Questions followed permit
There’s a new twist in the C&H Hog Farms controversy. First, though, let’s briefly review:
You may recall that the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality scheduled no public hearings, and published no notices of application in Newton County before permitting the C&H hog factory farm in that rural county’s Buffalo National River watershed at Mount Judea.
Moreover, neither the agency’s Newton County office nor the agency’s director were aware of the farm’s permit until after it had been issued in the late summer of 2012. During a public meeting held in Jasper (the Newton County seat) on May 8, 2013undefinedlong after it might have even matteredundefinedEnvironmental Quality permit manager John Bailey wound up answering questions on behalf of the farm’s owners.
In short, the odiferous way this factory farm’s permit was so effortlessly issued in such a sensitive environmental area has teemed with relevant questions for me and many others.
Now there are even more.
A Freedom of Information Act request has led to a document that reveals that, months after the agency issued its permit, the agency’s professional engineer based in Jasper questioned methods described in the farm’s notice of intent filed with its application.
The nationally qualified engineer, Marysia Jastrzebski, emailed her list of specific comments and concerns to Bailey on Dec. 21, 2012undefinedmonths after Environmental Quality had permitted the farm.
Her concerns included the nature of C&H Farms’ construction contract; possible leakage and the wisdom of applying raw hog waste into karst terrain; the potential potency of that waste compared with human waste; the possible amounts of precipitation that could prompt waste spills; the adequacy, capacity and construction of the storage lagoons and engineering concerns with the levees and a missing spillway; as well as the apparent inadequacy of public notice related to properly permitting the farm.
Bailey responded to Jastrzebski by telephone rather than in writing, according to the department’s chief communicator, Katherine Benenati. She explained that the agency has no policy that requires written responses to internal concerns expressed in writing, even from one of its engineers.
It’s difficult to believe any state agency of professionals would operate that way. But why be concerned since their permit had been issued?
It’s obvious to me that Jastrzebski wasn’t opposing the factory farm. Her questions were about the notice of intent and the manner in which the department had processed and approved the permit. The legitimate points she raised certainly should have been resolved as a matter of due diligence before the permit was issued.
I have to believe that because this concerned department engineer expressed her relevant concerns, Gov. Mike Beebe will now ensure that Jastrzebski isn’t targeted for political retribution within the agency. I seriously doubt the people of Arkansas would look kindly on that sort of thing.
In fact, it’s vigilant public servants like Jastrzebski who, from the nature of her salient questions, should have been overseeing the permitting process for this mislocated farm from the start, although she ordinarily wouldn’t even have been included in the permitting process for such a factory farm. (See her entire email published at my website address listed below.)
A Jastrzebski concern of particular interest to me was that the farm’s notice of intent says up to 5,000 gallons per acre each day of hog waste would be allowed to escape into “the karst terrain within five miles from the [Buffalo National River]. We calculated that it would be approximately 3,400 [gallons] per day. We are not talking about raw domestic wastewater … but hog waste,” she writes. Hog waste is far more biologically potent than that of humans.
Duane Woltjen, a mechanical engineer from Fayetteville and a director with the Ozark Society, said that considering the actual “planar area” of both hog-waste lagoons, each with the potential to leak, his calculations instead show some 6,190 gallons of daily hog waste potentially seeping from those holding ponds lined in clay.
That’s potentially 1.3 million to 2.3 million gallons of hog waste leakage allowed over a year into the Buffalo National River watershed via the nearby tributary of Big Creek.
The revelation of Jastrzebski’s email prompted Woltjen to summarize: “The quality of the Buffalo National River, the health of the citizens and the tourist economy of the region have all been greatly jeopardized by the [Department of Environmental Quality’s] clearly demonstrated incompetency, lack of diligence, obfuscation and simple underutilization of common knowledge as disclosed by this set of interdepartmental email messages.”
Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.