On that hog farm
Iwondered how Gov. Mike Beebe feels about the risk that waste from the industrial hog farm at Mount Judea poses to the environment of the country’s first national river, a pristine tourism attraction and economic boon for decades.
After all, he is our governor. And after all, he is dealing with his appointee in Teresa Marks, who heads the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, which permitted this controversial hog factory in the Buffalo National River’s watershed. And he is a politician who’s proven himself adept at getting things corrected and accomplished in the public interest (even behind the scenes over a telephone). Am I right?
His aide, Matt DeCample, responded for Beebe: “If the governor had his druthers, the permit would not have been issued. However, the applicant followed all state laws and procedures and the governor or ADEQ can’t make arbitrary decisions to deny an applicant who follows the rules.”
DeCample explained that the best way to change this kind of unimaginable threat to a state treasure from happening again “is to strengthen restrictions for areas of particular concern, such as the Buffalo River watershed. However, such action needs to be legislative. ADEQ cannot change those rules on its own.”
How’s that for artfully wordsmithing one’s way around a superheated issue that isn’t going away?
So there you have it. The Buffalo National River watershed can be put at risk of potential contamination from God-awful hog waste because our elected legislators have failed to protect it through responsible lawmaking. And there’s not a thing the governor or anyone in power can do, regardless of his druthers. No calls to Cargill? Wal-Mart? No come-to-Jesus chats with his own Environmental Quality director? Nothing?
And it now appears Marks may not be the only relevant member of her agency not to know it had permitted C&H Hog Farms Inc. until it was a done deal. The employees based in the agency’s Newton County office at Jasper also were unaware until it was a done deal.
At least that’s what Don Nelms of Jasper, a former congressional candidate and successful Fayetteville businessman, said Jasper department employees told him the other day. He said they explained that they hadn’t known about the farm before their agency permitted it. “I was shocked to hear that,” Nelms told me.
If Nelms is right (and he usually is), it leaves me squealing yet again in the hazy realm of downright flabbergastion over the way this farm was smoothly guided through so many opened gates.
Nelms said he also found it hard to believe the contained animal feeding operation (supplied by the multinational corporation Cargill Inc.) would be permitted in the Buffalo National River watershed without the agency director, or the staff based in that county knowing it was being considered. And if they didn’t know, why not?
My own suspicions have been that this mega-hog factory was kept quiet and off the public radar as much as possible by powers that be until it was fully smoked and served. Not even one public hearing in either Jasper or Harrison beforehand? Really?
Isn’t it convenient when those in positions of public responsibility can simply plead plausible deniability, ignorance and/or blame others in the heat of controversy when the obvious right thing hasn’t (or isn’t) being done? And isn’t ours a fine example of ensuring accountability and embracing plain ol’ common sense in so many matters of public concern?
Speaking of common sense, Newton County’s quorum court fired off a response to the Fayetteville City Council’s April resolution against placing this hog factory in the Buffalo National River watershed. The Newton County body, which I understand has at least one member who’s a co-owner of the farm, said it resented the “interference in the livelihoods of these families by the city of Fayetteville and other entities.” The premise of the objection is basically that anyone who lives outside Newton County should have no say about this national river, even if they and their families and friends enjoy it.
Tim Slape of Compton, who pushed for the court for its response to Fayetteville, offered what some from there might see as a brilliant argument when he was quoted in the Jasper weekly paper: “What I’d like to ask the quorum court to do is consider drawing up a resolution that states we’re against Bikes, Blues and Barbecue.” The reason, he said, is that the increase in motorcycle traffic passing through Newton County for the event puts an added stress on the county’s law enforcement and first responders.
Yet again, I find myself at a loss for words. Does that means if Slape had his druthers, he wouldn’t want bikers stopping in Newton County businesses en route to Fayetteville because he compares possibly contaminating every citizens’ national river with microbes from hog waste with bikers stressing local police?
Hmm. Well, valued readers, I believe I’ll just rest my case at the way this hog farm mess has been mishandled from the top down.
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.