our family farm will only employ eight to 12 people, it brings much-needed jobs and tax dollars to the county and school district. Officials with the school district, the Newton County Judge and the Newton County Quorum Court, along with many of the people of Newton County, support our efforts and see the benefits this brings to our area.
    We are a small community. We see our neighbors every day. I want to be able to look at my neighbors in the eye and say I am doing what I am supposed to be doing to protect my farm, my family, our land and the Buffalo River.
    The Buffalo River watershed means a lot to us. We live here. I’m not some government official who gets paid to look after these waters.
    We do it because we love where we live.
    I want my daughter to carry on this legacy of stewardship and farming. Hopefully, when she has children, they will enjoy farming as much as we do, and pass that on for many generations to come.
    What everyone needs to know is that we will continue our work to protect all of our natural resources, not because someone clamors for it, but rather for our children and future generations. That’s the farmers’ way.
     
    Jason Henson is one of the owners of C&H Hog Farms in Mount Judea.





    Court battle looms over hogs

    Mike Masterson


    It was inevitable that forces intent on preserving the ecology of the pristine Buffalo River would challenge the government’s approval of that industrial hog farm at Mount Judea.
    I predict the announcement this week of a pending lawsuit against the Farm Service Agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture is the beginning of what could be a lengthy court fight to protect our nation’s first national river.
    And as lawyers likely begin their discovery process, many like me are hoping the cherished river will emerge victorious.
    The plaintiffs: a coalition that includes the National Parks Conservation Association, the Ozark Society and the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance. The suit is to be pursued by the public-interest law firm Earthjustice.
    Among other revelations, I’m hoping the depositions from this suit can also help explain the questionable omissions in the environmental assessment report and explore the relationship between the official who oversaw it and his wife’s relationship to the farm’s owners.
    “This factory farm will produce massive quantities of waste just six miles from the Buffalo River, and that waste will be spread on land that is right next to one of the Buffalo’s major tributaries,” said Emily Jones of the National Parks Conservation Association. “We are talking about one of the most beautiful areas in the country. To think that our government would allow this hog factory in the watershed without examining its impacts is unconscionable.”
    I have nothing against these veteran farmers who’ve contracted with Cargill to feed and raise thousands of that international corporation’s hogs. I feel certain they care about the environment and how well they manage their business.
    Ordinarily I’d argue we live in a society where each citizen can freely pursue a livelihood within reason. But the potential here for affecting thousands of other lives definitely exists. Ask those in states such as North Carolina and Iowa where contaminants and odor from overflowing hog waste have choked once-clean and beautiful streams. It got so bad in North Carolina that the state was forced to declare a moratorium on the polluting hog factories.
    To my knowledge, the C&H hog farmers have yet to undertake such a CAFO with thousands of these animals generating millions of gallons of waste so close to Big Creek, a primary tributary of the Buffalo River.
    The issue for me is a matter of snouts and tails. The snout is the farmers’ conceded abilities and concern. The tail is placing this farm in such a sensitive area where accidents, human error and a fractured substructure just beneath the topsoil create an untenable risk. It’s this tail that disturbs so many. Arkansans and others don’t want this national river’s purity needlessly put at potential riskundefinedperiod, exclamation point.
    Irecently asked Mike Martin, a public relations and communications spokesperson for Cargill, if his corporation had met with people from the Mount Judea area specifically to discuss starting this CAFO there. Where did this idea even begin?
    He told me there had been numerous meetings between Cargill and the farmers leading up to the farmers’ calling a neighborhood meeting and presentation about the farm plan held at the Mount Judea fire station in January 2012. I was awaiting Martin’s response at deadline as to whether it was Cargill’s original idea to locate this CAFO where it is.
    In announcing their intended suit, Robert Cross, president of the Ozark Society, called this CAFO the greatest threat to the Buffalo River since a dam proposal by the Corps of Engineers that was thwarted 50 years ago. “The porous limestone and karst that underlies all of the soil in the Mount Judea region provides a direct passageway for leakage from the waste holding ponds and for untreated recharge from the waste application fields to reach the groundwater and thus Big Creek and the Buffalo River,” he said. “The risk for contamination of the Buffalo River is unacceptably high.”
    The Farm Service Agency’s loan approval (backed by taxpayers) and guarantee were issued during the summer and fall of 2012. The suit also will contend that, because of a failure to notify local residents, the community did not find out about the farm’s construction until this year. Inadequate public notice is one of several egregious failures on the part of the government to ensure that the facility would not have detrimental affects on the Buffalo River watershed, the coalition said. So why weren’t public meetings held where they mattered most: Jasper and Harrison?
    “The letter we are sending today is a notice to the Department of Agriculture that its Farm Service Agency failed to undertake the consultation that is required to ensure that endangered species are not harmed as a result of the agency’s action,” said Hannah Chang, an attorney with Earthjustice.
    Jack Stewart of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance said the aim of the intended suit is to prevent the farm from going forward without thoroughly examining the potential irreversible damage to one of America’s most cherished places.
    Amen, Mr. Stewart.
     
    Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at mikemasterson10@hotmail.com. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.
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