CAFO a mistake
Mathis weighs in
The man who led our state’s Department of Environmental Quality under three governors says it was a big mistake to ever issue a permit to operate that concentrated animal feeding operation for 6,500 sows and piglets in the Buffalo National River watershed at Mount Judea.
Randall Mathis told me the permit to C&H Hog Farms Inc. never couldundefinedor wouldundefinedhave been approved had he still been heading the department. He said he did everything in his power during his 18 years with the agency to ensure the environmentally sensitive watershed was protected from contamination.
“Regardless of how well this farm is operated, it’s a serious mistake to land-apply hog waste in a karst area like this, ” he said. “I don’t understand why this matter hasn’t already been addressed and changed in order to protect one of the state’s extraordinary resource streams. This certainly wouldn’t have happened on my watch.”
Mathis retired from the agency in 2000 at age 70. He served the agency then known as the Department of Pollution Control and Ecology under Govs. Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker and Mike Huckabee, and was its director when the name changed to the Department of Environmental Quality. Afterwards, he served on the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, which oversees the agency.
Mathis intimately understands the environment of our state and the treacherous and unpredictable nature of drainage in the limestone karst formations that underlie Newton County.
This “hog factory,” supplied and supported by Cargill Inc., was permitted in the fall of 2012 unbeknownst to the present agency Director Teresa Marks, the National Park Service, the state Health Department, Game and Fish and the Department of Environmental Quality’s own staff in the Newton County seat. No public hearings were held in Newton or adjacent Boone County where the Park Service has its Buffalo River office. Arkansas’ requirements for issuing such permits obviously are wholly inadequate and ineffective.
By the way, where have all our apparently mute elected “leaders” (with the exception of Warwick Sabin, Greg Leding and Kelley Linck) been hiding from such an important matter? Thousands of hogs got your tongues?
This farm is said to meet the requirements for permitting, built to withstand leakage and operated by a reputable and capable hog-raising family. None of that’s been an issue with me. My problem is a hog factory producing millions of gallons of waste land-applied near Big Creek, a major tributary to the magnificent Buffalo National River a few miles downstream and replenished by underground springs flowing through the karst.
I’m equally concerned, as are many others, that no dye studies were done on karst formations beneath the application fields, or the farm itself. Then there are those questionable approval documents and the gatekeeping processes that I see as deeply flawed that somehow allowed to place this factory where it is today.
Mathis has identical concerns. And he knows what he’s talking about. During his tenure, this straight-speaking man, who at 83 still tends the family farm near Arkadelphia, said he was dedicated to protecting our state’s streams designated as extraordinary resources, the queen of which being the Buffalo. He also said he had four deputies who each managed various agency divisions and with whom he met twice daily to stay up to speed.
Mathis issued a specific policy that said he’d be immediately notified of any proposals to locate a CAFO in karst regions of the Ozarks, especially the Buffalo watershed. More significantly, in 1992 he issued a moratorium on placing any CAFOs in the Buffalo watershed, period. Anyone else wondering in 2013 what happened to that protective moratorium and his policy? Who got rid of them? Why?
Today, Mathis can’t fathom how anyone in his former position could possibly not know their agency was issuing its first hog CAFO permit under the new general permit in the Buffalo watershed. “I would have shut that idea down immediately,” he said. “As I said, during my tenure we were especially sensitive to any possible pollution of the Buffalo.”
He told me he blamed the agency staff for bringing the permit to the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission for approval. “I don’t fault the commission as much as I do the agency’s director and deputy director for ever even presenting this to them,” he said. “They should have known better. It certainly wouldn’t have happened on my watch.”
He feels it’s a matter of time until hog waste will flow through the karst into Big Creek and the Buffalo. Such leakage would naturally elevate the coliform bacteria levels in the Buffalo. And that troubles him even more.
“Were I still at ADEQ , I’d call for a meeting of the commission and issue another moratorium on any hog CAFOs and other operations that need to be limited to prevent polluting this national river,” he said. “It’s just common sense.”
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.