On the Buffalo
Extend that ban
By Mike Masterson
This article was published June 30, 2015 at 3:13 a.m.
Now comes an amended proposal from Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Arkansas environmental groups that would turn a ban on all future medium and large hog factories in the Buffalo National River into one lasting five years.
To this point, the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission already has approved three consecutive six-month bans on such factories in the watershed of our country's first national river. Unfortunately, those restrictions came well after our state's Department of Environmental Quality (cough) hurriedly and quietly approved a General Permit for the Cargill-sponsored C&H Hog Farms with up to 6,500 swine.
That factory and its fields where millions of gallons of raw waste get regularly sprayed are at Mount Judea and Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo. The creek flows six miles upstream from this national treasure that brings tens of millions of tourism dollars annually to Arkansas.
Under the latest proposal, Department of Environmental Quality officials will be able to analyze and review the longer-reaching results of University of Arkansas geoscientists who have been studying the environmental impact of this hog factory.
The governor, who supported the three temporary bans, says he doesn't consider the amendment to be a deviation from his desire to have enough data from the study to analyze before making any decision about a permanent ban on future hog factories in the Buffalo watershed.
It's better I'm not governor (or a politician being lobbied and treated generously by certain special interests) because I'd have asked Cargill nicely long ago to remove and relocate their swine from this precious and sensitive region and made it clear we were never going to ever again needlessly put this national jewel at risk for contamination.
Sam Ledbetter, an attorney with McMath Woods who represents the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and the Ozark Society, said a five-year ban would provide the governor and legislators with some data they have been wanting before taking action on a permanent ban. "With the governor's support on this it gives it a better chance of being not controversial," he is quoted as saying in a news account.
Well, Sam, I say it's a pipe dream to believe this whole mess hasn't been (and won't remain) deeply controversial among those who love the Buffalo River and want to see its purity protected.
I'd also say the volunteer studies by Dr. John Brahana, a noted geoscientist emeritus from the UA and an expert in karst geology who's been gathering water-quality and subsurface-flow data with his team in a purely objective manner for two years, have to be considered. The National Park Service is conducting its own such studies as well after it was mysteriously being left out of the permitting process for this factory in the watershed it manages.
A Hutchinson spokesman said the amended proposal isn't really considered a "substantive change." It was submitted to the Bureau of Legislative Research and sent to the House and Senate chairmen of the public health committees. The plan is to hopefully have the amendment heard July 6 in a joint meeting of those committees. They are the only legislative bodies necessary.
One can never assume anything when it comes to our beloved river. Just last September at a joint meeting of these same committees, elected lawmakers declined to vote on permanently banning additional hog factories, instead requesting that members of the agricultural committee be included at their next meeting in December.
Well, "that meeting lasted three hours, with legislators leaving and preventing a quorum before a vote could take place," the news story by reporter Emily Walkenhorst said, adding the joint committees haven't met on the matter since.
In my view (which has remained unchanged since word leaked out of the Cargill-sponsored factory being allowed into the Buffalo watershed), the extension of this ban must be approved. Our sacred river is the worst possible place to be playing political payback to special-interest supporters or politics in any way, shape or form.