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Amended hog-farm plan: 5-year ban, then decision - Democrat-Gazette

27 Jun 2015 8:01 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Amended hog-farm plan: 5-year ban, then decision

Emily Walkenhorst

This article was published today at 2:28 a.m.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and environmental advocates have amended a proposal banning all future medium and large hog farms in the Buffalo River watershed, suggesting a five-year ban instead.

After five years, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality director would be required to decide whether to extend the ban to a permanent rule or to do away with the ban altogether.

Since 2013, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture scientists have been studying the impact of C&H Hog Farms in Mount Judea -- the hog farm that prompted the rule-making -- on the Buffalo River and its watershed.

The Arkansas Public Policy Panel submitted the rule-making in April 2014, after which the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission approved the first of three six-month bans on awarding permits to new medium or large hog farms in the watershed while the rule-making took place.

Sam Ledbetter, a McMath Woods attorney representing the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and the Ozark Society, said the new rule would allow for the Department of Environmental Quality to review the results of that research, something legislators lamented several times was not factored into the rule during the rule's last legislative hearing.

"Then with the governor's support on this it gives it a better chance of being not controversial," Ledbetter said Friday.

"I think it's a good compromise."

Hutchinson has supported the temporary ban until the UA research concludes, but he has not supported a permanent ban without consideration of the study, spokesman J.R. Davis said.

"So it's not a substantive change," Davis said, referring to the new rule.

The amended proposal will not have to be resubmitted to the Department of Environmental Quality. Ledbetter said it was filed with the Bureau of Legislative Research and sent to the chairmen of both the state House and Senate public health committees, requesting inclusion on their joint hearing agenda for July 6.

"Public health is the only legislative committee required to review this," Ledbetter said. "So we're just following the procedures."

In September at a joint meeting of the public health committees, lawmakers declined to vote on the permanent ban and requested that agriculture committee members be included for consideration at a December hearing with the public health committees.

That meeting lasted three hours, with legislators leaving and preventing a quorum before a vote could take place.

Legislators have not met on the matter since.

The temporary ban would be on Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality regulations five and six, which are the two regulations under which a person can obtain a permit for a hog farm.

The rule being proposed is otherwise the same; the change is just one sentence at the bottom of the proposal. The Regulation 5 change states:

"Five years from the effective date of this regulation the Director may initiate rule-making or either delete this paragraph, Reg. 5.901(E), or delete the entirety of Reg. 5.901."

The sentence is repeated on the Regulation 6 amendment, exchanging "Reg. 6.602" for "Reg. 5.901."

The issue of hog farms in the watershed arose after C&H Hog Farms received a general permit for a large hog facility in Mount Judea along Big Creek, 6 miles from where it meets the Buffalo National River. A general permit allows for an expedited permitting process, if certain requirements are met. The facility can hold up to 2,500 sows and 4,000 piglets at a time.

Environmental groups have feared runoff from hog waste on the rough karst terrain will pollute Big Creek and eventually the river. They are also concerned about a major weather event causing hog waste pond failure, leading to even greater pollution in the watershed.

The Buffalo National River -- the country's first national river -- is a popular tourist spot, with more than 1.3 million visitors in 2014 who spent about $56.6 million locally, according to National Park Service data.

Since the debate began over C&H Hog Farms, pork producers have not applied for permits for medium or large hog farms in the watershed, with Cargill -- involved with nearly all of the state's hog farms -- instituting a self-imposed permanent ban on hog farms in the watershed. Cargill owns the C&H Hog Farms' hogs.

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