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  • 23 Jun 2019 8:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Ft Smith Times Record


    Brawner: With that big hog farm, it was time to fold ’em 

    by Steve Brawner

    If you’re a red-blooded Arkansan, you know what words follow these: “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to ...”

    In “The Gambler,” it’s “fold ’em.” In politics and the legal environment, it sometimes is “settle,” as I’m sure Gov. Asa Hutchinson knows, along with the owners of C&H Farms.

    Hutchinson and the farm owners realized it was time to walk away before it came time to run. So that’s what both sides did with an agreement to close that big hog farm near the Buffalo National River.

    Hutchinson announced June 13 that the state would pay Richard and Phillip Campbell (the “C”) and Jason Henson (the “H”) $6.2 million to close the concentrated animal feeding operation located 6.6 miles from Big Creek, which flows into the Buffalo National River. Of that, at least $5.2 million will come from the taxpayers, with the rest coming from private donations through The Nature Conservancy.

    The governor announced the deal, hours after it had been reached, during a gathering of the Arkansas Municipal League.

    The $6.2 million will let the farm’s owners pay off their debts and will compensate them for the business they are losing. They can keep the land and even use it a little, but they can’t raise hogs there under a “conservation easement.” Under the agreement, they have six months to completely close the hog farm.

    Meanwhile, Hutchinson directed the Department of Environmental Quality to make permanent a temporary ban on new medium-sized and large farms in the watershed.

    The owners received a permit in 2012 and the next year opened a farm raising up to 6,503 hogs, generating strong opposition from those who feared the waste would pollute the river. Hogs poop a lot.

    In order to stay in business, the owners took extraordinary measures to keep hog waste from entering the watershed. Arkansas Farm Bureau became the operation’s staunch defenders.

    Indeed, the farm potentially served as a demonstration project for how large-scale production can occur in close proximity to environmentally sensitive areas. With seven billion always-wanting-more humans on the planet, such situations sometimes may be hard to avoid.

    But this wasn’t just any environmentally sensitive area, and opponents were not just anti-progress tree-huggers. This is the Buffalo National River, the nation’s first national river, the home to one of Arkansas’ most beautiful areas, and an important tourist draw for The Natural State. Generations have floated the Buffalo. It now has elevated levels of E. coli bacteria, though government agencies have not identified the farm as the source. If man’s activities sicken the river, it could take years, and many millions of man’s dollars, to make it well.

    As Hutchinson said Thursday, the owners should not be blamed for obtaining a permit and then operating within its bounds. But that permit should never have been granted by the previous governor’s administration. It simply was not worth the risk.

    Last year, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality rejected the farm’s application for a new operating permit, and of course the owners sued.

    We don’t know who would have won in court. What was certain was this: It would have taken years. The state and the farmers would have spent millions in legal fees. The hog farm would have continued operating within close proximity of the river. The farmers would have continued to face unwanted controversy. The river’s supporters would have continued to focus their attention on protecting it rather than enjoying it.

    Instead, we have a win-win-win-win-draw-win. The river is protected. The farmers were compensated. The state ended the lawsuit. The opponents can breathe easier. The taxpayers paid $5.2 million but potentially saved millions more in cleanup costs. And once the ban on future operations is made permanent, we don’t have to do this again.

    It was time for everyone to settle and walk away. Or float away, in this case.

    Steve Brawner is a syndicated columnist in Arkansas. Email him at brawnersteve@mac.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.

  • 22 Jun 2019 7:41 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Democrat Gazette

    Council discusses payment to Arkansas hog farm; OK is tentative for $6.2M payout

    by Michael R. Wickline | June 22, 2019 

    The Legislative Council on Friday granted conditional authority to its leaders to approve the governor's request to use up to $6.2 million in "rainy-day" funds to obtain a conservation easement to shut down a hog farm in the Buffalo National River watershed.

    The council authorized its co-chairmen -- Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, and Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage -- to sign off on the governor's request only after the co-chairmen are satisfied the state has a first lien position on the easement, meaning the state would be superior to any other lien holder regarding the use of the land.

    The action came after about 45 minutes of wide-ranging discussion on Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request to transfer the rainy-day funds to the Department of Arkansas Heritage for the easement. The governor typically requests approval regarding rainy-day funds, which are used in case of emergencies or for his priorities.

    Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, said he wants to make sure that the conservation easement is in the first lien position ahead of any other liens for the property of C&H Hog Farms.

    "We just have got to make sure that is done because, if that [isn't] done, we could possibly be throwing all this money away," he said. "I want to make sure that title work is done correctly before we authorize millions of dollars to be used for this purpose."

    Arkansas Heritage Director Stacy Hurst said attorneys have represented their clients very well in this agreement and all parties are satisfied.

    "It covers any debt that they have, any liens that they might incur, so I think all parties are satisfied that this is a safe agreement for all," she said.

    "We'll have to finalize the full conservation easement, and I'll inquire whether or not that [easement in the first lien position] will be in there and I will let you know. This is a preliminary agreement and it does not have that language."

    Afterward, Hutchinson said the "contract is clear that any debt on the property will be paid off and the state will have assurance from the title search that the conservation easement will be conveyed by the landowners free and clear of any liens.

    "The resolution of the hog farm permit is widely supported in the General Assembly and I trust the funding will be approved," the Republican governor said in a written statement.

    Hutchinson last week announced that C&H Hog Farms will close later this year under an agreement reached with him and Arkansas Heritage.

    The large-scale hog farm has been in operation since 2013 and has faced public push-back ever since from environmental groups concerned about the possibility of hog manure ending up in the Buffalo River, the first river in the United States to be designated as a national river. The facility is located on Big Creek, 6.6 miles from where it flows into the Buffalo.

    The creek and river are on the department's proposed list of impaired water bodies for E. coli, but no government agency has concluded that C&H is responsible for the bacteria's presence.

    Upon the funding of an escrow account, C&H "shall cease insemination of sows and acquisition of swine and shall act as quickly as commercially reasonable, but shall have up to 180 ... days to fully shut down and allow for the regular grow-out cycle of piglets to be completed."

    State Budget Administrator Jake Bleed told lawmakers Friday that state officials expect to be able to use about $1 million in private donations from the Nature Conservancy and use rainy-day funds for the rest of the $6.2 million purchase of the conservation easement.

    The agreement between the state and farm allows for the purchase of a conservation easement in perpetuity on the 23-plus acres where C&H Hog Farms operates a concentrated animal feeding operation, and restricts the use of the land, Hurst said.

    "Of course, the main restriction that will be placed is that there will be no ability to operate a CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation]. There will be some limited farming that can be done there. They can have a house there, for example," she said. "All of that is outlined in the agreement that was released. There are three performance documents that are being finalized."

    Afterward, Hurst said the three performance documents are the conservation easement language, a cleanup plan from the Department of Environmental Quality and an escrow agreement.

    Earlier, she told lawmakers that the preliminary agreement gives performance measures will have to be satisfied by all parties and then C&H Farms will be able to access the funds that were placed in escrow in four to six months.

    Wardlaw asked an official with the Department of Environmental Quality how much the cleanup will cost.

    Michael Grappe, chief program officer for the department, said he didn't know, adding, "We haven't been on the site to assess it."

    Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, who is a hog farmer, speculated it could cost the department up to $500,000 to clean out a waste lagoon.

    Sen. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, asked whether the C&H Hog Farms matter would set a precedent for other farms operating under permits from the Department of Environmental Quality.

    Hurst said there are none in the Buffalo River watershed.

    Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, said he's worried that "we are using $5.2 million of public funds to take their farm.

    "Since that farm has been there ... has there been one shred of scientific evidence that that farm was the source of any contamination in that river?" he asked.

    Grappe said there is "nothing tied directly" to the farm.

    Stubblefield asked if the state would continue to monitor the Buffalo River downstream from C&H to see if the water quality changes.

    "There are plans to do that," Grappe said.

    "I am dumbfounded that we would make a $6.2 million mistake and it costs the citizens of this state $6.2 million," Rep. Jim Wooten, R-Beebe, said. "Now, I don't blame the people that built the hog farm. I want to know, who is responsible for issuing that permit?"

    Grappe said his department issued the permit under the previous administration of then-Gov. Mike Beebe.

    "I think there is a sense that there was a mistake made and this attempt is to make that right," Bleed said.

    Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, said C&H Hog Farms was granted a five-year operating permit by the state that was authorized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The farms' owners spent millions of dollars to build a facility to make a living "with the good faith of the state of Arkansas' agreement that they could do it."

    Then the EPA revoked or discouraged the use of this permit when C&H Farms sought renewal of the permit and the required permit could not be granted by the state, Douglas said.

    "So under this situation, we have individuals that invested millions of dollars on the good faith of the state of Arkansas and then they cannot get their permit renewed and they will go out of business and default through no fault of their own," he said. "There has been no water quality issues. That's not the issue here. The issue is they cannot get the permit that they were assured that they could to begin with and so this is just repaying damages to them because they won't be to operate and they will be foreclosed on, forced into bankruptcy, through no fault of their own."

    Metro on 06/22/2019

  • 20 Jun 2019 9:37 AM | Anonymous member

    Good news for river

    It's been a remarkable week of good news from our state's natural treasure, the Buffalo River.

    Good News No. 1 is the pending closure of the C&H hog farm, sending a clear signal to the world that the Natural State will make the effort to live up to its name. The costly reclamation of the site will have a high return on investment in the decades to come. Think of it as a preservation intervention, the chance to remove a potential pollution problem before it becomes manifest.

    It's difficult to see the future sometimes, even when it's staring you in the face. This was the case in Good News No. 2, the river rescue by intrepid Park Service staff who braved the early morning flash-flood waters of June 7 and sped upriver to remove dozens of campers from imminent danger. A tragedy such as occurred at the Albert Pike campground some years ago was averted. Bravo to our first responders!

    And Good News No. 3, though less dramatic than a daring rescue, is the assignment of Dark Sky status to the Buffalo River park. The quiet beauty of a starlit night sky, brilliantly ablaze with countless points of light, is a heritage that belongs to all people. It makes you proud to be here.


    Little Rock

  • 20 Jun 2019 9:36 AM | Anonymous member

    A big sigh of relief

    I would like to comment on two recent events here in Arkansas. First, I would like to thank the Northwest Arkansas edition of the Democrat-Gazette for actually showing the crowds in attendance at the Pride Parade in Fayetteville. If you had only seen local television news coverage, it would be easy to assume it was a non-event. It appears these entities are uncomfortable with the realities of love and affiliation, and chose to largely ignore it.

    Second, while we can all sigh in collective relief that the C&H hog disaster has been brought to conclusion, let's stop for a moment to review what went down: Behind closed doors, without input from the citizenry, a deal was made to allow a large-scale hog production facility in the watershed of our first national river. We'll never know what transpired to make that happen, but I'll wager it involved some ugly business. Now that issue has been resolved with the aid of over $6 million to buy C&H out. The outcome is good, but who do you think is paying them off? You and me, with taxpayer monies.

    We live in an area that will be growing in population for the foreseeable future, so we as citizens must be constantly on the lookout for dirty deals that enrich a few at the expense of everyone else. We've dealt with "carpetbaggers" in the past.



  • 20 Jun 2019 9:32 AM | Anonymous member

    Friday's Thumbs UP in NWAOnline

    [THUMBS UP] The recent big news about the Buffalo National River had to do with a hog farm, but people who appreciate being able to look up at night and see something other than the glow of man-made lights also got something to cheer about around the river. The national park recently became the first International Dark Sky Park in Arkansas. The river is situated in a rural part of Arkansas where the glare of electric lights can be avoided, giving star-watchers a chance to enjoy the celestial bodies. The national park spent the last two years getting more than 345 light fixtures into compliance with the international organization's standards. We applaud the effort. Anyone who has ever gotten out of the cities and found a truly dark place to observe the night sky can't help but be astounded at the clarity of the night sky. This is an outstanding step that gives Arkansans yet another reason (and their are already so many) to love the Buffalo National River. We appreciate the National Park Service having the (protected) vision to see the value of protecting the night sky.

  • 20 Jun 2019 9:25 AM | Anonymous member

    BRENDA BLAGG: A forever battle

    The state's buyout of a controversial hog farm near the Buffalo National River is an answer to a huge environmental concern.

    Defenders of the scenic river, the first in the United States to carry the national river designation, are rightly celebrating the news.

    The threat of pollution from this hog farm -- real or perceived -- will theoretically end in 180 days.

    At least the farm's operation within the Buffalo's watershed will cease.

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced last week that the state has reached agreement with owners of C&H Hog Farms to close its large-scale swine operation near Mount Judea in Newton County.

    The farm has had 2,500 sows and is allowed to have up to 4,000 piglets at the site near Big Creek, which flows into the Buffalo just 6.6 miles away.

    Brothers Richard and Phillip Campbell and their cousin, Jason Henson, started the feeding operation in 2013, after securing the necessary permit from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

    That's when the trouble began.

    The farmers did what the state agency required of them to get the permit. The state agency, however, gave what opponents of the hog farm maintain was inadequate notice to the public and to other stakeholders.

    Had others known what was happening, the uproar over location of a commercial swine operation near the Buffalo would have happened before the permit was issued.

    Instead, it happened afterwards and continues to this day -- complete with long-running regulatory squabbles and litigation.

    Those efforts might have eventually shut down the hog farm operation.

    The deal struck by Hutchinson and the Department of Arkansas Heritage to buy out the farmers gets in done in 180 days and, importantly, leaves the farmers whole.

    Hutchinson, in announcing the deal, emphasized that the farmers got their permit fairly and have operated the hog farm with "the utmost care" from the start.

    "They have not done anything wrong, but the state should never have granted that permit for a large-scale hog farm operation in the Buffalo River watershed," he said.

    The $6.2 million buyout will cover the remaining balance on a multimillion-dollar loan and compensate the farmers for additional closure-related costs. The farm owners will cut short their contract for sale of pigs and grant the state a conservation easement on the land, limiting its future use.

    The $6.2 million will come mostly from the state, but Hutchinson has reached out to The Nature Conservancy for help. Its share won't be more than $1 million and will likely be less.

    That initial permit for the hog farm was issued on former Gov. Mike Beebe's watch.

    The hog farm operation has since been intensely monitored, as state and federal regulators and others watched for any impact on water quality downstream.

    That monitoring should continue as whatever waste from the hog farm (or other sources) makes its way through the karst terrain or in runoff into the creek and river.

    Meanwhile, Hutchinson wants to make permanent a temporary ban the state has placed on new medium- and large-scale hog farms in the watershed.

    The regulatory change is subject to legislative review, which begs the question: Will a permanent ban happen?

    Hutchinson has given his Department of Environmental Quality clear enough direction.

    But there are others who want to protect farmers' rights. Most notable is the Arkansas Farm Bureau, a powerful lobby that has stood squarely with the C&H owners in the battle over the hog farm.

    A Farm Bureau profile of the families that jointly own C&H describes them as ninth-generation farmers in Newton County. They're like a lot of the farmers the organization serves all over Arkansas and it sounded a little like the Farm Bureau regrets giving up the fight for the families' rights.

    "This is a private, and personal, decision by the owners of C&H Hog Farm, which, no doubt, was based on what they felt is best for their future," reads a statement from spokesman Steve Eddington. "Arkansas Farm Bureau's support for the owners of C&H has not wavered, and we wish them success in whatever endeavor they choose to pursue."

    He did emphasize that there has been "no credible scientific evidence" that the farm caused harm to the Buffalo River while C&H became "one of the most productive swine producers in the region."

    Farm interests have long held sway among many Arkansas lawmakers and regulators for that matter.

    Expect that sentiment to continue, should vigilance from environmentalists ever falter.

    While the fight for the Buffalo has definitely carried some costly lessons for both sides, the fight to protect the river can't be over.

    The battle is forever.

    Commentary on 06/19/2019

  • 20 Jun 2019 9:19 AM | Anonymous member

    MIKE MASTERSON: Saving the Buffalo

    Our Buffalo National River is finally awakening from her long nightmare thanks to the efforts of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who announced the other day the state and owners of the controversial C&H Hog Farms reached an agreement to close that factory at Mount Judea come November.

    In the deal, C&H receives $6.2 million, paid for by the state and The Nature Conservancy. There really was no other fair way to resolve this legally complex situation that should never have occurred.

    Screaming "Alleluia" at the top of my lungs seems inadequate after six years of "breathlessly" writing about the travesty. Many good people, from those at the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance to the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Ozark Society, the Audubon Society and beyond have given their time, energy and resources in hopes this day might arrive.

    It's always risky when a columnist names names. Yet I feel compelled to cite some among the many people who have fought the good fight over the years since our state's Department of Environmental Quality (cough) wrongheadedly issued the permit for C&H to begin spreading millions of tons of raw waste across the fragile watershed.

    My thanks to all who contributed so much, including Gordon Watkins; Dr. John Van Brahana and his volunteers; Joe Nix; Richard Mays; Bob Cross, Sam Perroni; Teresa Turk; Brian Thompson; Duane Woltjen; Steve Blumreich; Jack Stewart; Marti Olesen; Ginny Masullo; Ellen Corley; Chuck and Carol Bitting; Lin Wellford; Nancy Haller (deceased); Alice Andrews; David Peterson; Emily Jones; Bob Evans; Debbie Doss; Jewell, Larry and Pam Fowler; Patti Kent; Dane Schumacher and Tom Aley.

    Many also thank Governor Hutchinson for bringing this environmental nightmare to an end. Again, apologies to anyone missing from this list along with the 20,000-plus Arkansans who wrote the state in support of our river.

    The Newton County families that operated C&H always have been honorable, hardworking people who applied for--and were granted--a legitimate state permit to legally operate the factory with 6,500 swine and to regularly leak and spray the resulting waste across some 600 watershed acres. Those spray fields are dotted around and along impaired Big Creek, a major tributary of the now endangered and impaired national river flowing 6.6 miles downstream.

    The Henson and Campbell families did everything the state asked of them without violations.

    The problem always has rested solely with the Department of Environmental Quality's ineffective environmental "watchdogs" who failed to insist on crucial studies before considering such a permit in this clearly inappropriate watershed. Good grief, even I know this leaky limestone region was never a place for something as polluting as a large hog factory.

    Certain agency employees quietly ushered C&H's general permit through the process without their agency's director ever knowing it was a done deal. Does that abysmal method of doing public business smell beyond rancid to anyone else?

    There were valid reasons former Gov. Mike Beebe, in an interview as he exited office, called this permit approval on his watch his biggest regret. As of last week, the legacy of Asa Hutchinson will be as the governor who closed this place and moved toward permanently closing this precious region in "God's Country" to future farm factories.

    I'm proud of Hutchinson for keeping his word to me one evening as he campaigned for his first term that he would do everything in his power to protect the Buffalo National River.

    It's also my understanding the governor personally researched the history and complexities of this matter before arriving at his conclusion to offer the buyout. He genuinely cared about figuring out how best to untangle such a hog-tied mess for the best possible result.

    Those who have followed the C&H debacle since 2012 when the permit was issued already know all that has happened since. I'm speaking, for instance, of the excessive phosphorus levels on spray fields repeatedly draining into Big Creek and deep beneath the fractured karst subsurface, especially during major rain events.

    That so-called legacy phosphorus will continue to drain downstream for decades to come.

    I lost track a couple of years back how many details and developments I've tried to pack into 100 or so columns since 2013 (thanks for the many kind messages). I remained vigilant for one reason only: to do the best I could to keep Arkansans informed of what was happening to our jewel of a stream that a USA Today poll two years ago voted as our state's greatest natural attraction.

  • 19 Jun 2019 6:32 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Democrat Gazette

    Panel advances hog-farm deal $6.2M for buyout endorsed

    by Michael R. Wickline

    A legislative panel on Tuesday endorsed Gov. Asa Hutchinson's plan to transfer up to $6.2 million in state "rainy-day" funds to the Department of Arkansas Heritage to obtain a conservation easement within the Buffalo National River watershed to shut down a hog farm.

    In a voice vote with no audible dissenters, the Legislative Council's Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Subcommittee recommended the full council approve the Republican governor's request during the council's meeting on Friday.

    The panel also recommended the council approve increasing the department's spending authority by $6.2 million in fiscal 2019, which ends June 30, and in fiscal 2020, which starts the next day, for the purchase of the conservation easement.

    Hutchinson on Thursday announced that C&H Hog Farms, the target of years-long environmental concerns, will close its doors later this year under a buyout agreement reached with Hutchinson and Arkansas Heritage.

    The large-scale hog farm, which sits within the watershed of the Buffalo National River, will have 180 days from last Thursday to cease operations. After that, the Department of Environmental Quality will begin closing and cleaning up the site. The conservation easement will limit the site's future usage.

    State Budget Administrator Jake Bleed told lawmakers on Tuesday that the governor is requesting up to $6.2 million in rainy-day funds because it reflects that "right now we are going to meet our obligations under that contract from a variety of sources, one of which is the private donations through The Nature Conservancy.

    "The amount The Nature Conservancy is going to be able to provide, we're still pulling that together," he said.

    The Department of Arkansas Heritage also will provide an undetermined amount of money, Bleed said.

    The nature of the legislative panel's schedule is such that state officials could have either presented the governor's request on Tuesday or wait until its next meeting in August, "so we decided to go ahead and get up before y'all today," Bleed said. "Our anticipation is that we get all this all nailed down, which will be quite soon, we'll be able to give you a full report and accounting on that."

    Afterward, Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin said the rainy-day fund balance is now $16.28 million. The governor typically proposes using rainy-day funds in cases of emergencies or for his priority projects.

    Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, asked Bleed whether there were any discussions or attempts to raise private funds from others beyond The Nature Conservancy.

    "I do not know that answer to that," Bleed said.

    Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, asked Bleed whether state officials will make a one-time payment or make payments over a few years.

    "We will do a one-time transfer once we get the funds together in an escrow account and then that escrow account will be held" until the contract's requirements are met, Bleed said.

    "This is an easement on the use of the land. They will still be able to retain title to the land. They will be able to use it for some function, but the easement will restrict use of the land," he said.

    Hickey asked whether future buyers or heirs of the property also will be under the contract.

    "My understanding is that it's a perpetual easement," Bleed said.

    Maloch asked whether "all the expenses related to closure of the lagoon and that type of thing" will be covered by $6.2 million or will the state or other entity have to pay more money on the closure.

    Michael Grappe, chief program officer of the Department of Environmental Quality, said he hasn't heard of any potential costs, "but if there is, it will come out of the closure fund."

    Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, said he read that up to $1.2 million will be provided from other parties for the purchase of the conservation easement, and wondered, "where is the incentive if we are appropriating this now for the full amount?"

    Hutchinson said on Thursday that The Nature Conservancy will not pay more than $1 million toward the buyout and will likely pay closer to $600,000 or so.

    Rice asked, "If we changed this appropriation to $5 million, you think it would help him come up with the other $1.2 [million] to get this deal done?

    "What my concern is ... this farm is going be shut down. I want to make the people whole. The state of Arkansas did this," Rice said. "I still have concern about the precedent it sets and even in that watershed for other type farms, if this doesn't clean up that river up to the standard that many people think it should be or we might want it to be, what this opens up down the road."

    C&H Hog Farms has been in operation since 2013. Its operators faced pushback from environmental groups concerned about the manure ending up in the Buffalo River, the first river in the United States to be designated as a national river.

    The facility is located on Big Creek, 6.6 miles from where it flows into the Buffalo.

    The creek and river are on the department's proposed list of impaired water bodies because E.coli was detected in them, but no government agency has concluded C&H is responsible for the bacteria's presence.

    Metro on 06/19/2019

  • 16 Jun 2019 9:47 AM | Anonymous member

    Hog farm's closure

    Governor Hutchinson's announcement Thursday evening of the hog farm closing was most welcome and long overdue.

    The Democrat-Gazette can take pride in its contribution to this much-needed change. In particular, the contributions of columnists Richard Mason and Mike Masterson were very important.


    Little Rock

  • 16 Jun 2019 9:45 AM | Anonymous member

    GREG HARTON: Hog farm buyout not final answer on farming concernsby Greg Harton | Today at 1:00 a.m.

    The battle to protect the Buffalo National River is far from over.

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivered a "wow" moment in Little Rock Thursday with his announcement the state and the owners of C&H Hog Farms had agreed to shut down the 6,500-hog operation near Big Creek in Newton County. We taxpayers will provide most of the $6.2 million payment to the owners of the hog farm.

    In exchange, they promise to shut down operations within six months. The money will cover the remaining balance on a multimillion loan and provide some compensation to the farmers, who will end their contract with Brazil-based JBS Pork. The land will become state property and will carry a conservation easement, limiting its future use.

    The state messed up royally in issuing the initial permit for the hog farm, which has operated since 2013. More recently, the state has ordered the farm to close, citing water quality concerns in the Buffalo River Watershed and insufficient geological investigations of the area's karst terrain.

    Prior to Thursday, it was virtually assured that the farm owners, the state and other interested parties were going to spend the next several years in litigation. The family that opened C&H wanted to farm; they didn't get into farming so that they could spend hours upon hours in suits with lawyers in offices and courtrooms.

    Hutchinson found what, in my mind, was an almost perfect solution: Make the farmers whole, acknowledge the state's responsibility to do much, much more in protecting the Buffalo and acknowledge its failures in the C&H debacle, and establish a moratorium on such environmentally challenging, large-scale farm operations within the watershed of the Buffalo National River.

    Problem solved, right? Well, maybe not so fast.

    This hasn't all just been about hogs and the byproduct of feeding them. The Arkansas Farm Bureau has vigorously battled on behalf of the farm operation. It seems the organization saw C&H as a sort of line in the dirt: Was Arkansas going to protect farmers or treat them as the enemy?

    Warren Carter, executive vice president of the Farm Bureau, recently wrote in a guest commentary in this paper of the organization's struggle to keep C&H "open and operating." He blamed the challenges faced by C&H on "very vocal folks who don't like where that farm is located and believe if they scream loud and long enough and clutter the conversation with falsehoods, they can make the farm go away."

    Jason Henson, one of the owners of C&H, said last week he and his two cousins/partners appreciate supporters who spent time "defending our right to farm."

    Those comments provides some indication that the fight over the Buffalo is viewed by farming interests as one of property rights and preserving family farms. That, without question, ought to be a goal the state of Arkansas and the Farm Bureau generally can share.

    Carter last month opined that the C&H families followed Arkansas' rules and ought to be left alone. But Hutchinson said last week the state should have never permitted the hog farm in the watershed. Now, Hutchinson says the state should make permanent a now-temporary ban on medium- and large-scale hog farms within the Buffalo River watershed. He's instructed the Department of Environmental Quality to start the rule-making process.

    Don't think for a second that means a permanent ban is a shoo-in. It would not be surprising at all that the Farm Bureau might fight such a change.

    The state won't be offering million-dollar payouts to other landowners whose future farming options would be limited to some degree by a state ban within the Buffalo River watershed. Will the Farm Bureau sit still for that, or view it as a precedent that ill serves the interests of farming in an agricultural state?

    Commentary on 06/16/2019

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