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Mike Masterson 2nd Editorial Ark Democrat Gazette March 26, 2013

26 Mar 2013 8:43 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
Hog farm flub

How’d that happen?
By Mike Masterson
This article was published 3/26/13 at 4:21 a.m.

I can’t understand how our state’s Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Services Agency (FSA) would even consider approving the C&H Farms proposal for a commercial hog farm near Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo National River.

Yet our government agencies did grant the permit and the FSA even used incomplete and inaccurate information in submitting its environmental assessment report concerning potential pollution to the Buffalo.

That’s the bottom line of growing concern here: The likely seep of potent hog-waste pollution from this farm and its fields along Big Creek into America’s first national river flowing just 26,000 feet downstream.

Wasn’t protecting its purity the very reason for declaring the Buffalo a protected national river? Why does the Department of Environmental Quality even exist if not for such circumstances?

I’m no authority on farm animal waste. Yet all I’ve read about the comparisons between the enormous polluting qualities of swine raised in heavy concentrations shocks even me. These hogs are far more prolific polluters than we people. And we have sewage treatment systems.

The National Institutes of Health says contaminants from swine farm wastes can enter the environment through leakage from poorly constructed manure lagoons, or during major rainfalls that cause the lagoons to overflow. There also is the potential runoff from recent applications of waste to farm fields.

There are many contaminants in swine waste, some of which can damage human health. While lagoons can help destroy or reduce many pathogens, it’s clear to me they’re often not enough to stop seepages that contaminate their surroundings.

As for applying hog waste to fields within a couple hundred feet of the Mount Judea school for up to three months a year, the National Park Service, in rebutting the FSA environmental assessment, said: “We also contend that risking pollution of Big Creek with phosphorus is quite controversial since it flows into America’s First National River.”

The Park Service rebuttal letter also said the nutrient management plan submitted for the farm’s loan won’t protect water quality as written because the hog waste contains too much phosphorus for the amount of land. “How can FSA say there will be no impact to water resources without knowing the baseline conditions?” the Park Service asks.

North Carolina is among the nation’s leaders in industrial swine farms, and its environment is paying a price. A 1995 study by North Carolina State University estimated that more than half the manure lagoons on hog farms there were leaking, adding that even without leaks, manure lagoons are so fragile that major storms often result in overflows.

But the waste is but one part of the problem. There’s also the extremely putrid smell that can cover miles. Farm odors cause stress and negative moods in neighboring residents, according to a 2009 study in the American Journal of Public Health.

I’m equally concerned about the way this proposed corporate farm gained the state permit it needed to acquire the loan from a generous Farm Services Agency. There are lots of questions and red flags flapping over and around this ill-advised project.

For example, in the proposed farm’s Notice of Intent filed with the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, it states that the town of Mount Judea is 1.6 miles from the farm’s barn on local roads.

Yet the map accompanying the notice shows a 2,000-foot circle around the farm’s barn with the farm’s waste-dispersal fields touching the banks of Big Creek (widely considered a border to the community of Mount Judea). Which is it? I suspect any pollution from the farm would be following a crow rather than a road.

This is alarming to me, especially since the Park Service says it wasn’t consulted about this farm until after the permit and loan had been approved. That process required the FSA’s environmental assessment form, which the Park Service said contained 45 specific omissions, contradictions and inaccuracies. Who completed and submitted this document? And which federal official accepted and approved it in this form?

I’m wondering why the loan hasn’t already been rescinded and an inquiry launched into the way it was prepared and submitted. If I’d acquired a loan using information that was afterwards shown to be inaccurate, misleading and/or erroneous, the lending agency would be canceling our agreement post-haste and relevant questions would be asked.

What can we do? First, go to the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance website (buffaloriveralliance.org) for many more relevant details than I can provide here.

Then you might email or phone your local legislators. Then you could contact the governor’s office and the Department of Environmental Quality. The USDA Inspector General’s office can be reached at (202) 690-1622.

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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