Not the first conflict
By Mike Masterson
During the mid-1980s, a farmer with one or more big financial backers convinced the then-Department of Pollution Control and Ecology (now Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality) to approve a permit that would establish a landfill near the little Ozarks community of Pindall about 20 miles (as the hog walks) from Mount Judea.
Pindall is miles farther from the Buffalo than is Mount Judea.
Fortunately and wisely, that state agency back then finally did the right thing in the face of public outcry and national news attention, and repealed its permit months later. Sides had been quickly drawn in that disagreement. A local and statewide battle of reason and will ensued over possible contamination of the national river’s watershed and their own community’s water supply.
Angry Pindall residents began raising money in any way possible, from donations to pie suppers, to fund professional groundwater tracing near the property in question.
These good folks blessed with common sense and the knowledge never to place one’s outhouse above their well had the odd idea that such testing was imperative to disclose any potential effects of dumping massive amounts of waste in an environment underlain by cracked limestone formations known as karst.
Thomas Aley, the nationally respected director and president of the Ozarks Underground Laboratory of Protem, Mo., was retained to perform those tests. And sure enough, Aley discovered the dye he’d applied to the proposed dump site flowed rapidly through waters beneath the ground to show up in local drinking water only days later. The state decided to do its own testing, which confirmed what Aley had found-all after the permit was granted, of course.
After the tests at Pindall were complete, a national NBC camera crew had departed and an administrative law judge had found for the Pindall residents, the state announced it was repealing its permit to dump waste near Pindall.
I find it unconscionable that those in Pindall would be forced into holding pie suppers to sponsor work the state’s environmental guardians should have completed before ever approving such a terrible idea. Yet that’s what happened.
It also occurred in 1996 when the same agency wrongheadedly issued a permit to create a landfill on Hobbs Mountain above the White River near Durham, which feeds the region’s water supply at Beaver Lake. Hobbs Mountain is also a karst-riddled region. That repeal took a year and many pie suppers before common sense and the people prevailed and the permit was withdrawn.
Those conflicts demonstrated the power of the people when something precious that belongs to them (like drinking water and their national river that also is an enormous economic boon to the region) becomes potentially threatened.
I see parallels in what is happening today with the concentrated animal feeding operation along Big Creek about 30,000 feet from the Buffalo. So does Thomas Aley, who told me the other day that he believes hydrology testing is absolutely necessary when proposing to dump potentially contaminating waste anywhere across the karst-riddled Ozarks, “especially in the watershed of the nationally significant Buffalo National River.”
It becomes a matter of how the surface and subsurface waters flow and interact, he explained, adding, “What we learned at Pindall was that distance from the Buffalo River doesn’t necessarily ensure protection. The initial assumption was: ‘Oh, this [permitted waste dump] couldn’t possibly affect the Buffalo.” Sound familiar, valued readers?
“What we showed was the level of care that must be taken before waste-disposal practices are put into effect within miles of the Buffalo National River,” he said.
I’d like to examine the state’s hydrology studies that show how the groundwater and underground springs predictably flow through the formations beneath the soil and rocks of C&H Hog Farms. Surely,in light of what happened in the watershed at Pindall, our state learned its lesson and performed its due diligence here.
Surely, the paid public defenders of our environmental quality in this environmentally sensitive region have insisted that the farmers involved (and their financial backer, Cargill Inc.) conduct such hydrology tests at their own expense.
If not, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the results and this permit should E. coli, phosphorus and worse begin showing up in water testing done after the fact.
If not these state gatekeepers, who allow enormous amounts of waste to be deposited in environmentally sensitive areas, then who would insist upon such seemingly logical and obvious precautions?
If not them, then who should bear the expense of such crucial tests? Should it once more come down to the good people who are potentially affected and their fundraising pie suppers and yard sales?
Those interested in what has become a national issue can attend a public, moderated discussion of the state’s decision to permit C&H Hog Farms beginning at 6 p.m. on May 1 in Fayetteville’s public library.
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.