OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Preserving our treasure
by Mike Masterson | March 5, 2022
There's been a lot of history published this week about the 50th anniversary of our Buffalo National River, the nation's first so-designated stream.
That's as it should be, especially considering how challenging it was to achieve that distinct honor in 1972 when my late uncle, John Paul Hammerschmidt, was instrumental in preserving this magnificent river that flowed through his 3rd District.
In the year before his passing, John Paul told me he considered that act among his proudest accomplishments in Congress. The vast majority reading I believe would agree.
But becoming America's first national river wasn't sufficient to prevent a Cargill-sponsored large-scale hog factory from quietly gaining state a permit from the then-Department of Environmental Quality under former Gov. Mike Beebe's administration--unbeknownst even to Beebe.
When serious concerns over huge amounts of toxic hog waste being regularly spread along and near the karst-lined banks and watershed of a major Buffalo tributary 7 miles from the river's confluence emerged, Beebe called the agency's approval the biggest regret of his administration.
I chose to become involved in writing consistently for two years about the potential pollution problems not with the factory itself, but with its inappropriate location.
Thankfully, the state under Gov. Asa Hutchinson's direction eventually chose to make the factory's owners financially whole by buying them out and closing the operation.
My determined concerns for the river were rooted in a childhood spent wading and fishing the river only 30 minutes from my hometown of Harrison and because it was the right thing to do for the sake of all who love and enjoy such a magnificent natural treasure that couldn't speak for itself.
The Newton County family who legally established the factory had done nothing amiss and deserved to be fairly reimbursed by our state for the difficulties and public perceptions they had to endure. The fault for all of it rested squarely on the shoulders of a few state agency numbskulls who chose to issue the permit.