Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
Steve Pokin, Springfield News-LeaderPublished 10:00 p.m. CT Dec. 7, 2019
Back in November, two of the three members of the Greene County Board of Commissioners failed, in my view, to stand up for local control over what might become a local issue.
The comments made by Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon bothered me then and they bother me today.
Dixon explained in November that he would not ask the commission to vote on a non-binding resolution criticizing a new state law on concentrated area feeding operations (CAFOs) because he didn't want to upset the Republican lawmakers from Greene County who voted for it.
My first thought: Does Dixon realize he's no longer a Republican state lawmaker?
He became presiding commissioner after serving eight years in the House and another eight in the state Senate. He is a Republican, as are the other two commissioners — Harold Bengsch and John C. Russell, who was appointed to the board by Republican Gov. Mike Parson in January.
I've always found Dixon to be thoughtful. I too will do my best to be thoughtful in this column.
When voters chose Dixon as presiding commissioner in November 2018, they weren't sending him back to Jefferson City.
He was elected to represent those of us here at the Greene County level.
I don't remember him pledging in his campaign: "Bob Dixon: I Promise to Never Upset Our GOP State Lawmakers."
The resolution was brought to the county by two City Council members: Andy Lear and Mike Schilling, a former Democratic state representative. Council members do not have to run as Republicans or Democrats.
Lear and Schilling view the new law as an intrusion into local control of local issues.
The law says that no local governmental body, including and most importantly counties, can have tighter controls on CAFO operations than the state of Missouri.
A CAFO is an operation in which thousands of pigs or chickens can be housed in roofed buildings on a single property.
CAFOs have prompted concerns about water pollution and manure-fueled odors here and in other states — including Iowa, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Arkansas.
In Arkansas, a hog farm was approved years ago in the watershed of an Ozarks treasure, the Buffalo National River.
The hog farm, six miles from the Buffalo, ended operations in June, when Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the shutdown.
Up until June, the owners of C&H Hog Farms, with support from the Arkansas Farm Bureau, had resisted efforts to close or relocate.
Hearings had dragged on for years as environmentalists argued that the porous limestone beneath the hog CAFO allowed waste to seep into the water table and that the land application of waste had contributed to runoff polluting a nearby stream that feeds into the Buffalo.
Here in Missouri, the Missouri Farm Bureau was the main backer of the new state law, along with the Missouri Cattlemen's Association.
Although no vote was taken on the non-binding resolution in November, the commissioners explained where they stood to News-Leader reporter Austin Huguelet.
Dixon said he did not want to ruffle the feathers of our GOP state lawmakers.
"That creates a very large risk for us given how helpful the delegation was to the
county this year," Dixon said.
He pointed out that the Republican-dominated assembly recently allocated money for a new county judge here.
I have to ask: Do we really run the risk of being short-changed as a county if we don't suck up to our state reps?
If so, what does that say about our state reps?
(Greene County has only one Democratic state representative: Crystal Quade.)
Commissioner Russell agreed with Dixon, but he also said he didn't think the new
law would affect Greene County's regulations and didn't think a statement would help
"If I thought it would do something and this would fix something, I would probably be
much more supportive," he said.
I'll respond to that in a minute when I tell you about the entirely different path taken by the all-Republican commission up in Cedar County.
Our third commissioner, Harold Bengsch, disagreed with Dixon and, in my view, saw exactly what the issue is.
Every year, he said, the Greene County Commission asks lawmakers to avoid legislation that takes power away from local officials.
Yet, the legislature passed the CAFO law and another one making it difficult for the commission to regulate the construction of a controversial cell tower.
"I think we have an opportunity here to pass a statement confirming and supporting
our longstanding request that usurping legislation at the local level is not done,"
In a nutshell, CAFO farm operations — which do not necessarily have to be owned and operated by large corporations that are located in foreign lands — want an even playing field throughout Missouri. They want to face the same rules and regulations across our 114 counties.
It makes things simpler, easier and — from their perspective — fairer.
State laws and federal laws already cover all possible concerns and controversies, they argue.
They also contend that they want approval for CAFO operations to be based on science, not emotion and unfounded fear.
The main argument against that, as Bengsch said: Who decides whether all possible concerns and controversies are already covered by state and federal law?
Opponents of the state law also believe that state and federal laws regarding CAFOs do not take into account local geology.
In other words, you need local rules to factor in local springs, local rivers, local watersheds and the porous karst topography of the Ozarks.
Thirdly, should one side — the Missouri Farm Bureau and other proponents of CAFOs — close further and all discussion on what the science of water pollution does or does not say?
"The topography of Missouri south of the Missouri River is different from north of the river," says Marlon Collins, presiding commissioner of Cedar County.
Collins and his fellow commissioners — all Republicans — have sued the state over what they see as an encroachment on local control regarding CAFO regulations. Cedar County is footing part of the bill for an outside law firm.
By the way, all the state lawmakers from Cedar County are Republicans.
"I campaigned for those folks and helped put their signs up," he says.
"We have El Dorado Springs, Jericho Springs, Cedar Springs, we have the Sac River, we have Cedar Creek, we have Horse Creek," he tells me. "We have springs all over this county and sinkholes."
The Cedar County rules regarding CAFOs were established after months of meetings with county residents, he says.
"We heard from our local farmers who were making complaints about the small CAFOs coming in," he says. "We had public hearings."
"The state laws are pretty weak — one size fits all," he tells me.
He says no one has filed to run against him in the next election.
"All I've been hearing since we filed the lawsuit is, 'Hey, don't let them do that to us."
Cedar County, thus far, has received no political backlash from a miffed GOP state lawmaker who voted for the state law.
But Collins admits, "I am worried about repercussions from them."
He and the other commissioners were or are members of the Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Cattlemen's Association.
"We are not anti-CAFO, although they try to portray us that way," he says. "We have been portrayed as being anti-farmer. We are not.
"There has to be a proper place and a proper procedure and some standards that have to be met."
Those standards should be local, not statewide, he says, and Cedar County is willing to fight for that belief.
Finally: Did you know Stockton Lake, Springfield's No. 2 source of drinking water, is in Cedar County?
If you ask me, Cedar County should send part of its legal bill to Greene County.
The Joplin Globe
Joplin Globe Editorial Board
Our Arkansas neighbors learned an expensive lesson, and we hope Missouri was paying attention.
Now they are forging a better vision that we think might also offer us a way forward.
About seven years ago, Arkansas regulators quietly permitted a hog concentrated animal feeding operation on a major tributary of the upper Buffalo River in Arkansas — a river that has been protected for nearly a half century. Not even the National Park Service, which is responsible for managing America's first national river, was aware of what had happened until after the deal was done.
The result sparked outcry and pushback from all corners, and not just from the state of Arkansas but around the country as well, and this summer Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced an agreement to close down the hog farm, but at a high price. The state would pay $4.7 million while The Nature Conservancy kicked in $1.5 million to help out, in effect paying the hog farm's owners $6.2 million to shut down what the state should never have permitted in the first place.
That was the expensive lesson.
This fall, Arkansas officials also announced that $2 million in state and private funds (half from the state, the rest to come from that old Ozarks' ally, The Nature Conservancy and from the Buffalo River Foundation) will be allocated for conservation and water quality grants within the Buffalo's watershed. Last week, lawmakers gave final approval to transfer the state's share of the money to the fund, with it to be used to encourage best management practices for farmers and landowners in the watershed, for local wastewater system improvements and to reduce sediment runoff from unpaved roads near the river.
The governor, by the way, also has proposed making permanent a ban on medium- and large-scale hog farms in the Buffalo River watershed.
That is the better vision — a partnership to protect the river — perhaps with a new round of conservation efforts and a cooperative approach, with the state not getting in the way but rather leading the way.
“We want the protection and enhancement of water quality in the Buffalo River Watershed to continue as a state-led effort,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in September. “Now that the watershed management plan is in place, it is the right time to engage with stakeholders and landowners to start implementing projects that make a difference. The Buffalo National River is an irreplaceable resource, both for Arkansas and the nation."
A 2018 National Park Service visitor spending effects report, by the way, estimated that 1.2 million visitors spent $54.9 million while visiting Buffalo National River last year.
A similar report found that 1.3 million visitors to Ozark National Scenic Riverways — Missouri's protected rivers managed by the National Park Service — had a net boost to the local economy of $60 million.
The message from latest Battle for the Buffalo is clear: Ozark residents want their rivers protected.
Lawmakers throughout both states would be wise to heed those lessons.
Listen at KUAF Public Radio
By JACQUELINE FROELICH & KYLE KELLAMS
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has extended a public comment period to Jan. 22 on whether to declare a permanent moratorium on industrial swine farming on the Buffalo National River watershed.
Wach video here: KY3 TV
NEWTON COUNTY, Ark. -- One million dollars flowing into projects near the Buffalo National River seemed like a straightforward plan to some.
"It was for things like erosion-control projects, fencing for cattle to keep them out of the creeks. Things that I thought were a no-brainer," said Gordon Watkins, the president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson proposed spending the money back in September.
A committee made up of state leaders would decide how much money would go to each project. Subcommittees of local people who live near the river would help.
"The governor will pick out who they are," said State Rep. Keith Slape.
But Slape said after holding some public meetings in northern Arkansas, some farmers initially expressed they were not all on board.
Hutchinson's order came right after the state reached an agreement with C&H Hog Farms to cease operations in Newton County in exchange for $6.2 million.
Many people believed the farm contributed to pollution in the river, but there appears to be no concrete scientific evidence to back that up.
And other farmers don't want to be next.
"They were worried that, OK they've got the hogs out of here. Now they're going to go for the cattle, the chickens, and that. And on the surface that's what it appeared at first," Slape said.
Slape said farmers were also worried the state would have too much control of the process.
But the state representative and other lawmakers helped change the wording.
It's now clear the subcommittees made up of local people will have a lot of the say.
"There's a history of here of distrust of the government, and people who say there's no such thing as free money," Watkins said. "And in some cases that's probably true. But in this case I think it was an honest effort. It was well-intentioned by the governor."
John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future
The American Public Health Association (APHA) enacted a new policy statement advising federal, state, and local governments and public health agencies to impose a moratorium on all new and expanding concentrated feeding animal operations (CAFOs). The new policy recommends a complete halt until additional scientific data have been collected and any public health concerns associated with CAFOs are addressed.
The Precautionary Moratorium on New and Expanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations statement was developed by APHA members in collaboration with individual members from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF). The statement outlines the urgent need for full compliance with the policy and provides twelve action steps that span from ending the routine use of medically important antibiotics in food animal production to providing a mechanism that requires large scale producers to report environmental emissions hazards.
“CAFOs are the dominant production model for food animals in the United States, but government oversight and policies designed to safeguard the health of individuals and the environment from these operations have been inadequate,” says Bob Martin, director of the Food System Policy Program at the CLF. “This policy statement puts the public’s health first and if observed, it has the potential to protect the health of some of our nation’s most vulnerable communities.”
“Since CLF’s founding in 1996, a priority focus of our work has been to understand and address the public health implications of industrial food animal production. Our research and policy activities have linked this method of food production to a number of serious public health challenges,” says Martin Bloem, MD, director of the CLF and the Robert S. Lawrence Professor of Environmental Health with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. “We are pleased that the nation’s leading public health organization has taken a stand on this critical public health issue. All public health professionals, advocates, and policymakers should keep this new APHA policy statement in mind as they work to protect health and improve our food system.”
CAFOs confine large numbers of animals of the same species—such as beef and dairy cattle, swine, broilers (poultry raised for meat consumption) and laying hens—on a small area of land. The scale, density, and practices associated with these operations present a range of public health and ecological hazards, including large volumes of untreated animal waste, the release of environmental contaminants to air, water, and soil, and the generation and spread of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. A growing body of evidence shows how CAFOs are directly associated with occupational and community health risks, as well as the social and economic decline of rural communities.
“Research has consistently found that living near CAFOs is associated with an array of negative health impacts, including respiratory disease, mental health problems, and certain types of infections,” adds Keeve Nachman, PhD, director of the Food Production and Public Health Program with the CLF and an assistant professor with the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. “It’s critical that we work diligently and swiftly to close the knowledge gaps related to the public health and environmental challenges associated with this method of food animal production.”
by Michael R. Wickline
A legislative committee Tuesday endorsed Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request to transfer $1 million in one-time state funds to the state Department of Agriculture to support grants and projects within the Buffalo National River watershed.
In a voice vote, the Legislative Council's Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee recommended that the council approve the Republican governor's request when it meets Friday.
Last month, the committee skipped making a recommendation to the Legislative Council on the request, and then the full council delayed action on it.
Hutchinson said in a letter dated Nov. 1 that he is seeking the council's approval of his request this month, after, "as requested by the council, my staff and I fulfilled the requests to meet with legislators and their constituents to answer any questions that may have caused concern."
The House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor committees met Oct. 30 in Jasper and Marshall to hear public comment about Hutchinson's executive order creating the Buffalo River Conservation Committee.
Hutchinson said the $1 million in one-time funds will be used to support grants and projects "including, but not limited to the following -- voluntary best management practices for farmers and landowners, improvements to wastewater and septic systems for cities and counties within the watershed, and reduction of sediment runoff from unpaved roads within the watershed."
The Buffalo River Conservation Committee and its subcommittees will identify projects and distribute funds to improve water quality and promote conservation practices, he said in the Nov. 1 letter. The Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation also have collectively pledged $1 million toward the committee.
Hutchinson's creation of the conservation committee in September came after the state agreed this summer to purchase a conservation easement to shut down C&H Hog Farms, a large operation that is within the watershed. The state will pitch in $4.7 million and the Nature Conservancy will provide $1.5 million, according to state officials.
The conservation committee includes Department of Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward; Department of Energy and Environment Secretary Becky Keogh; Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst; and Department of Health Secretary Nathaniel Smith, or their designees.
Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, on Tuesday asked Ward about the inclusiveness of small animal agriculture on the conservation subcommittees.
Ward said, "regarding the subcommittees in particular, we have not identified those directly yet.
"The reason why is because we wanted that to be a joint effort between the four members that make up the [Buffalo River committee] as well as the governor ... but also legislators, particularly the legislators in that particular area," he said.
"So in regard to small animal owners and small animal agricultural producers, we certainly would invite their participation to be on the subcommittees," Ward said. "Regarding the makeup of what we are looking at, agriculture certainly would be a role in those subcommittees and in particular in looking at agricultural producers that are well-known and well-respected and within the area, not someone from Little Rock."
Ward added that two producers had been identified but not contacted yet, pending legislative review of the money request.
Rice said he appreciates Ward's remarks.
"We are talking about a $1 million rainy-day fund being put there when we have senior citizens centers closing. We got other ones struggling that we have asked additional monies for," he said. "While this is monies that can do some good, there are a lot of places the monies can do some good."
Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, who chairs the Senate committee that met with its House counterpart in Jasper and Marshall on Oct. 30, said, "the last thing that we would want to do is authorize $1 million that is just going to sit there, that nobody is going to participate with because they are so skeptical.
"That's just a waste of us spending $1 million sitting over there, doing no good," she said. "That's why this whole process was really important to me and to the area legislators.
"We have requested that there would be oversight and reports coming to the Senate public health committee which have been agreed upon as well," Irvin said. "We are happy to meet jointly with the agriculture committee if we need to do that."
Metro on 11/13/2019
Newton County Times
JASPER — A joint meeting of the Arkansas Senate and House committees on Public Health, Welfare and Labor, Wednesday night at the Carroll Electric Building in Jasper. Committee chairmen conducted a public hearing over Gov. Asa Hutchinson's executive order creating the Buffalo River Conservation Committee (BRCC) that would oversee conservation projects in the watershed area, and his request for $1 million for the purpose of leveraging opportunities to receive federal grants for funding conservagtion projects in the watershed.
Wes Ward, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, and one of four state agency BRCC members, gave a short explanation about the governor's funding request. When the BRCC executive order was issued it included placing $1 million towards the committee's efforts. It was also made known that the Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation pledged $1 million to go to those efforts, as well. Essentially there are $2 million to accomplish projects identified by BRCC subcommittees.
Neither the BRCC, nor the cabinet agencies, have control over donations made by any entity that wants to become a participating partner. There may be some agreement between the donor, the BRCC and its subcommittees on which projects those funds could be used. If a list of priorities is identified, but only so much state funding is available, outside entities could take the list and try to accomplish them on their own, Ward said.
"We need your input,"said state Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View), saying this is just the beginning of conversations. Irvin was joined by her counterpart state Rep. Jack Ladyman (R-Corning). The primary reason for us coming here is to hear what you have to say, he told the crowd.
With all the information provided, Irvin opened the floor for public comment. The first was a question by Pam Stewart. "My driveway erosion can run into a tributary to the Buffalo River. Would I possibly qualify for a grant to correct the drainage?"
Anything is on the table, Ward answered. The magnitude of the problem would be considered for prioritization. A project that would benefit significantly more people might be prioritized higher, he said.
Irvin suggested that this could be considered an infrastructure issue and this particular problem might be included into a more broader project. Similarly, agriculture and tourism are to be considered for projects designed not only to protect the river, but also landowners and their ability to earn a living.
Kelly Woods said he, his wife and family operate a cow-calf and hay operation in Newton County. He said he opposes the governor spending $1 million for promoting conservation practices that are already available. He said he consults conservation professionals to determine what practices are best for his farm.
"We make the decision on what we would like to do on our property, not the government," Woods said. He added that there is a fear that what starts out to be voluntary can become mandatory.
If the governor has a million dollars laying around to spend in the Buffalo River watershed there are better uses for it than focusing on a supposed environmental catastrophe that might or might not happen in the future. Woods thinks some programs, once initiated, could reduce or even eliminate farming activities in the watershed. "This is the perception we have," Woods said.
To take his point further, Woods mentioned several needs that exist in the watershed.
There are volunteer fire departments that are understaffed, under-equipped and undertrained. Wouldn't this money be better spent to help those people perform their volunteer duty? When was the last time a tourist fell off a bluff or had a wreck and they called out a snail darter to help? He said there are law enforcement officers working in the watershed who rely on welfare assistance and food stamps to make ends meet. "Hang your heads." Rural school districts within the watershed could use that money to better educate the children who live there. They could get the same modern technology larger schools outside the watershed already have, he said. Or the money could be used to help school districts meet their high transportation costs. When was the last time an Indiana bat was hired to teach your kids English or math, or drive your children over mountainous, curvy roads in the fog or on snowy days?
Dustin Cowell said local people get the feeling they are being attacked for destroying the watershed. We feel that is misplaced and unfair. The river was beautiful in the past and it continues to be today. What's the difference between then and now? There are fewer hogs on creeks and streams and probably fewer cattle today. Tourism has grown considerably, however.
Cowell said point 7 in the governor's executive order points to the use of sound science in determining water quality. "We've heard that before," he said, referring to the buy out of C&H Hog Farms at Mt. Judea. The farm was permitted and was operating under the rules of the permit, but found itself under constant attack by conservation groups that believed the farm to be a danger to the river because it is located next to Big Creek a tributary to the Buffalo.
The governor made it known that the operators of the farm had done nothing wrong and scientific testing and monitoring of the river could not prove otherwise. Yet that did not prevent the farm from being shut down through the voluntary buy out agreement.
"To me the precedent has been set that you don't have to do anything wrong for the government to step in," Cowell said. What protections would be in place to keep that from happening to others?
He said tourism's effect on the river should also be studied.
Andy McCutcheon, president of the Searcy County Cattlemen's Association, said he spoke to the panel in Marshall earlier in the day. He said he had two questions to pose at this time. What will happen to the BRCC if the $1 million isn't appropriated to it? Who will conduct future water quality testing? The testing previously has been controversial as it was conducted by conflicting interests, he pointed out.
There needs to be an understanding that the Buffalo River watershed is separate from the Buffalo National River. This isn't federal land. This is private land. The Nature Conservancy doesn't hand out money without some kind of agenda or strings attached. The Nature Conservancy is prominently named in the Buffalo River Watershed Management Plan as a reference and as a lead agency in implementing proposed projects.
Members of the Searcy County Cattlemen's Association utilize the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and others offered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service under the United States Department of Agriculture, McCutcheon said, but if the Nature Conservancy plays a role in these programs a lot of farmers will turn away from them.
The population of people and livestock residing in the watershed is far less than the number of tourist who recreationally use the river annually, he said. "I'm not against conservation and I don't know a farmer who is. We all are connected to the Buffalo River, some of us deeper than others. I have had family members be baptized in it and I have had family members die in it," he said. But until overuse of the river is acknowledged and it is regulated water quality issues on the river won't be resolved.
Beth Ardapple, of Cave Creek near Mt. Judea, said the BRCC could help prevent future conflicts if there is good local representation on it and its subcommittees. It could also explore and support economic development. "We want jobs. We want our farmers. We want successful businesses. And we need them to fit in well with the Buffalo River because it's going to become more popular and more of an economic development engine over time."
Ward responded to McCutcheon's questions. He said the BRCC would continue to follow the governor's directive even without the additional $1 million. Existing programs would continue, but would not have the additional resources to help implement projects at a more urgent pace.
Water quality testing is a concern, Ward acknowledged. That would be something for subcommittees to consider.
Ward noted that McCutcheon and Cowell would be perfect subcommittee members.
Jessie Green, of White River Waterkeeper, said one thing that hasn't been mentioned is that the $1 million could be used towards wastewater treatment plant upgrades. Jasper could use this money as well as Marble Falls and Marshall. Sending the money to municipalities would provide relief to their ratepayers.
Ed Manor, of Jasper, said in reviewing local history that the river was deeper and cleaner when the local people had stewardship over it. When the National Park Service came it said pretty much what officials were saying tonight, night that the plan is voluntary. The first thing the park service did was put up restrictions. "I can't believe that this voluntary committee is going to protect the property rights of the people who are paying your salaries, he said. "All we ask is that we be left alone."
Finally, 18-year-old Shianna Brasel, of Jasper, took the microphone crediting the beauty of the lands surrounding the river to farmers like her father who manage the fields and forests. Without farming the watershed area would turn into another New York City or worse, "a bushel of a mess."
Harrison Daily Times
JASPER — In spite of hurried planning, about 60 or so people attended a joint meeting of the Arkansas Senate and House committees on Public Health, Welfare and Labor on Wednesday night at the Carroll Electric Building in Jasper.
It was the second meeting of the day in which committee chairmen conducted public hearings concerning Gov. Asa Hutchinson's executive order creating the Buffalo River Conservation Committee (BRCC) that would oversee conservation projects in the watershed area, and his request for $1 million for the purpose of leveraging opportunities to receive federal grants for funding projects in the watershed. A similar hearing was held earlier in the day at Marshall in Searcy County.
The governor announced in September he wanted to use money from his "rainy day" fund to match another $1 million promised from the Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation for the plan. During a Legislative Council meeting last Friday, Oct. 25, state Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) asked the council to withhold those funds. Irvin was upset the governor's office had not met with elected representatives from the watershed before announcing his plans. The way it happened, she said, was "incredibly disrespectful" of those who represent the impacted area. She also questioned just who might decide how the funds are used.
Irvin apologized for the short notice about the meeting. She said a lot of legislators did not have enough information and wanted to meet with staff in the executive branch and to hold hearings to get input and concerns from residents of the watershed.
Next week is an off week for legislators and then the following week is when the subcommittee reconvenes, she explained. Then the request goes to the Legislative Council, again. She said she had only a three-week window and had to hurry to schedule hearings.
"We need your input," she said, saying this is just the beginning of conversations. Irvin was joined by her counterpart, state Rep. Jack Ladyman (R-Corning). The primary reason for the meeting was to hear what they had to say, he told the crowd.
To provide background and an overview of the executive order were BRCC members Wes Ward, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture; Nathaniel Smith, MD, MPH, director of the Arkansas Department of Health and state health officer; and Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. Not present was Becky Keogh, secretary of the department of Energy and the Environment. Taking her place on the panel Wednesday night was Dr. Richard McMullen, science director, Arkansas Department of Health.
Ward said the governor has respect for the Buffalo River and that is stated in his executive order establishing the BRCC. The governor, in 2016, created the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee (BBRAC) charged with developing a voluntary watershed management plan. It was finalized in 2018. This year there has been a realignment of agencies and departments of state governments. The BRCC now replaces the BBRAC. The agencies represented on the BRCC will help local stakeholders form subcommittees to determine what projects are approved.
This is non-regulatory, Ward emphasized. It's not an effort by the state to come in and place restrictions or requirements on anyone in the watershed. The executive summary of the plan talks about maintaining and enhancing, not correcting, or fixing, he said. Copies of the executive order were distributed for the audience to review.
State Rep. Keith Slape (R-Jasper) was invited by Irvin to address the panel first.
Slape said distrust of the government goes back decades when the Buffalo National River was created. Many residents along the river were removed, sometimes by force, from their family farms. He said hard feelings still exist. He said what he wanted to know is what is the "end game" of the BRCC?
Ward said there is not a certain level or metric that the management plan sets out to achieve. There is the understanding that some projects in the watershed would be able to use assistance. Those projects could be improving a variety of farm management practices, replacing septic tanks or wastewater treatment facilities, controlling feral hogs, or a broad range of things that the committee can be partnered with to provide resources to complete.
State Sen. Breanne Davis (R-Russellville) said the process appears to be locally driven. She asked if local members of the BRCC subcommittees will be given stronger voices when projects are being considered for funding.
Ward answered in the affirmative. The committee will look heavily to its subcommittees. The subcommittees will include locally elected officials such as county judges, mayors and legislators who are accountable to the public. They will also be expected to bring aboard other local leaders from both the public and private sectors.
There is a commitment from the committee to look heavily to the subcommittees, but for transparency, once the subcommittees establish their priorities there would be public hearings where they would be talked through with the BRCC, Ward said.
One thing Ward said he wanted to make clear is that the BRCC has no intent to use the governor's funds to purchase land or put agriculture operations out of business.
90 days added for hog-ban comments
by Emily Walkenhorst | Today at 2:19 a.m.
People have 88 more days to submit comments on a proposed ban on certain-sized hog farms in the Buffalo National River's watershed.
That's because the final report of the team studying the impact that C&H Hog Farms had on a Buffalo National River tributary has been published.
The Big Creek Research and Extension Team posted the 280-page report, with 619 pages of appendices, online Thursday.
On Friday, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission voted unanimously to reopen the public comment period on the partial hog farm ban for 90 days from Thursday. The comment period lasts through Jan. 21.
"The public needs the opportunity to look at it," Commissioner Mike Freeze said of the report.
Freeze and other commissioners said in July that they wanted to withhold allowing the partial ban to begin going through the rule-making process until the report was completed. At the time, they believed the report would be released imminently. They voted in favor of initiating the rule-making with the understanding that the public comment period could be altered to accommodate the report's release.
The original comment period closed in September and amassed more than 400 comments. All but two favored the ban.
Experts reached Friday said they hadn't had much time to scan the report.
Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, said he wanted to read it before commenting. He said he had read several pages but not much.
David Peterson, president of the Ozark Society, said the report showed the gravity of phosphorus buildup in soil over time, suggesting adjustments to how C&H was applying its phosphorus-rich manure mixture, called "slurry," to the ground.
That backs up his group's and other groups' concerns about how farms are advised and required to apply fertilizers to the ground.
"It actually substantiated some things that we thought were true and had analyzed in the data before," Peterson said.
As of late Friday, Peterson said he had read fewer than 40 pages, although that was more than many others.
John Bailey, director of environmental and regulatory affairs for the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said he began reading the report Friday. He'd read the executive summary and conclusions before telling the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that it appeared to support what the Farm Bureau has said -- that C&H wasn't worsening Big Creek.
"What I feel like this document says is what we've been trying to say all along, is that there's no environmental impact," he said.
But, Bailey added, the report makes some observations that the Farm Bureau could take to heart, namely suggestions for how to better apply manure to land to minimize environmental impact.
"What we're going to have to focus on is, is there a better way to manage this, to keep phosphorus on site," he said.
Big Creek flows into the Buffalo River more than 6 miles from where C&H abuts it. C&H is permitted to house up to 6,503 hogs, although it normally operated with only about 3,000. It will close by the beginning of next year under a $6.2 million buyout from the state, brokered by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.
Hutchinson focused on the Buffalo in his weekly address Friday. He acknowledged a wide variety of potential threats to the river but vowed to work toward protecting it.
"We want to preserve this treasured resource," he said.
The Big Creek Research and Extension Team, comprised of 10 researchers and several field technicians, did not find that C&H had been contributing to algal blooms or other water quality issues along the Buffalo or Big Creek.
Researchers found that certain concentrations of nutrients did not appear to have increased since the beginning of the study through the end.
The final sentence of the report reads, "as long as the integrity of the holding ponds is maintained, the main long-term environmental concerns with CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] lies with land use and nutrient management of the fields permitted to receive slurry."
On a few occasions, researchers noted that a lack of data on conditions prior to C&H's operations prevented them from drawing conclusions.
FARM OPENED BEFORE STUDY
The study did not begin until several months after the farm began operations. That means researchers could not compare their measurements of nutrient concentrations during C&H's normal operations to what they were before C&H opened.
Grazing, slurry and fertilizer managements on three fields may have increased the potential loss of phosphorus and nitrogen into Big Creek, researchers wrote. But the report said researchers did not have background data, including historical nutrient management and nutrient application to the land.
The team sampled water from September 2013 until July. That monitoring focused on five things, according to the report: the impact of slurry on soil fertility; nutrient runoff; trends in the water quality of three different spots on the farm; nutrient loads in Big Creek; and trends in nutrient and bacteria concentrations up and downstream of C&H.
Any additional nutrients applied to C&H's fields should limit the slurry specifically for its phosphorus concentrations, researchers determined. Continued application at the rate it was applied from 2014 to 2018 would result in enough phosphorus in the soil to run off into nearby waters.
The facility had statistically significant increases in nitrate concentrations in a stream and water well on facility property, researchers concluded. Tests of other substances suggest that the concentrations are not attributable to holding pond manure.
Two storms in May and December 2015 put large amounts of nutrients in Big Creek. Those storms contributed the majority of the five-year overall nutrient loading into the creek. As a result, researchers recommend that conservation measures to minimize nutrients runoff be focused on the manure and method of application, versus managing the transport of the manure.
Researchers found phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations in Big Creek to be higher downstream of C&H than from upstream, but not at statistically significant amounts when adjusting for stream flow variability.
"Concentrations in Big Creek were similar to other watersheds in this region with similar land use, suggesting limited impact of the CAFO on Big Creek at the present time," the report reads. "However, this does not preclude future impacts of agricultural and urban operations in the watershed."
The partial ban is for federally classified medium and large hog farms in the Buffalo National River's watershed. That's a slightly smaller watershed than the whole Buffalo River, which is 15 miles longer than the National River designation.
Farms are federally classified as small, medium or large. Medium hog farms are defined as having 750 or more swine of more than 55 pounds, or 3,000 or more swine of 55 pounds or less.
Some comments questioned whether the proposal, as written, would actually prevent hog farms as large as C&H from being constructed within the watershed.
Hog farms often have combinations of the two weight classes of pigs. The proposed ban does not explain how to calculate whether a hog farm meets the size threshold if combining the two weight classes of pigs.
Several comments questioned why the proposed ban would be limited to hog farms while other animal farms can cause pollution concerns, as well. Poultry farming in Northwest Arkansas has long been blamed for excess nutrients in the Illinois River in Oklahoma.
Many comments hit on the same themes: calling the C&H Hog Farms permit a mistake, arguing that the karst topography of the region is unsuitable for sizable hog farms, and/or supporting broader restrictions in the watershed. The suggested restrictions include prohibiting small hog farms, barring other types of concentrated animal-feeding operations, and preventing the transport of hog manure and spread of hog manure on land within the Buffalo River's watershed.
Not all comments were about the proposed ban on medium and large hog farms.
The proposal places the entirety of two regulations up for amendment. Those are Regulation 5, which governs liquid animal waste management systems that are not allowed to discharge waste, and Regulation 6, which governs federal wastewater permits that allow for discharge.
The department altered numerous provisions within Regulation 6. Some were superficial changes from "Regulation" to "Rule" or "Six" to "6," but some, commenters argued, appeared to change permit application requirements and review processes for facilities that aren't animal farms.
Metro on 10/26/2019
Print Headline: 90 days added for hog-ban comments
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
October 25, 2019
Governor Hutchinson's Weekly Address
More Than Just a River
Governor Hutchinson's weekly radio address can be found in MP3 format and downloaded HERE.
LITTLE ROCK – The Buffalo National River is 153 miles of Arkansas wilderness and great memories, and today I’d like to share some thoughts about why we must be diligent in protecting it.
The Buffalo was the first river in the United States to be designated a national river. That happened because so many Arkansans said we want it as a natural river without dams or obstructions.
Every year, thousands of adventurers brave the whitewater rapids in the upper reaches of the Buffalo or float the more placid waters downstream. Like so many others, my family and I have canoed down the river and hiked along the banks. I have observed Arkansas’s only elk herd in the woods near Ponca.
The wilderness that is the Buffalo is more than a clear-running river. The land tells much of our history. Three features of the Buffalo are on the National Register of Historic Places: The Big Buffalo Valley Historic District, the Buffalo River Bridge on Highway 7, and the Parker-Hickman Farm-Historic District.
The Arkansas Department of Heritage is assessing two other sites for possible nomination to the Register – the home sites of Granny Henderson and “Wild Vic” Flowers.
The very popularity of the Buffalo creates issues, such as litter that washes into the streams, and requires certain accommodations, such as public facilities. The National Park Service is working to improve its waste treatment, which is necessary for its restrooms along the river.
Some hazards aren’t as obvious or as easy to solve, such as aging municipal wastewater and septic systems, streambank erosion, and the sediment and nutrients that run into tributaries from unpaved roads.
We want to preserve this treasured resource. We want the families who have lived there for generations to have the resources to continue their good stewardship of this watershed and the river that runs through it.
As governor, I have a responsibility to protect the Buffalo River. As an outdoorsman, I have a personal interest in preserving its health and beauty.
In 2016, I established the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee to address issues of concern in the Buffalo River Watershed. I asked the members of the committee to develop a non-regulatory, watershed-based management plan. In September, I took the next step by establishing the Buffalo River Conservation Committee, which will utilize the watershed management plan to prioritize and fund projects that would be supported by farmers and the local communities.
I was in law school when I discovered the Buffalo River, and like so many Arkansans, I value the Buffalo as a particularly beautiful part of God’s creation. Let’s work together to safeguard this jewel so that our children can share this natural masterpiece with their children and those who come after.
CONTACT: Press Shop (firstname.lastname@example.org or 501.682.3642)
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization
Copyright @ 2019