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  • 12 Feb 2020 8:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansasonline

    Buffalo River efforts touted  

    Groups honor governor for his work to protect waterway

    by Joseph Flaherty

    Representatives of four conservation and outdoors groups recognized Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday for his efforts to protect the Buffalo National River.

    The Ozark Society, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and the Arkansas Canoe Club presented the governor with a plaque during the Southeast Tourism Society's conference at the Marriott hotel in Little Rock.

    At the beginning of last year, Hutchinson established three key goals aimed at protecting the Buffalo River, a popular 135-mile waterway in northern Arkansas that was incorporated into the National Park System in 1972 when Congress established it as the nation's first national river.

    The goals were to buy out a large-scale hog farm that was operating within the river's watershed, to establish a permanent moratorium against large-scale animal-feeding operations within the watershed, and to create a public-private grant program to support improved water management practices for farmers.

    "Because of your support and the support of the General Assembly, we accomplished all three," Hutchinson said Tuesday.

    Chief among those goals was addressing the drawn-out battle between the owners of C&H Hog Farms and environmentalists who were concerned that the farm posed a threat to the river.

    In 2012, Gov. Mike Beebe's administration issued a permit that allowed the farm to be located on Big Creek, about 6.6 miles from where it flows into the Buffalo River, and allowed it to house up to 6,503 hogs.

    That led to a lengthy battle between the farm's owners and conservationists, who expressed concern about the possibility of manure -- applied as fertilizer -- running off the property and into the water, or about the possibility of a major storm event overfilling the ponds that held thousands of gallons of hog manure.

    Research paid for by the state, conducted by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, has not concluded that C&H negatively affected water quality in Big Creek or the Buffalo River.

    The state and the farm's owners agreed to a buyout that led to the farm's closure last month. The $6.2 million deal removed the hogs from the farm and transferred the property to the state as a conservation easement. The Nature Conservancy contributed $1 million to the state's payment to the farm's owners, on top of $3.7 million from the governor's rainy-day fund and $1.5 million from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

    When the deal was announced last summer, Hutchinson also directed environmental regulators to make permanent a moratorium on large-scale animal-feeding operations within the watershed, which has been in place since 2014.

    The proposed ban awaits final approval by legislative committees and the Arkansas Pollution, Control and Ecology Commission, which voted in the fall to extend a public comment period until Jan. 22.

    Gordon Watkins of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, a group created specifically to oppose the hog farm's operation, said that while a permanent ban may still face opposition from farming interests in the Legislature, Hutchinson's support is significant.

    "The fact that he's throwing his weight behind it should carry the day," Watkins said by telephone Tuesday. "We're hopeful of that."

    Alice Andrews, conservation chair for the Ozark Society, also expressed support for a permanent ban on animal operations and for the establishment of the Buffalo River Conservation Committee, which was created by executive order in fall 2019.

    "Natural scenic beauty matters," Andrews told Hutchinson before presenting him with the plaque Tuesday. "It's about the quality of life. It is our hope that your example will inspire leaders across the Southeastern region and beyond to protect their precious natural resources for future generations."

    Metro on 02/12/2020

  • 11 Feb 2020 5:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Gov. Hutchinson tells tourism group goals met with Buffalo River

    by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM)

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday (Feb. 11) he created three goals at the beginning of 2019 regarding the C&H Farms hog operation along the Buffalo River watershed, and all three were accomplished.

    Speaking to the Southeast Tourism Society’s Connection Conference in Little Rock, Hutchinson said he wanted to buy out the owners of the farm in a fair transaction. Second, he wanted to make permanent the moratorium against concentrated animal feeding operations in the watershed. And third, he wanted to create a grant program with public and private dollars for farmers and municipalities to have better water management practices within the watershed. All three have been achieved.

    “It was a good year for the Buffalo River,” Hutchinson said. “It was a good year for the next generation of those that will enjoy our outdoors here in this state from all over the United States, that will come and see nature, that will see the God of creation, that will see and enjoy something that has been there throughout time.”

    The governor after his speech was presented a framed photo of a river otter from the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, Ozark Society and the Arkansas Canoe Club. He received a prolonged standing ovation as he left the meeting.

    The Southeast Tourism Society seeks to support the travel and tourism industry in the southeastern United States.

    Hutchinson announced June 13 that the state had entered into a voluntary agreement to pay Richard and Phillip Campbell and Jason Henson $6.2 million to close their 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 agreement prohibits using any building on the property for “the feeding, breeding, raising or holding of animals” that is “specifically designed as a confinement area where manure may accumulate.”

    The three received a permit in 2012 allowing them to raise approximately 6,500 hogs. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality twice rejected the farm’s application for a new operating permit, citing water quality issues and inadequate testing. But the owners appealed in circuit court and filed a civil lawsuit.

    Opponents feared the farm’s waste was polluting the nation’s first national river and campaigned to close it.

    Hutchinson complimented advocates who attended town hall meetings and politely asked him to protect the river. He mentioned by name former U.S. Rep. Ed Bethune, who was in attendance and who wrote many letters in support of the river. Hutchinson said he is a “lover of the Buffalo River myself” and has floated it and watched its recent history unfold. He called it “a great national asset.”

    Hutchinson told attendees that tourism is the state’s second leading economic driver. Outdoor recreation in Arkansas generates $9.7 billion in consumer spending, supports 96,000 jobs and creates $2.5 billion in wages and salaries.

    He referenced a recent $20 million matching grant from the Walton Family Foundation that, when paired with federal grants, will complete the 84.5-mile Delta Heritage biking and pedestrian trail from Lexa to Arkansas City. He said he has created an advisory council that is working to pass bicycle-friendly legislation. Also, Act 650, passed in the 2019 legislative session, allows bicyclists to regard stop signs as yield signs, and red lights as stop signs.

  • 26 Jan 2020 8:49 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Fern


    Across the country, a call grows for moratoriums on huge livestock farms

    By Leah Douglas January 26, 2020

    As the number of massive livestock farms balloons in states like Iowa, Maryland, and Nebraska, communities are scrambling to figure out how to control the pollution and waste produced by thousands — or tens of thousands — of animals. In some places, officials have opted to ban the mega-farms altogether, and the idea of a moratorium on the biggest animal farms is gaining support in local governments, statehouses, and even in Congress.

    In places as far afield as Faulk County, South Dakota, and Mount Judea, Arkansas, rural residents are petitioning their local officials to issue temporary or permanent bans on new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). They say these moratoriums are a longer-term and more holistic solution to the environmental concerns posed by CAFOs than a more incremental approach.

    Even federal policymakers have picked up the flag of the moratorium. In December, senator and former presidential candidate Cory Booker introduced a bill that would implement several livestock farming reforms, including a moratorium on new CAFOs. Sen. Booker has previously introduced legislation that would institute a moratorium on agribusiness mergers and acquisitions.

    While neither of those bills has become law, they have inspired rural residents to push for local moratoriums, advocates say. Krissy Kasserman, the factory farm organizing manager at Food & Water Watch, an activist nonprofit, says the communities she works with have “had enough” and want a “more bold solution” to addressing the air and water pollution and other environmental and health concerns presented by CAFOs.

    “The time for small changes in our regulations or slightly better enforcement has passed,” Kasserman says. “Those tactics have not resulted in the kind of change that we really need [to] protect our food safety, our climate, our air and water, our independent farms, and our rural communities.”

    More CAFOs, more problems

    Between 2011 and 2017, more than 1,400 large-scale CAFOs opened across the U.S., bringing the nation’s total to nearly 20,000. Many of those new operations were in Iowa, which now has nearly 4,000 large CAFOs. Delaware and Maryland also experienced a significant uptick, with the number of CAFOs rising 600 percent and 300 percent, respectively.

    These operations can house thousands of cattle, hogs, or chickens, and each CAFO can produce millions of gallons of manure annually. They also emit untold quantities of air pollution and are largely exempted from the nation’s clean-air laws.

    The rapid expansion has spurred many rural communities to call for stronger farm regulations. At a rally at the statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa, last Thursday, a coalition led by Food & Water Action (the political arm of Food & Water Watch) and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund called on presidential candidates support a statewide moratorium on new CAFOs in the leadup to the Iowa presidential caucus.

    “As a rural resident and an independent farmer, I see the devastating impacts of a runaway building boom of factory farms not only on independent family farms … but also on the environment,” said Chris Peterson, who is on the board of the Iowa Farmers Union, in a press release for the rally. “We’re talking about water quality, human health, rural neighborhoods, and even rural social structure.”

    Moratoriums vary in length and breadth depending on the issues faced by the communities. Some are size-based: In 2019, three Wisconsin counties issued year-long moratoriums on any new CAFO with at least 1,000 animals. Others affect only some types of livestock. In Lancaster County, Nebraska, officials have twice considered a moratorium that would ban new poultry CAFOs, a direct response to the arrival of Costco’s poultry processing plant in the region and its numerous accompanying mega-farms. A coalition in Nebraska is also pushing for a statewide CAFO moratorium.

    Some moratorium proposals have emerged in response to a specific environmental threat. In Arkansas, a proposed change to state regulations would implement a permanent moratorium on hog CAFOs in the Buffalo River watershed to protect the region from groundwater contamination. The moratorium proposal came soon after the state bought out a hog operation in the watershed that residents worried would degrade water quality.

    In other cases, residents want a moratorium for the message it sends about factory farming. Last year in Oregon, the legislature considered a statewide moratorium on new dairies with more than 2,500 cows. The bill was introduced after the state shut down a 15,000-cow dairy operation plagued by numerous violations and fines.

    “These mega dairies simply put small family farmers out of business,” says Shari Sirkin, executive director of Friends of Family Farmers, an Oregon nonprofit. Having a constellation of smaller dairy farms serve local and state demand is “a much better scenario than having one or two giant, polluting, greenhouse gas-causing mega-dairies.” 

    Nationally, a call for CAFO bans

    Momentum in rural communities around moratoriums has been buoyed by national interest in the issue, advocates say. Beyond Sen. Booker’s policy proposals, rural organizers have been encouraged by polling and expert recommendations that support a ban on CAFOs.

    A poll released in December by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that 57 percent of Americans want more oversight of large animal farms, and 43 percent favor a national moratorium on new CAFOs. And in states that have high concentrations of CAFOs, like Iowa and North Carolina, support for a moratorium was even higher.

    The American Public Health Association also recommended this year that states issue moratoriums on new CAFOs “until additional scientific data on the attendant risks to public health have been collected and uncertainties resolved.”

    Advocates say their major obstacle to passing moratoriums is farm industry groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation or state chapters of the federal hog and cattle lobbies. (The Farm Bureau did not respond to a request for comment by press time.) In Arkansas, the Farm Bureau chapter and the Arkansas Pork Producers Association werereportedly the only two entities that submitted comments opposed to the Buffalo River watershed moratorium during a public comment period that ended in January. The Nebraska Farm Bureau said a poultry CAFO moratorium in that state “would be the equivalent of halting the growth of rural Nebraska.”

    “The Farm Bureau has a big and powerful presence in the Iowa legislature and throughout the state,” says Kasserman. “If you have legislators who are answering to the Farm Bureau instead of the voters who elected them, you see them not taking action on the issues that their constituents want action on.”

    A national CAFO moratorium like the one proposed by Sen. Booker would need support from both parties to pass, which is unlikely given the polarized state of Congress. But state and local moratoriums may be more feasible. In addition to Iowa and Nebraska’s state moratorium campaigns, the Maryland legislature is expected to consider a moratorium bill this session, and in 2021, proponents say, Oregon lawmakers will get another shot at a moratorium bill.

  • 21 Jan 2020 8:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Springfield News-Leader


    Cleanup begins for waste lagoons at hog farm near Buffalo River

    Wes Johnson, Springfield News-LeaderPublished 3:35 p.m. CT Jan. 21, 2020

    Waste lagoons at the now-closed C&H Hog Farms Inc., in Arkansas near the Buffalo National River are in the process of being drained, and contaminated soil scraped away, under a $749,000 cleanup contract, according to Arkansas officials.

    The two waste lagoons containing hog feces and urine were 90 percent full when the work began on Jan. 15. The lagoons could hold up to 2 million gallons of liquid waste, which environmental groups fear could leach into groundwater or reach the Buffalo National River six miles away if they ever overflowed.

    Last year, Arkansas officials yielded to public pressure and agreed to use a combination of public and private funds to buy the hog farm from its owners for $6.2 million. 

    The nonprofit Nature Conservancy contributed up to $1 million of that amount to help close the hog operation, which at its peak could house more than 6,000 hogs inside two large confined feeding buildings.

    Under terms of the agreement, the hog farm owner gets to keep the land and buildings but can't use them for any confined animal feeding operations. Instead, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, a part of the Division of Arkansas Heritage, will hold a conservation easement on the property, which is adjacent to Big Creek and about 6 miles from the Buffalo River.

    The $749,019 cleanup contract is not included in the $6.2 million farm acquisition cost, according to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

    David Peterson, president of the Ozark Society, a nonprofit group that successfully fought the Buffalo River from being dammed decades ago, said he is glad the hog farm is closed. 

    But he doesn't think ADEQ is doing enough to clean up the site or follow up with groundwater testing to ensure hog-waste pollution won't affect nearby Big Creek or the Buffalo River.

    "The sludge that's in the bottom of the ponds, they say they'll remove six inches of it," Peterson said. "We think it should be 12 inches. If they can do six inches they can easily do 12. We also asked if there will be any testing of the clay liner to see what (pollutants) are really in there. Typically, there is a plume of nitrate and phosphorus below those kinds of ponds. We asked for them to investigate the existence of such a plume, but there's no indication they'll do that testing."

    Asked if there will be any ongoing monitoring of groundwater or creek water on or near the property once the cleanup is over, ADEQ said the closure agreement does not include that.

    "The agreement between the farm and the state does not address ongoing monitoring of groundwater or surface water," ADEQ said. "Several monitoring stations on Big Creek and the Buffalo River already exist, and we expect the entities that conduct monitoring there will continue to do so."

    Peterson said more needs to be done to ensure the hog farm doesn't contribute to algae blooms on the Buffalo River, even after the farm is no longer operating. 

    "Absolutely. This is our national river, right?" he said. "This river should have the cleanest water possible."

    Responding to a News-Leader inquiry, ADEQ detailed how the cleanup will occur. 

    First, the contractor, Denali Water Solutions, LLC, will pump out the waste lagoons and transport the liquid to a third-party treatment facility outside of the Buffalo River watershed.

    "Once the waste is removed from the lagoons, a minimum of six inches of the soil will be removed from the bottom and inside levees of the pond," ADEQ said in an email.

    "After the six inches of soil is removed, the earthen waste storage ponds are to be demolished by filling and grading the site with a uniform or terraced slope from beyond the west of the pond on the high side to beyond the toe of the slope of the pond on the east. This will prevent any accumulation of water. Upon completion of the earthwork, all disturbed areas are to be filled, graded, and vegetated."

    When it was operating, C&H sprayed liquid hog waste as fertilizer on nearby fields.  ADEQ said the cleanup agreement only involved the waste storage ponds.

    "The fields that the owners of C&H Hog Farm used to land-apply the waste while it was operating are not part of the closure process as outlined in the legal agreement between the farm and the State," ADEQ said.

    ADEQ said the waste lagoon cleanup is scheduled to take 90 days, but it could be longer under adverse weather conditions. The cleanup cost also could increase, if heavy rains during the cleanup period require the contractor to haul away more contaminated material than expected.

    Asked Is there any evidence the adjacent creek, or the Buffalo National River, suffered algae blooms related to hog waste getting into the waterways, ADEQ focused on what the closure agreement entailed.

    "The agreement between the State and C&H directs ADEQ to close the waste storage ponds," ADEQ said. "Algal blooms of varying size have occurred for a number of years on the Buffalo National River and its tributaries. The size and variance of location of blooms over the years would suggest that there are multiple sources of nutrient loading in the Buffalo River watershed."

    The Buffalo River has become an economic tourism engine for the region.

    According to the 2018 National Park Service Visitor Spending Effects report — the latest available — an estimated 1.2 million tourists spent $54.9 million in the region while visiting the Buffalo National River, eating in restaurants, staying in hotels and renting recreation equipment from river vendors.

    A permanent moratorium on CAFOs?

    ADEQ currently has a temporary moratorium on allowing any confined animal feeding operations, like C&H Hog Farms Inc., from operating within the Buffalo National River watershed. 

    ADEQ has been taking public comments on whether to make that moratorium permanent. That comment period began last fall and was extended until 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22.



  • 21 Jan 2020 8:22 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    KUAF Radio

    C&H Hog Farms Cleanup Plan Unclear, Stakeholders Say

    By JACQUELINE FROELICH & KYLE KELLAMS

    Listen to the broadcast

    An industrial swine-breeding facility permitted by the state to operate on the Buffalo National River Watershed is undergoing cleanup this week. C&H Hog Farms terminated operations early this month under a negotiated settlement with Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. A contractor is now tasked with removing millions of gallons of swing sludge from lagoons on the property.

  • 18 Jan 2020 9:23 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansasonline

    OPINION

    MASTERSON ONLINE: Hogs gone

    by Mike Masterson | January 18, 2020 at 1:49 a.m.


    It was a development that for seven uncertain years marked by controversy, legal disputes and rancor, few believed would come to pass.

    Yet thanks to Gov. Asa Hutchinson and the enduring efforts by so many concerned Arkansas citizens and determined environmental activist groups, the C&H Hog Farms operation perched above and along a tributary to our treasured Buffalo National River is now officially closed. Well, OK, almost.

    Although the 6,500 swine are gone, the factory is not fully shut down because the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (cough) who wrongheadedly allowed the factory into the watershed still must clean out the large raw-waste ponds and areas around the two massive barns before the official closure plan (which folks have yet to see) has been completed.

    Only then will it be permanently and officially shut down. I suppose it's best (with lawyers involved) to say the barns are now empty and C&H has satisfied the requirements of their settlement agreement and vacated the premises.

    Environmental reporter Emily Walkenhorst wrote the news account last week saying that, according to the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, Arkansas (with financial assistance from The Nature Conservancy) paid the farmers $6.2 million in exchange for the closure.

    That means the state now possesses the land in the form of a conservation easement, and this controversy mercifully has squealed to a halt (couldn't resist).

    Valued readers know I became invested over the years in writing continuously about this travesty the Department of Environmental Quality should never have surreptitiously approved in 2012.

    I wrote often (and intensely at times) about the disgraceful way this arrangement had been struck only because I always have held deep affections for this river and all it means to my native state. I was born not far from it and spent many days enjoying its clear spring-fed waters.

    The secrecy surrounding the state's original permit for this factory--in cooperation with Cargill Inc. (later bought out by JBS of Brazil)--to me smacked of good-ol'-boyism and seemed far beyond simply suspicious or coincidental. Even today I believe the circumstances of that questionable approval still deserve deeper official investigation.

    Even the Department of Environmental Quality's own director at the time said she didn't know the factory had been approved until after it was a done deal.

    Simply put, a certain group of agency employees at the time permitted the mega-waste-generating factory to operate in a karst-riddled environment without insisting on extensive studies on groundwater flow and safety, despite the agency's own regulations that demanded that. Many also wonder how and why that happened.

    Making matters worse, former Gov. Mike Beebe, on whose watch this travesty unfolded, later said he didn't know at the time that the factory had been permitted. In an interview as he departed office, Beebe said he considered allowing the factory into the watershed his biggest regret. I can imagine. That's not the kind of legacy any governor would care to claim.

    As I've also written multiple times in what had to approach 100 columns (some understandably grew weary of such persistence), the fault for this suspicious and unacceptable permit was not shouldered by the farm's owners. To the contrary, I believe they did everything our state asked of them (such as that was).

    Instead, the Department of Environmental Quality, as the purported gatekeeper in this instance, gets the fullest possible measure of responsibility for ever allowing a concentrated animal feeding operation (aka CAFO) into this fragile watershed. After all, it is the very region this same department years earlier had protected against such factories with a moratorium.

    The agency involved obviously had to have known better going into the deal it approved.

    As Walkenhorst wrote, the land in question has been placed in a state conservation easement managed by Parks, Tourism and Heritage, thus hopefully marking a new beginning for the watershed.

    The governor publicly said he appreciated the willingness of the Campbell and Henson families of Newton County to work with the state in purchasing their sizable investment.

    "Now [I] look forward to the work that the state will be doing to ensure that the Buffalo National River continues to be the treasure that it is," he said in the news release from the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

    Department Secretary Stacy Hurst said in the release, "It's been a long road to get to this point but has been worth the effort as a step to ensure the vitality of the Buffalo National River now and into the future."

    One who must be particularly relieved at the closure is Gordon Watkins, whose Buffalo River Watershed Alliance was instrumental in relentlessly fighting the factory's permitting and location.

    Watkins and his alliance were united with other concerned Arkansas environmental groups and individuals such as geosciences professor emeritus Dr. John Van Brahana and Brahana's volunteers, who remained dedicated to preserving the quality of the Buffalo.

    All the people and groups who rose to steadfastly defend the river are to be commended for standing tall in what's been called the second battle to save the Buffalo National River (designated as such in 1972).

    "I'm glad that we've reached this milestone, and hopefully we can get the closure plan finalized in a not-too-long period of time and we can put this thing to bed," Watkins told the reporter.

    Meanwhile, we can ask ourselves what happens now since the fields along Big Creek have been continuously sprayed with millions of gallons of raw waste for six years.

    The waste contains phosphorus and nitrogen, both fertilizers that can trigger massive algae blooms in freshwater streams. Miles of the Buffalo in recent years have become choked with the dark green stuff, which in some instances can be toxic.

    The spray fields in question are along or near Big Creek, which flows 6.6 miles downstream into the Buffalo, a portion of which in the past two years, along with Big Creek, has been declared impaired.

    As this contaminating waste soaks through the relatively thin layer of topsoil and into the fractured limestone beneath, varying amounts will lodge in the karst honeycomb of crevasses and caves. There it can remain for years as it steadily washes into the water table with each major rainfall.

    This means our Buffalo may well be feeling the negative effects of those millions of gallons for decades to come. And that would indeed be a terrible shame for those who enjoy our state's magnificent river.

    Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

    Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

    Web only on 01/18/2020

    Print Headline: MASTERSON ONLINE: Hogs gone

  • 07 Jan 2020 8:27 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansas Democrat Gazette

    Payment made, state gains hog farm land; Buffalo River’s protection still seen as priority

    by Emily Walkenhorst

    Arkansas has paid the owners of C&H Hog Farms $6.2 million for their former farmland in the Buffalo River watershed, and the state now possesses the land in the form of a conservation easement.

    Completion of the agreement between the state and the farm's owners was announced Monday in a news release from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.

    No plans have been announced for the land, but its transfer to the state as a conservation easement -- which limits its potential uses -- is the beginning of a new chapter for the river's watershed.

    The watershed received renewed attention and protection efforts as a result of the farm's opening in 2013. But the farm's nearly completed closure -- the state is responsible for the closure of two manure holding ponds on the property -- won't spell the end of efforts to help protect the country's first "national" river.

    "I appreciate the willingness of the farmers to work with us on this, and now look forward to the work that the state will be doing to ensure that the Buffalo National River continues to be the treasure that it is," Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in the news release from the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, which will manage the easement.

    "It's been a long road to get to this point but has been worth the effort as a step to ensure the vitality of the Buffalo National River now and into the future," department Secretary Stacy Hurst said in the release.

    The conservation easement signals the near end of the farm, but the debate over whether it was hurting the environment is still unsettled.

    "I'm glad that we've reached this milestone, and hopefully we can get the closure plan finalized in a not-too-long period of time and we can put this thing to bed," said Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance.

    The farm's land sits on Big Creek, about 6.6 miles from where it flows into the Buffalo River. For the past several years, people from Arkansas and from across the nation have expressed concern about the possibility of manure -- applied as fertilizer -- running off the property and into the water, or about the possibility of a major storm event overfilling the ponds that hold thousands of gallons of hog manure.

    Research paid for by the state, conducted by the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, has not concluded that C&H negatively affected water quality in Big Creek or the Buffalo River.

    In recent years, the Buffalo River has struggled with algal blooms along tens of miles of its middle section and high E. coli levels near the Big Creek intersection.

    Because algae-causing nutrients can build up and embed in soil years before leaching into water, groups like the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance have asked that the state or federal government continue robust monitoring on Big Creek and the Buffalo River. The state has monitors on both, but the study sampled from more locations on a more frequent basis. 

    C&H, permitted with little public notice in 2012, was allowed to house up to 6,503 hogs, although it normally operated with about 3,000.

    In June, Hutchinson announced the state would buy out the farm after more than six years of operation. The farm was by far the largest in the watershed and one of the largest in the state.

    The buyout agreement stipulated the payment, the easement and the dismissal of each lawsuit C&H had brought against the state. The lawsuits were mostly related to recent denials of C&H's operating permit applications, although one concerned an alleged violation of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by state environmental regulators after records sought by the farmers were not procured within three days of the farmers' request.

    That announcement was followed by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission's decision to permanently ban any federally classified medium or large hog farms in the watershed. That decision is pending public comments and eventually legislative review, and some commenters have contended that the ban has potential loopholes that would allow a facility similar to C&H to open there.

    Arkansas paid $6.2 million, using state and donated money, to the farmers after the final hogs were removed from the premises. About $3.7 million came from the governor's rainy-day fund; another $1.5 million came from the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism; and the final $1 million came from The Nature Conservancy. About $2.4 million of that was used to pay off the farm's remaining debt.

    C&H began removing hogs from its property last fall. They were reportedly gone before Christmas, Watkins said.

    Operations have ceased at the premises, and all that is left to do to close the facility is emptying the manure ponds. The Arkansas Division of Environmental Quality will be responsible for that part but is reviewing public comments on its proposed method.

    Work to improve the Buffalo River's present and future remains.

    "We're not going away," Watkins said.

    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance formed in 2013 specifically to oppose the farm's presence within the watershed and so close to the river and a major tributary of it.

    Even without considering C&H's potential effect, the river suffers from too many nutrients loading into the water from long-ago agricultural practices and current wastewater treatment plant failures, Watkins said.

    He said he wants to promote best practices in agriculture that would reduce the amount of phosphorus or nitrogen applied to land, which can leach into water. Those elements are nutrients, which in higher amounts can result in oxygen deficiencies and algae growth.

    Wastewater plants in Jasper, Marble Falls and Marshall need help and funding to properly function, Watkins said. In those areas, not enough people are in the wastewater systems to pay to maintain them, he said.

    Watkins said he would like to see those towns get the assistance they need, possibly with the state's Buffalo River Conservation Committee helping to leverage federal funds.

    A Section on 01/07/2020


  • 06 Jan 2020 4:17 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Arkansas Times


    State announces closure of hog farm in Buffalo River watershed

    BY Max Brantley  ON January 6, 2020

    The state announced the completion of the deal that closes a hog farm in the Buffalo River watershed, pays the farmers $6.2 million and leaves the state with responsibility for cleaning up the former hog waste ponds.

    The state issued this news release:

    Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism (ADPHT), announced today that the terms of the agreement to cease operations at a large-scale hog farm near the Buffalo National River have now been consummated.

     

    The owners of C & H Hog Farms, Inc. have received the $6.2 million held in escrow since last August and, in exchange, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, a part of the Division of Arkansas Heritage, now holds the conservation easement to the property near Big Creek, 6.6 miles from where it flows into the Buffalo National River.  Per the agreement, and as a final step, the Division of Environmental Quality of the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment will be responsible for the closure of the waste ponds at the property.

     

    “All hogs are gone from the property, and the operation is now closed,” said Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “I appreciate the willingness of the farmers to work with us on this, and now look forward to the work that the state will be doing to ensure that the Buffalo National River continues to be the treasure that it is.”

     

    “It’s been a long road to get to this point but has been worth the effort as a step to ensure the vitality of the Buffalo National River now and into the future,” said Hurst. “I want to especially commend the work of ADPHT General Counsel Jim Andrews, who has diligently worked on the negotiations that have made this happen. And I’m also thankful to the team at the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, who will manage the conservation easement.”

     

    The sources of the escrowed funds were split between $3.7 million from the Governor’s Rainy Day Fund, $1.5 million from funds held by the Division of Arkansas Heritage and $1 million in private funding from The Nature Conservancy. After payment of escrow fees and the retirement of farm debt of $2,394,167, secured in part by the property, the total payment to the owners of C & H Hog Farms, Inc. was $3,840,224.42.

    C and H will still own the land, but it will be subject to restrictions on use, according to the terms the governor announced last summer. The state has also made permanent a moratorium on factory feeding operations in the Buffalo watershed.

  • 29 Dec 2019 8:43 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    NWOnline


    OPINION

    The 2020 wish list

    by Rex Nelson 

    I've never been a fan of New Year's resolutions. And I'm certainly not a fan of the New Year's resolution newspaper column, which always seems contrived. But as another year of traveling Arkansas comes to a close, I do have a list of things I would like see happen in our state in 2020.

    • I would like to see Arkansans focus more on keeping the state's streams clean. We're blessed with beautiful rivers, creeks and bayous. In a place that markets itself as the Natural State, however, we've too often been guilty of, at best, ignoring our natural treasures. At worst, we've polluted and channelized them.

    The biggest policy story in Arkansas in 2019 came when Gov. Asa Hutchinson took the courageous stand of having the state enter into a $6.2 million buyout agreement with C&H Hog Farms, which operated in the Buffalo National River watershed. I use the term "courageous" because the governor bucked powerful special interests in order to protect the first stream in the United States to be designated as a national river.

    Want an example of how bitter these special interests still are about his decision? Try this on for size: I was fired from my gig of emceeing the annual Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame banquet for having supported the governor's position.

    The large-scale hog farm and its manure ponds were on Big Creek, 6.6 miles from where it flows into the Buffalo. My hope is that the media attention on the fight to protect the Buffalo will encourage groups and individuals across the state to adopt other streams. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission has a program called Stream Teams that can facilitate those efforts. If we're truly the Natural State, that program should be the strongest of its type in the country.

    • While we're at it, it would be nice to see additional affiliates of the Keep Arkansas Beautiful program formed across the state. God gave us a gorgeous place to live, but we do an effective job of trashing it. There should be dozens of new Keep Arkansas Beautiful chapters with thousands of volunteers picking up trash, planting wildflowers and doing other things to improve the quality of life for residents of Arkansas. Outside of the state's natural beauty, the things that strike me most as I travel Arkansas on a weekly basis are the junk in yards and the trash along the highways. Some days I want to cry. It's high time that we clean up our act.

    • I would like to see the governor and the 135 members of the Legislature finally come to the realization that there's far more to education than K-12. We've starved higher education in this state for years, and it's starting to bite us. Henderson State University, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Monticello all changed presidents or chancellors this year in the wake of severe financial problems. In the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, we must have more people with either an associate's degree from one of the state's 22 two-year schools or a bachelor's degree, a master's degree or a doctorate from one of its four-year colleges or universities. Here's the bottom line: We're not going to make a serious move in increasing per capita income in Arkansas until that happens. For the life of me, I can't figure out why our legislators don't get it.

    • I would like to see those who are already positioning themselves to run for governor in 2022 realize that Arkansas' turnaround the past 50 years has been due in part to a string of moderate, pragmatic governors. From 1940-60, Arkansas lost a higher percentage of its population than any other state. We've been gaining population since the late 1960s. What happened? Since the election of Winthrop Rockefeller as governor in 1966, we've been fortunate to have a series of pragmatists in the governor's office. Five of those governors have been Democrats. Four have been Republicans. None governed from the far right or far left. The last thing Arkansas needs at this point in its history is an ideologue in the governor's mansion. Arkansas voters need to pay close attention to how potential candidates present themselves.

    • I would like to see business and civic leaders quit viewing economic development as landing manufacturing plants (you've been stuck in that mode since the 1950s and it's no longer working) and instead focus on the things that attract talented people to a state: revitalized downtowns, improved parks, hiking and biking trails, restaurants and craft breweries, historic preservation. Economic development has changed but there unfortunately are still plenty of chamber of commerce types out there who haven't gotten the message.

    • I would like to see the remaining small daily newspapers and weekly newspapers across this state thrive along with the handful of radio stations that have the courage to focus on local news and information. Democracy in Arkansas will suffer without media watchdogs in all 75 counties. These are the people who keep an eye on school boards, city councils and county quorum courts. We here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette can't cover it all.

    It has been a sad period for newspapers in Arkansas. In one fell swoop, for example, that evil media empire known as Gatehouse left my entire home area (Arkadelphia, Gurdon, Prescott and Hope) without local newspapers. This is dangerous. It's time for Arkansans to support newspapers with their subscriptions and Arkansas businesses to support newspapers and those radio stations that cover local events with their advertising dollars. Believe me, you'll miss local media when it's gone.

    • I would like to see landowners become partners in the quail restoration efforts being undertaken by Quail Forever and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. These efforts not only will result in the return of the bobwhite (quail hunting was once an integral part of the rural culture of Arkansas) but also aid songbirds and pollinators. Once again it comes down to either being the Natural State or just claiming to be in ads.

    • I would like to see the tens of thousands of acres of marginal farmland in the Arkansas Delta that were cleared for crop production back when soybean prices were high returned to bottomland hardwoods. The Walton Family Foundation has been involved in this effort. With all due respect to the quality-of-life projects the foundation has undertaken in northwest Arkansas, there's nothing this well-funded organization could do that would have more of a positive long-term effect on Arkansas than hardwood restoration.

    • There are three major things that can still unite people in all 75 counties of what's otherwise a highly disparate state. They are a pragmatic, smart, charismatic governor who understands all parts of Arkansas; a strong statewide newspaper; and the athletic program at the University of Arkansas.

    Along those lines, I selfishly hope that Arkansans will get subscriptions to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which is going digital-only six days a week in 63 of the 75 counties. We're about the last man standing when it comes to statewide newspapers that try to cover news, business and sports in every county of a state.

    I would also like to see Hunter Yurachek, the UA athletic director, come to the realization that the Razorback football team needs to play in Little Rock every season, not every other season. In his years as athletic director, Jeff Long destroyed the statewide support it had taken Frank Broyles four decades to build. Annual Little Rock games are key to rebuilding that support. It's about far more than sports. It's about uniting a state. I trust that Yurachek is smart enough to realize that. At least he's trying to understand this unique place called Arkansas, something Long never did.

    ------------v------------

    Rex Nelson is a senior editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

    Editorial on 12/29/2019


  • 10 Dec 2019 3:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    NWAonline

    FRAN ALEXANDER: The problem with poop

    Manure on ground can mean it’s in the water

    Nope, the fat lady hasn't sung yet. This opera just goes on and on as the story of the second saving of Arkansas' Buffalo River keeps unfolding. But its future still hangs on a low note of which few people are aware. Supporters of a clean river must don their horned helmets yet again to go forth into what, hopefully, is the final battle to save the country's first national river from hog manure.

    I know the hog farm is closing. And yes, I know that Gov. Asa Hutchinson did what Gov. Mike Beebe should have done. He finally spearheaded the closure of an operation that should never have been permitted. The state and the Nature Conservancy anted up more than $6 million to compensate the farm owners for their investment. The governor has set up the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee to develop a non-regulatory watershed-based management plan. And he also has established the Buffalo River Conservation Committee "to prioritize and fund projects that would be supported by farmers and the local communities." But, most importantly, the governor supports a permanent moratorium on medium and large (swine) confined animal feeding operations, known in government circles as CAFOs, in the river's watershed.

    So, why can't that mythical, plump soprano sing loudly in joy and jubilation declaring an end to this manure madness? Well, because that last item, the permanent moratorium, has to pass by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, then the state's Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, and then be approved, or not, by the Arkansas Legislative Council to become a reality. So, this saga ain't over yet.

    The five-year moratorium on swine feeding operations in this watershed runs out next year, which is why there is a push for a permanent solution. Arkansas citizens have already sent in statements this year regarding this moratorium, with four hundred commenters supporting permanent protection and two opposed: the Farm Bureau and the Arkansas Pork Producers Association.

    Politics and power being what they are, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission has agreed to reopen the moratorium question for yet more comments until Jan. 22. Ostensibly this 90-day period is for review of a report on the farm's nutrient management and the impact on Big Creek, the tributary to the Buffalo that runs near the hog farm. I doubt anything in this report changes what pig poop is made of, however, nor solves the engineering conundrum that water runs downhill and takes stuff along with it.

    Water not only runs downhill, it also seeps into the ground. When spread over hillside fields with thin soil cover, hog manure doesn't just sit there. Too much of this fertilizer oversaturates the soil, and then travels into creeks, rivers and underground springs. Phosphorus feeds algae growth, which has led sections of Big Creek and the Buffalo River to be declared "impaired." This status can mean fishing, swimming and canoeing are affected negatively or are prohibited if severe enough to warrant health risks. Algae blooms can also wreak havoc on ecosystems in the water and on land.

    It is logical that if only one large feeding operation has been degrading the water this much that more swine farms would destroy this river, considered by many to be the state's greatest tourist attraction. It is just foolish and dangerous to ever allow industrial farming operations in this geologically unsuitable area of the state.

    What this new comment period (now active until 4:30 p.m. Jan. 22) means is that we must comment again, or for the first time if you're new to this issue, to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality at: reg-comment@adeq.state.ar.us. Or, written comments go to: Jacob Harper, Department of Energy and Environment, 5301 Northshore Drive, North Little Rock, AR 72118.

    As an early Christmas gift to yourself, to the state and to the nation, please send your comments in now so you don't forget before the deadline. And, also thank the governor for supporting a permanent moratorium on confined animal feeding operations in this watershed. His stand on this issue may become one of his most notable accomplishments.

    If you want to learn more, check out the website of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which has pushed for saving this river from pollution for six long years. This fight has been one marked by great endurance fed by love for this river.

    Nowadays instead of "Save the Buffalo River -- Again!" the mission of all the people of Arkansas should be to "Save the Buffalo River -- Forever! "

    Commentary on 12/10/2019

Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization

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