Buffalo River chief still hopes to stymie swine
Official: Pollution-risk report of farm flawed, permit invalid
By Ryan McGeeney
The chief administrator of the Buffalo National River said Monday that he is still hoping to pursue administrative remedies short of requesting an injunction in an attempt to halt the operation of a new hog farm in Newton County.
Kevin Cheri, superintendent of the Buffalo National River, said he plans to meet with Linda Newkirk, director of the Arkansas Farm Services Agency, to discuss the environmental assessment the agency conducted for the site of C&H Farms, a 6,500-animal hog farm to be located along the banks of Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo National River.
Friday, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, the governing body of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality tasked with creating the state’s environmental regulations, heard about two hours of public comment regarding the Environmental Quality Department’s decision to grant a concentrated animal-feeding operation general permit to the farm. The permit is the first to be issued in the state under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems guidelines created by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
While commission chairman Stan Jorgensen recognized that the majority of the comments concerned potential pollution from the farm and accusations that little was done to inform the public of the pending permit, he said both the applicant and Environmental Quality Department had followed all regulations during the permit process.
Cheri, along with representatives of several environmental organizations, have said the environmental assessment of the farm’s potential effect on the air and waterways in the area was so deficient that the permit itself is invalid.
In a letter dated Feb. 27, 2013, Cheri noted 45 discrepancies in the Farm Service Agency’s assessment, a document that Cheri called “exceptionally flawed” Monday.
Newkirk said Monday that her office plans to issue a full response to Cheri’s concerns over the environmental assessment later this week but declined to comment further.
Duane Woltjen, Arkansas director for the Ozark Society, said the group plans to discuss the commission’s decision during its monthly meeting in mid-April, but that legal action is not currently being considered.
“We’re not looking to take them to court, because the administrative process hasn’t been exhausted by any means,” Woltjen said.
Lawsuits filed by private citizens with regard to potential environmental harm have recent precedent in Arkansas. Members of the Hempstead County Hunting Club, along with Arkansas chapters of the Sierra Club and Audubon Society, sued to halt the construction of the John W. Turk Jr. coal-fired electric plant near Fulton in 2009,leading to a series of successive court decisions upholding the Arkansas Court of Appeals’ decision to overturn the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission’s ruling in support of the permit. The parties claimed standing as individuals who could be damaged by pollution from the plant, which is owned by the Southwestern Electric Power Company.
The plaintiffs all reached settlements with SWEPCO in 2011. Although monetary details of SWEPCO’s settlement with the hunting club weren’t disclosed, SWEPCO offered to provide the club funding to help with its conservation efforts, according to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette archives. SWEPCO also agreed to pay the Sierra Club and Audubon Society $12 million, including $2 million for legal fees.
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