In search of leadership
With Mike Beebe’s spokesman saying if he’d had his “druthers,” the governor wouldn’t have permitted that controversial hog factory in the Buffalo National watershed in Newton County, I wondered about the druthers of Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Steve Womack over the waste from 6,500 swine deposited on karst-riddled land within reach of the river.
Boozman’s office initially implied in a May letter to a constituent that any confusion involved with this farm’s location largely originated with the Buffalo National River Park’s Harrison office that should have known about the plan before the concentrated animal feeding operation for hogs was permitted.
That rationale confused me, especially since that Park Service office was one of many that (for whatever reasons) was not informed about permitting this hog factory. Among the other uninformed were the director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, which permitted the farm, that agency’s staff in Newton County, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arkansas Health Department.
To me, any fault for the way this quietly came to pass lay anywhere but with the Park Service and its Buffalo National River office. That’s the very agency that ultimately blew the whistle when it discovered what it called multiple inadequacies in this farm’s loan report prepared by the U.S. Farm Service Agency. We should be congratulating these folks.
Thankfully, the Republican senator’s original position has since broadened as the new facts detailing the extent of such widespread ignorance have come to light. Philip Moore with Boozman’s office says the senator now believes all the agencies involved could have done a much better job of communicating about the hog factory being placed where it now exists.
True, but that position seems relatively insignificant to me now that the factory is up and generating waste. It should be a matter of law that proposals for something this huge and potentially contaminating be ballyhooed far and wide. In fact, I still believe a U.S. Inspector General, either from Agriculture or the Interior Department, should examine why this wasn’t done and the fullest truths behind how the entire matter was handled from start to finish.
Instead of hindsight at this stage, I’ve been searching for signs of decisive leadership and common sense.
So I asked 3rd District GOP Rep. Womack for his opinions about the CAFO along Big Creek that flows into the Buffalo. After all, it was his own 13-term predecessor, Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, who in 1972 overcame multiple obstacles over years to protect this river.
Hammerschmidt (and yes, he’s still my uncle) displayed remarkable fortitude and leadership in hammering out a bipartisan agreement that made the Buffalo America’s first national river. As the 3rd District’s representative and a leader, John Paul saw the struggle through to protect and preserve the magnificent and majestic Buffalo.
In light of the unique heritage in the very office of public trust he holds, I believed Congressman Womack (and Boozman, his immediate predecessor) would have a special connection with any efforts to protect this sacred river. After all, Hammerschmidt pursued that goal above all else, certainly including the potential for contamination from swine waste.
The response from Claire Burghoff in Womack’s office: “Congressman Womack has heard the concerns of constituents on both sides of this issue and will continue to keep a close eye on it.” Say what? The congressman told me on Easter weekend that he would “become involved in the matter if he needed to.”
Naturally I wondered when and how such “need” might be determined and a translation behind “keeping a close eye” on the hog factory on behalf of constituents on “both sides of the issue.” I always believed every issue has constituents.
I do respect Womack and Boozman. But I was hoping for clear indications of leadership from our state’s top elected officials.
I didn’t expect fault-finding, “druthers” or eye-keeping. I can’t help but wonder what Uncle John would have done back in 1972 had he been noncommittal when the river’s future appeared at risk, or some constituents and influential contributors pushed back (which I assure you they did).
Had he straddled the center line, I don’t believe we’d have the Buffalo National River today. Many thousands feel the same way, which prompts me to share some more edited reader views:
From Kay: “If John Paul Hammerschmidt and Governor Orval Faubus could step up to the plate defending this grand river back in the 1960s, why can’t our Governor Beebe do the same now?”
From Jeff: “Why aren’t all the organizations fighting against this hog farm talking to Wal-Mart? A simple ‘forget about it’ from Wal-Mart to Cargill would end this. Alice Walton, who has poured so much time and effort into the local community, could with a whisper into the ears of Wal-Mart executives put a stop to things by Monday morning. “
From Joe: “If procedural matters don’t stop this project, something like [geoscientist John Van] Brahana’s proposal may be the only solution. If a good and detailed study could be done, the owners might have second thoughts about even operating the facility.”
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.