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MASTERSON ONLINE: Acting against our river - Democrat Gazette

20 Jun 2020 7:08 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


MASTERSON ONLINE: Acting against our river

On Wednesday a body of elected lawmakers in the Legislative Council's Administrative Rules Subcommittee voted against approving the procedures necessary to make permanent the governor's proposed moratorium on medium- and large-scale factories in our Buffalo National River watershed.
That was preceded days earlier by legislators with the House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor committees refusing to even review the ban.
So both sets of lawmakers refused to endorse the enduring moratorium on placing pork factories (concentrated animal feeding operations is what they actually are, rather than the intentional misnomer of a farm).
So here we go yet again, fellow Arkansans, as elected officials refuse to protect one of our state's most precious resources and attractions, the first national river in America. Unbelievable, eh?
And take a guess who was openly behind the move to resist this moratorium? Oh, go ahead, a wild stab ... good guess! The Arkansas Farm Bureau, which has steadfastly opposed any measures designed to eliminate hog factories from this particular sacred watershed, including the now thankfully defunct C&H Hog Farms, which the state rightfully bought out months back.
One lawmaker making news over the legislators' actions was Waldron's Terry Rice, who news stories said opposed the Buffalo watershed moratorium because he believes implementing one could bring a "chilling effect" on Arkansas agriculture. Oh, come now ,Terry.
In other words, by protecting this specific karst-riddled and fragile watershed from hog waste for all Arkansans (and much of America) to enjoy in the future, it would somehow intimidate hog producers (especially these notoriously polluting factories; see North Carolina) from practicing their chosen livelihoods in far more appropriate locations. I say hogwash.
It's the age-old "slippery slope" argument that basically says if you give an inch they'll take a mile. It has no bearing whatsoever on protecting this watershed and preventing its ruin in years to come. When I checked, this proposed permanent moratorium applies only to our Buffalo National River, which brings millions of visitors to its flow, who in turn leave behind even more millions of dollars in our state. Anyone know of another river with this ability?
So obviously in this never-ending struggle to simply protect the Buffalo, it is time yet again for the good people of Arkansas to make their voices heard in Little Rock by reaching out to their local lawmakers and the governor, who admirably proposed and supports this needed moratorium for a very good reason. This magnificent stream obviously cannot speak for herself.
Gordon Watkins, head of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, one of many groups opposed to C&H, was understandably troubled by the earlier decision by the Public Health, Welfare and Labor committees not to review the proposed moratorium.
"Things are not looking good for the permanent moratorium," he told me. "Farm Bureau and special interests have cast the lure of 'right to farm,' and legislators have swallowed the bait, a red herring in this case.
"In fact, there are only 206 farms statewide with liquid animal waste permits. And only some of which are hog operations (of course, none in the Buffalo watershed). The reality is no existing farms anywhere in the state would be affected by the [Buffalo watershed] moratorium."
Watkins and I strongly agree that the fact the people of Arkansas who elect these public servants to govern honorably were not allowed to offer their comments over such a deeply controversial matter is unacceptable and should trouble all of us.
"Other committees make provisions for public participation, but not Public Health," Watkins said.
The final, most critical step, was slated to happen when the Arkansas Legislative Council (ALC) met Friday, which was after deadline for this column.
What a disgrace it would be not to place the Buffalo watershed under a permanent moratorium for medium- and large-scale hog factories, thus ignoring the governor's well-reasoned support of this idea.
Other than a seemingly endless quest to save ego and face in light of C&H being bought out by the state, I don't understand why any committee, agency, bureau or group would want to continue threatening this fragile and valuable watershed that regularly brings millions of visitors and dollars to a relatively impoverished area of our state.

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