Buffalo River 


  • 14 Sep 2013 1:43 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    [See the full ADEQ Inspection Report on the Documents and Video page]

    Hog farm’s inspection results released
    Inspectors note concerns with nutrient plan, waste lagoon in advisory report
    By Ryan McGeeney

    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality this week issued the results of a compliance assistance inspection of C&H Hog Farms, the concentrated animal feeding operation in Newton County.

    Findings of the inspection, which was conducted July 23, were made available to the public on the department’s website after a report was mailed to Jason Henson, thepresident and one of three co-owners of the farm in Mount Judea.

    Ryan Benefield, deputy director of the Environmental Quality Department, said a compliance assistance inspection is not uncommon on new operations that have environmental permits through the state or federal government. Benefield said that although permit holders sometimes request this sort of inspection, department staff members initiated theinspection in this instance because of noted public concern about the farm and its location.

    “We committed to the public that we would be overseeing this facility,” Benefield said.

    C&H Hog Farms is the first and only facility in Arkansas to hold a federal largescale animal feeding operation water-discharge permit through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. The farm is permitted to house approximately 2,500 full-grown sows and as many as 4,000 piglets at any given time. Henson and his co-owner cousins, Richard and Philip Campbell, contract with Cargill Inc. to provide weaned piglets, which are eventually slaughtered at other facilities.

    Although the owners attracted no unusual attention when they applied for and received the permit in 2012, public outcry began to mountin early 2013 when administrators at the Buffalo National River began questioning the validity of the farm’s environmental assessment, performed by the Farm Service Agency as part of a loan-guarantee process.

    The production facility is surrounded by approximately 630 acres of grassland fields, upon which the farm operators are permitted to spread collected hog waste as fertilizer. Because several portions of the acreage abut Big Creek, a major tributary to the Buffalo National River, and because of the karst geology of Newton County, environmental activists and business owners have publicly voiced concern that waste from the farm may contaminate the river through surface water, groundwater or both.

    In the report, Jason Bolenbaugh, inspection branch manager for the Environmental Quality Department, identif ies six concerns raised by inspectors during their visit to the farm in July.

    Three of the issues concerned the accurate labeling of maps contained in the farm’s nutrient management plan, a 263-page document outlining the design and function of the farm, including when, where and how waste will be disposed of during normal operation of the farm. The report cautions Henson that the plan’s overall site map should “include buffer zones around all ponds, streams and drainages,” and that all appropriate buffer zones around other boundaries and waterways be avoided when applying fertilizer.

    The report also notes that no copy of the nutrient management plan was immediately available onsite during the inspection. Benefield said he had spoken by phone with Henson, who was not on the farm during the inspection, and that the employee escorting the inspectors was simply unaware of the plan’s location.

    According to the report, “no means of managing farm mortality was observed on site.” Farm mortality refers to an inevitable number of dead pigs resulting from a fully-operational breeding operation, in which a large portion of 2,500 sows are birthing litters of 12-15 piglets at any given time.

    Although the farm’s original nutrient management plan stated the farm would use a kind of composting unit known as an “in-vessel composter,” Environmental Quality Department spokesperson Katherine Benenati said the department had subsequently approved a modification to the plan, allowing the facilitator to use an incinerator instead.

    Benefield said Henson also stated after the inspection that the incinerator was present, but that the employee present during the tour had also not known its location.

    Finally, the inspection report noted several signs of erosion in the clay liner that holds the collected hog waste in two large lagoons.

    Benefield said that signs of erosion in new waste-containment lagoons were typical and not an immediate cause for concern.

    “Part of maintaining the liner is to repair erosion rills as they happen,” said Benefield, referring to small cracks that may appear in liner clay or topsoil. “If left unattended, it could be an issue, but maintained, it won’t be.”

    Karl VanDevender, a professor of biological engineering and an extension engineer for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Cooperative Extension Serviceoffice, said erosion in new waste ponds was typical until vegetation is able to take hold and secure thesurrounding soil.

    Benefield stressed that a compliance assistance inspection essentially serves an advisory function, helping operators of new facilities to identify shortcomings before they become serious problems.

    Benefield said the water division oversees about 6,000 permits throughout the state, employing 17 inspectors to investigate permitted facilities either on a renewal-driven or complaint-driven basis.

    Department director Teresa Marks said she anticipated visiting C&H Hog Farms more frequently than other installations that had not received as much public scrutiny, but that nothing about the farm had raised concerns when she and Benefield visited the farm personally earlier this year.

    “We are going to respond to any complaints we get,” Marks said. “We will have boots on the ground out there, but we weren’t alarmed by anything we saw out there. We didn’t see any harm to the environment from this installation.”

  • 11 Sep 2013 11:54 AM | Anonymous
    On September 5, a legislative subcommittee in Little Rock recommended funding a $340,000 proposal by the University of Arkansas to “Demonstrate and Monitor the Sustainable Management of Nutrients on C & H Farm in Big Creek Watershed.” The proposal requests an additional $400,000 over the following four years. In short, three-quarters of a million dollars of tax-payer money will be used to monitor the impact this 6,500-head factory hog operation will have on the fragile ecology of Big Creek and, more importantly, on the Buffalo National River a short distance downstream. 

    Why are Arkansas taxpayers asked to foot the bill to keep tabs on a privately owned operation (whose $3.4 million loans are also guaranteed by US taxpayers) under contract with Cargill, a private multi-national conglomerate? Could it be because the state and its Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) realize they made a mistake by allowing this factory farm, the first and largest of its kind in Arkansas, to be located in such a sensitive area where it threatens the Natural State’s crown jewel? 

    Neither neighbors, Newton county residents, nor anyone in the state received notice of this project except for a brief posting buried deep in the ADEQ website. As a result, the public did not become aware of the facility until months after the permit was issued and construction was nearly complete. If proper public notice was given when the permit application was received, and public opposition was equally strong (now reaching the national level), would the state respond the same way and agree to spend $750,000 to monitor a $3.4 million private operation? Or would the state see that such a high impact facility obviously does not belong in the fragile karst terrain of the Ozarks and deny the permit? It seems the state is covering its ham-hocks for allowing itself to be steamrolled by Cargill and Farm Bureau and for its lack of oversight, foresight and due diligence in allowing this permit to be issued without public notice.

    Ironically, the state, including the Governor, ADEQ and the legislature, refused to consider an alternative proposal by nationally-renowned hydrogeologist and retired University of Arkansas professor Dr. John Brahana. His proposal carries a price tag of $69,000, less than 1/10th the cost of the U of A proposal. Most importantly, Dr Brahana’s techniques will find waste leakage more reliably and quicker than will the U of A’s monitoring wells. He will monitor existing springs and Big Creek and will use critical dye tracing studies to identify subsurface water flow. For example, if dye was placed in one of the waste storage ponds (which are expected to leak up to 5,000 gallons per acre per day) and then appeared in one of the many springs bubbling up in nearby Big Creek, or a neighbor’s private well, or even in the Buffalo River, that would be proof positive, before damage was done, that contamination would occur. 

    Under the state’s plan, a monitoring well may be drilled in an area where little or no karst is present and waste may bypass the well or may show up very slowly, after significant impairment of Big Creek and the Buffalo has taken place. 

    Why would the state not even consider a lower cost study which would show damage rather than one which may not show damage at all or not until after the Buffalo has been seriously contaminated?  

    Dr Brahana’s work, ongoing for several months, has already provided important baseline data on water quality in Big Creek. It’s a shame the state wasted a golden opportunity to gather important water data and opted instead for an inflated study which will only provide a partial and incomplete picture of the risks to the region. Perhaps this study is intended to kill public outrage over the factory farm – not actually monitor and prevent a major catastrophe for the region.  

    Visit the Documents page on the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance website http://buffaloriveralliance.org/ where you can read both the U of A proposal as well as Dr Brahana’s and judge for yourself. 
  • 08 Sep 2013 11:13 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Hutchinson: More Notice Needed On Hog Farm, Other Projects
    By Doug Thompson

    FAYETTEVILLE undefined The state should require more public notice for construction of ventures like a large-scale hog farm in the watershed of the Buffalo National River, Asa Hutchinson, a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, said Friday.

    “There needs to be better notification when such a large operation is being planned,” Hutchinson said after the issue came up at a noon question-and-answer session sponsored by the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. Hutchinson is running for the Republican nomination against Curtis Coleman of Little Rock and Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers. The only declared Democratic candidate is former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross of Prescott.

    Hutchinson is a former representative of Arkansas’ 3rd Congressional District, which includes Fayetteville and the area near Mount Judea where C&H Hog Farms is located. The farm received all required permits and permissions to house about 2,500 full-grown sows and as many as 4,000 piglets at a time. It's the first such facility in Arkansas to receive a general water discharge permit required through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

    Federal agencies that signed off on the project by granting the required loan guarantees and other approval are subject to a federal lawsuit filed by environmental groups. The lack of state requirements for more public notice also came under criticism by neighbors and environmental groups after the project’s permits went through.

    “That’s good to hear. This whole thing was kept under the radar,” said Gordon Watkins of Jasper, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which opposes the hog farm, when told of Hutchinson’s comment.

    At the chamber’s meeting, Hutchinson said the state has lagged behind other states in the region in job growth in the last year. The state has a “noncompetitive” state income tax rate that needs to be reduced, he said. The state also needs to do more to bring education up to date. “The ability to write computer code is the language of the workplace in the future,” he said.

    Hutchinson also said the importance of governors increase the longer the federal government remains deadlocked.

    “Governors solve the problems and find the solutions when the federal government is broken and unable to lead,” he said.

    The state should also adopt a policy that state government growth shouldn't exceed revenue growth, Hutchinson said.

    Tyler Clark, Democratic Party chairman of Washington County, attended the chamber event. He asked Hutchinson how much he expected to cut the income tax. Hutchinson said his specific plans would be announced at a later date.

    “There was no policy outlined in that talk,” Clark said after the event. “Even though he’s from Northwest Arkansas, he doesn’t resonate here.”

    In the governor’s campaign, Hutchinson said he has 13 fundraisers planned in September alone. The campaign for the November 2014 election is already in full swing, he said.

  • 08 Sep 2013 11:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Research group on its own testing water near hog farm
    2 scientists fear analysis shorted on area around operation
    By Ryan McGeeney

    FAYETTEVILLE - Two Arkansas scientists are working to document water quality near the C&H Hog Farms in Newton County.

    Van Brahana, a hydrologist and recently retired University of Arkansas geosciences professor, and Joe Nix, a retired distinguished professor of chemistry at Ouachita Baptist University, are working with a small team to collect and analyze water samples from a growing number of sites near the hog operation in Mount Judea.

    “The reason I got into this was I perceived a gross miscarriage of characterizing a site,” Brahana said.

    Like several critics of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to grant a water-discharge permit to C&H Hog Farms, Brahana’s main concern is with the karst geology that defines much of the area. The porous limestone substrate contains an unknown number of caves, underground springs and other waterways.

    The farm is the first and only operation in Arkansas to hold a federal concentrated animal-feeding operation permit under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. The farm is permitted to house about 2,500 full-grown sows and as many as 4,000 piglets at any given time, and is permitted to spread waste from the hogs over about 630 acres of surrounding grasslands, some of which abut Big Creek, a tributary to the Buffalo National River.

    Brahana said he has questions about the farm’s nutrient-management plan, which outlines how operators dispose of the animal waste sothat nearby waterways won’t be polluted. Brahana said he was also upset about the Farm Service Agency’s perceived failure to conduct a study of the karst structures during its environmental assessment of the farm and surrounding areas in 2012.

    “I’m talking about the one they didn’t do,” Brahana said. “There was no preliminary study. They did nothing.”

    In May, state Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall, invited legislators from around the state to tour C&H Hog Farms, canoe the Buffalo National River, and hear several presentations from farmers and park Superintendent Kevin Cheri. Although Branscum said Friday that he had chosen to invite neither “pro-farm” nor “anti-farm” speakers because he wished to avoid a shouting match, Brahana said he was left with the distinct feeling of being“disinvited.”

    “I think I’m perceived as a rogue tree-hugger,” Brahana said. “But I balance my approach. I am not always environmental; I am not always pro-development. I collect data, and the data I collect answer a question. If there’s an implication there will be problems, I say so.”

    Shortly after Branscum’s meeting in Newton County, Brahana and his research assistants applied for and received sampling permits from the Buffalo National River administrators and the U.S. Forest Service, and in July began collecting water samples from about two dozen sites in the Big Creek Basin, the area in which the hog operation and the confluence of Big Creek and the Buffalo National River sit. Brahana said he is testing for bacteria, including E. coli and fecal coliform, as well as a spectrum of nutrients including nitrate, phosphorus, chlorides and about a dozen others.

    Brahana said his team analyzes bacteria samples at the UA Water Resources Laboratory in Fayetteville, because the bacteria die quickly in sampling. The other samples are sent overnight to Nix,Brahana’s primary research partner, in Arkadelphia.

    Nix founded the lab at Ouachita Baptist University in 1966, and subsequently attracted millions of dollars in research funding over the decades. Nix was also the second president of the Ozark Society, accepting the post after the organization’s founder, Neal Compton, stepped down.

    Nix said the primary importance of the research project was to establish background data for water quality in the area, so that if pollutants are later found, the change can be detected.

    “The truth of the matter is, [the Environmental Quality Department] should have had background data up there. They should be doing what Brahana is doing right now, but they’re not,” Nix said. “When you have something like this that stands to change everything, you have to have good background data. You need to know it particularly because it’s a karst area - it’s terribly important that you know what’s there now.”

    Nix and Brahana said the quarterly analysis the Environmental Quality Department does with samples taken along the Buffalo National River are inadequate, both in their frequency and in their timing.

    “When things move, they don’t move on a calendar schedule geared to humans,” Brahana said. “They move in response to storm events and low-flow events.”

    Brahana said that all the principal researchers on his team have been working without pay, but that technical material and equipment costs to complete the baseline research are beyond what the researchers can afford to pay.

    Some of the testing Brahana hopes to do, including a dye test, in which a chemically unique dye is traced through groundwater pathways, will amount to tens of thousands of dollars. In an Aug. 31 letter to Gov. Mike Beebe, Brahana outlined his research and estimated total costs to be about $69,000.

    The fact that the stateLegislature recently allocated more than $340,000 for the UA Agriculture Division to perform water and soil testing in the area does not dissuade Brahana and Nix fromthe belief that their research is necessary.

    “I saw allusions to the idea that [the university’s] study will answer all those questions,” Brahana said. “Idon’t believe it’s designed to answer those. I think it’s focused on the farm itself. It’s not focused on the regional basin. It only focuses on the farm, and three of the 17 fields surrounding the farm, using wells instead of springs and other sites that are important to evaluate.”

    Brahana said he was considering applying to the Arkansas Natural Resources Council for funding, but would likely avoid funding from environmental-activist organizations to avoid the appearance of tampering or impropriety. The Environmental Quality Department’s director, Teresa Marks, said her department isn’t able to fund outside research such as Brahana’s but that her agency would take Brahana’s research into account when considering permit applications and renewals in the basin area.

    Brahana said his goal with the project was to affect permitting regulations in ecologically fragile areas of the state.

    “My main concern, looking long-range, is to establish state regulations that would be protective of environments that are more fragile, like a karst region,” Brahana said. “I don’t think the state has an effective set of regulations now.”

  • 07 Sep 2013 7:29 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Groups plan rally over hog farm lawsuit
    David Holsted/Staff, Harrison Daily Times

    Posted: Friday, September 6, 2013 7:15 am
    Staff Report dailytimes@harrisondaily.com |0 comments

    The Newton County Farm Bureau recently elected a second owner of C&H Hog Farms to its board of directors and passed resolutions including one to encourage water quality monitoring on the Buffalo National River, while detractors of the farm are scheduling a rally in support of a lawsuit filed regarding the farm.

    Officials say Jason Henson, one partner in C&H Hog Farm, was elected to the board of directors at a recent meeting. Co-owner Richard Campbell was already a board member.
    One resolution passed at the same meeting is in support of monitoring water quality at multiple sights on the river during the May-October floating season to determine impact on recreational activity.

    Another resolution calls for existing state and federal guidelines regulating confined animal feeding operations like the hog farm be deemed adequate for permit eligibility.
    That resolution states that “scientific testing and studies have concluded these guidelines meet or exceed safeguards to protect the environment and general public” and that “certain radical environmental groups have challenged these accepted guidelines based on emotion, supposition and unscientific reasoning....”

    The Buffalo River Water Shed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Ozark Society filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal and state Small Business Administration, the federal and state Farm Service Agency and directors of each entity.

    The suit asks the court to void loan guarantees to C&H Hog Farms near Mt. Judea based on the impact the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) could have on the Buffalo National River.

    A press release said members of the plaintiff groups have invited former Sen. Dale Bumpers, Cong. Ed Bethune, former Cong. Vic Snyder, Rev. Betsy Singleton and other dignitaries to a reception and rally to raise money for and awareness of efforts to preserve the river from possible pollution from the hog farm.

    The rally is scheduled for 5:30 - 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, at Snyder’s home, 50 Robinwood Drive, Little Rock.
  • 06 Sep 2013 8:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Legislature approves money for pollution testing on hog farm near Buffalo River

    Posted by David Ramsey on Thu, Sep 5, 2013 at 6:06 PM
    HOGS NEAR THE BUFFALO: state will fund testing and monitoring

    The legislature’s Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER) joint subcommittee today approved Gov. Mike Beebe’s request for $340,510 to implement pollution testing and monitoring at the C&H Hog Farm in Mt. Judea. The farm has stirred controversy because of its proximity to a major tributary of the Buffalo River. The study will be conducted by water and soil experts at the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture and paid for out of Rainy Day funds.

    Dr. Mark J. Cochran, Vice President for Agriculture at the U of A, testified that the plan has three major components: 1) monitoring the nutrients and bacteria resulting from the land application of liquid fertilizer (intensive monitoring will be conducted in three of the seventeen application fields), 2) testing the impact of the farm undefined both the manure holding ponds and the application of liquid fertilizer undefined on water quality on and around the farm, and 3) research the effectiveness and sustainability of alternative manure management techniques, including the possibility of solid separation and transporting nutrients out of the watershed rather than applying them as fertilizer. You can read the full plan here.

    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality remains the regulatory agency over the farm, and the U of A researchers will give ADEQ quarterly reports of their findings. ADEQ Director Teresa Marks testified that they would make those findings publicly available. If a problem was found, ADEQ could revise the permit and/or nutrient management plan that the farm is operating under, in which case the farm would then have to adjust their practice to comply. You can see the memorandum of understanding between ADEQ and the U of A here.

    The C&H farmers are on board with the testing program. What about Cargill, the owner of the hogs and the farm's sole buyer? Their spokesman Mike Martin, always cagey, said, "Cargill does not object to monitoring programs that are based on accepted scientific protocols." He said they had not yet seen the final plan and that it was ultimately the decision of the C&H farmers.

    Cochran testified that a testing program of this kind should typically last at least five years. The $340,510 will cover the first year, including setting up monitoring stations; subsequently, if the legislature approved more funds, the cost would be around $100,000 per year.

    The testing program is likely to leave conservationists concerned about the farm unsatisfied. "They’re spending at least half a million dollars to fix a problem that shouldn't have happened in the first place," Robert Cross, president of the Ozark Society, one of the groups suing federal agencies over their loan guarantee of the farm.

    Dr. John Van Brahana, a just-retired University of Arkansas geology professor and an expert in karst geology who has raised concerns about the environmental impact of the farm, attended today's meeting. He said of the testimony on the testing plan, "there was a little more salesmanship than fact." He said that the plan failed to take sufficient account of the karst geology and the movement of groundwater (a frequent complaint from critics of the permit that C&H is operating under) and wouldn't cover a sufficient area to identify potential problems. The plan does not include dye testing to determine water pathways, but Brahana is currently doing his own dye testing, as well as water-quality testing. Many Mt. Judea area residents have allowed Brahana to do testing on their properties. C&H has not. Brahana said that he sent Beebe a summary of his preliminary findings earlier this week.

    Rep. Nate Bell, meanwhile, said that he was confident there would not be problems with phosphorous runoff or other contamination. “If [land application] is done properly, the risk is so small you can’t even quantify it,” he said. “Everything is in place to indicate that it’s been engineered correctly, the hydrology analysis has been done, all of the safeguards are in place. If [C&H] follows the plan that they’ve outlined, I think there’s widespread agreement among scientists that there’s virtually no risk.” Bell, himself a chicken farmer, said that he approved of the testing program in order to protect the interests of both the public and the farmers. "As a farmer, I welcome this kind of monitoring because it proves that the science-based practices we’re using on the farm work," he said.

    The first quarterly report of the testing program is set to be submitted to ADEQ in January of 2014.
  • 29 Aug 2013 2:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Read this article on the largest environmental blog on the internet, with 250,000 Twitter followers:
  • 27 Aug 2013 11:07 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Close, don’t monitor

    By Mike Masterson
    This article was published today at 5:11 a.m.
    Not everyone is hog-wild about Gov. Mike Beebe’s announced plan to seek $250,000 from the Legislature to cover the costs of water-quality monitoring around the controversial C&H hog factory our state inexplicably permitted in the Buffalo National River watershed.

    For many across Arkansas and the country, nothing the state does short of shutting down this factory approved to house 6,500 of Cargill Inc.’s swine is acceptable. There should be no need to monitor any mega-waste-generating corporate enterprise that risks contaminating the country’s first national river. Thousands continue to wonder how the agency responsible for preserving and regulating our environmental “quality” could ever have allowed such a potential polluter to quietly set up in such an environmentally sensitive area.

    In speaking for a coalition of groups opposed to the hog factory’s location, Robert Cross, president of the Ozark Society, said the council is expected to vote Sept. 5 on Beebe’s request.

    “The details of the proposed study are not yet public, and the Ozark Society, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association and Arkansas Canoe Club will withhold judgment until more information is available,” said Cross. “The bottom line, however, is the state should be preventing contamination from reaching the Buffalo River, not monitoring the problem.”

    Cross said in a news release by the coalition that while water-quality monitoring, if done well, beats not doing so, the groups question why the governor won’t step up and lead with more decisive action and at least review the facility’s ill-conceived permit.

    To be beneficial, any soil and water testing must be thorough, based on sound science, and coupled with a plan for swift action to address violations, said Cross. But by the time contamination from hog waste is detected, it’s also likely too late to undo the potential damage.

    The group also doesn’t understand why John Van Brahana of the University of Arkansas Geosciences Department, a man widely regarded as the scientist with the greatest knowledge of Newton County karst hydrogeology, hasn’t been consulted on the governor’s monitoring proposal.

    In early June, Brahana made his own proposal to Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality Director Teresa Marks for baseline testing followed by water-quality monitoring in the region. When that proposal was ignored by the agency, Brahana embarked on the study on his own time, using some of his own money and with support from other organizations.

    “That work is ongoing and he is currently testing wells for anyone in the Mount Judea area free of charge,” said Cross. “The state should have considered Brahana’s previous offer, and moving forward should coordinate with him for the governor’s proposal to utilize the valuable information Brahana is uncovering.”

    These folks make a valid point. Why was Brahana in effect shunned by the agency that wrongheadedly issued this permit in the worst possible location in Arkansas? Surely this Arkansas resource, with his extensive background and national credentials for studies in exactly this kind of environmentally sensitive region, is as good and likely better than the state agency can provide. There is some concern out here that having the state monitor itself, and its own bad decision to locate this factory where it is, smells political and arranged.

    “Most importantly,” says Cross, “the ADEQ should have fulfilled its duty to prevent contamination of the Buffalo River in the first place, before the 6,500-pig factory became a reality.”

    Instead, this misguided pig plan was flown under the radar and away from public scrutiny, for whatever its reasons. Mount Judea residents weren’t consulted, nor was the Arkansas Department of Health or the National Park Service. Even the Department of Environmental Quality’s own staff members in Newton County were kept out of the permitting loop, and this factory is operating smack dab in their backyard.

    “The permit process clearly didn’t assess the economic impact on tourism or the environmental impact on local residents,” Cross said. “Government agencies seem to be going out of their way to protect an industrial swine facility that will produce a handful of jobs, rather than protecting and preserving our first national river that belongs to all of us while supporting $38 million in local spending and 500 local jobs.”

    He said there are additional serious concerns over the effects of potentially harmful air pollution on more than 250 children attending the Mount Judea school just across Big Creek and the flood-prone fields where the two million gallons of hog manure produced annually will regularly be sprayed. “We look forward to seeing the governor’s proposal,” said Cross. “But sadly, any monitoring after the fact only demonstrates why this hog farm never should have been approved in the first place. Arriving at this point, the big question we ask is: Why is the federal government guaranteeing $3 million in taxpayer-subsidized loans and the state paying $250,000 to place a Cargill industrial pig factory in the Buffalo River watershed? This is getting to be one expensive factory farm, which can only get costlier for the people of Arkansas.” -

  • 26 Aug 2013 7:14 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    For BRWA's position on the Governor's proposal, see previous blog entry.


    All who appreciate the magnificence of the Buffalo National River must be pleased to hear Governor Mike Beebe say he will ask the Legislative Council to authorize $250,000 for soil and water tests in and around the new C&H Hog Farms in Mount Judea, even if such crucial monitoring comes many months after the fact.

    There’s irony in that it also was our state’s Department of Environmental Quality that wrongheadedly permitted this home to as many as 6,500 waste-generating swine atop karst-ridden ground along a major tributary of the Buffalo without insisting this factory farm proactively undertake such testing.

    These are the kinds of analyses the ADEQ should have been required of this factory farm and its supplier Cargill Inc. before even considering a permit at this location in Newton County.

    In fact, I’m still buffaloed over why groundwater dye testing wasn’t demanded in the watershed of our state’s only national river.

    Now the governor has done what certainly appears to be an admirable thing by saying he’ll seek funding for these tests and monitoring using geoscience experts from the University of Arkansas.

    In doing so, Beebe said the state can more thoroughly and accurately determine if unsafe levels of hog waste from this factory-known as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO)-could reach Big Creek (which flows alongside several of the factory’s waste dispersal fields) and into the Buffalo. Regulators can thereby be prepared to take preventative action if that occurs, he added.

    However, I’ve spoken with several geoscientist types who insist it’s not a question of if that happens in this Ozark Mountain county with more subsurface fractured limestone formations and caves than any other place in Arkansas, but rather when.

    Despite Beebe’s intentions, there remain many critics with valid questions. Why is the state taxpayer paying for this pollution monitoring rather than the farmers and Cargill? Why does this monitoring not even begin until October? That’s long after baseline water quality testing should have been done. To begin in October when the hog factory opened in mid-summer could easily show waste contamination present from the hogs that, at this point, could be wrongly attributed to other unknown existing sources.

    The National Park Service and Dr. John Van Brahana thankfully have been conducting baseline testing of the area’s water quality since the hog factory began operation, and the state should give their early results the credibility they deserve.

    The governor said he chose to act for two reasons: First, everyone who cares about America’s first national river wants to maintain its pristine nature. Second, this hog factory (the likes of which already have fouled once pristine streams and waters in North Carolina, Missouri and other states) is the first in Arkansas to receive a hog CAFO permit under a new general permit adopted nationally.

    “The CAFO permit was created two years ago by a change in federal law,” Gov. Beebe said. “This additional testing will help ensure there are no unintended consequences that result from that change.”

    I have no doubt the governor’s office has received many complaints about the ADEQ’s misguided permit issued without adequate notice and so effortlessly in the state’s worst possible location.

    Now Beebe is on record putting action behind his proclaimed beliefs.

    “I have said for years that in most cases a balance can be found between operating our businesses and caring for the environment, ” he said in his weekly radio address. “My hope is such a balance will be possible in Newton County. I recognize that the stakes are especially high when the Buffalo River is involved … For the immediate future, I expect that this extra monitoring will put minds at ease and ensure that America’s first national river will always be protected and preserved.”

    Beebe added that legislation could be forthcoming to address this controversy. I’d only add there indeed should be protective statues to make sure this state treasure remains continually protected from contamination in every way possible.

    The governor’s announced intentions here also have unspoken consequences for the C&H factory.

    Its operators, no doubt fine people and adept at their livelihood, realize they will remain under intense scrutiny as the millions of gallons of waste and airborne emissions from their massive operation are released into the environment and throughout the hamlet of Mount Judea.

    I wouldn’t feel at all comfortable with a 24-7 spotlight in the public interest focused on my business. The hog farm’s supplier and sole buyer Cargill Inc. will join them on stage and in the news across Arkansas (and likely the nation) should pollution from their joint operation begin to foul the Buffalo National River.

    I still can’t believe this multinational corporation has invested so completely in this such a wholly unacceptable situation. Can America’s largest private corporation possibly be that desperate for yet another hog CAFO?

    Thank you, Governor, for stepping to the plate and belting a home run on behalf of the people of Arkansas and those across the nation who regularly visit our spectacular stream. Many of us across Arkansas will continue the scrutiny.


    Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him atmikemasterson10@hotmail.com.
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