Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
Secrecy comes at a steep price
by Walter E. Hussman Jr. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette | March 16, 2020 at 3:07 a.m.
Several years ago, when business owners applied for a state permit to operate a commercial hog farm in the Buffalo River watershed, Arkansas' environmental regulatory agency buried public notice of the permit somewhere within the bureaucracy's vast labyrinth of files on the Internet.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality approved the permit, sparking years of public protests and litigation that eventually led to the permanent closure of the operation earlier this year.
A better option--one that ADEQ later appropriately utilized--was public notice in an Arkansas newspaper. Public notice in the local newspaper in this instance would have cost the state, on average, about $80 per insertion. Citizens would have known about the issue, and regulators may have made a different permitting decision as a result of it.
Instead, the state paid $6.2 million in taxpayer money to settle with the farm's owners and shut down the operation this year.
While it may be impossible and unwise to put a price tag on government transparency, the price of secrecy evidently starts at $6.2 million of your money.
Fortunately, the Arkansas Legislature recognized the pivotal role of Arkansas newspapers as the repository for public notices and enacted legislation in 2013 to require public notice of commercial farming permit applications to be published in newspapers.
This law is one of hundreds enacted since statehood that compel state agencies, counties, municipalities, school districts and courts to do the public's business in public through legal notices.
Every state requires government entities to publish public notices in local newspapers. The informed public for centuries now has known to check the newspaper for notices of controversial items like a hog farm in a protected watershed or important day-to-day matters such as new local ordinances or bid solicitations.
Without newspapers as a repository of public notices, Arkansas residents would be forced to navigate a jumble of websites just to find basic information like a city budget or a polling location. Without newspapers as a repository of public notices, government officials could easily shield items from public view.
Want to make sure your golf buddy is the only one to bid on a new paving project? Just hide the notice on the city's least-clicked web page. Want to discourage public criticism of a newly enacted ordinance? Cross your fingers that the website link malfunctions or the page won't load correctly (a real and significant problem for the 750,000 Arkansas residents who have no reliable broadband Internet access).
The Public Notice Resource Center lists four essential elements for public notices: accessibility, independence, verifiability and archivability. Newspapers have always been the only option to consistently attain all four elements, and they always will.
Newspapers are much more accessible to the general public, especially to senior citizens and to residents in rural areas with spotty Internet service. Even with Internet production of notices, the government has no incentive to make its websites accessible, efficient, or easy to use. The competitive marketplace requires newspapers to have effective websites.
We take pride in our independence as newspaper publishers. Bad actors can't play favorites with your tax money when everything's right there in black and white.
That matter-of-fact black-and-white notice has additional value in places like our judicial system, where courts consistently weigh digital evidence with more scrutiny than they do published newspaper notices.
Those published notices can't be randomly or "conveniently" removed from a website at a moment's notice or suddenly disappear from print. Some courts require proof of publication in the form of an affidavit showing the actual notice and the date of publication.
It's almost impossible to ensure 100-percent security and the veracity of any online public posting. Hackers can't manipulate or change a printed newspaper, but they certainly can wreak havoc on government websites.
It's certain that accessibility, independence, verifiability and archivability are the reasons why our Founders established public notice requirements in the very first Congress.
That commitment to transparency is why Arkansas legislatures since 1836 have done the same, and why Republican Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller signed the state's groundbreaking Freedom of Information Act more than 53 years ago.
As we observe Sunshine Week, let's remember how government transparency emboldens our people and strengthens our democracy. Let's also remember that transparency is priceless, and the best way to guarantee that is publishing legal notices in newspapers.
Wes Johnson, Springfield News-LeaderPublished 11:00 p.m. CT March 15, 2020
Taney County officials were given no notice that 2.63 million gallons of liquid hog waste from a closed hog farm in Arkansas was being shipped across the state line and spread onto a Taney County ranch.
The waste came from C&H Hog Farm, which was closed and purchased by the state of Arkansas after an uproar about its location close to the Buffalo National River. Environmental groups feared hog waste from the farm spread as fertilizer on nearby land could eventually contaminate the national river.
Taney County Commissioner Sheila Wyatt said she got a call from a local resident concerned about numerous large trucks he saw rolling up to a Taney County ranch along the Arkansas border that were spreading hog waste on the ranch pastures.
Wyatt said she drove to the site and witnessed trucks delivering the waste. She didn't step out of her car but said others who contacted her were complaining about the smell.
Wyatt said no one notified the county that large amounts of hog waste were headed to Taney County. Wyatt said she wanted to talk to Stone County officials about their land-use regulations, which she believes are stricter than Taney County's.
Rick Warren, who lives about four miles from the ranch, said he was concerned that hog waste, if applied too heavily, might eventually wash into the watershed that feeds Bee Creek.
He called the county for help.
"I've fished there and swam there my whole life and enjoyed that creek," Warren said Wednesday. "That watershed goes right into Bee Creek and that goes on into Bull Shoals Lake. It's too late now. They've finished hauling it in."
John Soutee, Taney County environmental services coordinator, said he visited the property, photographed the trucks and talked with some of the Denali Water Solutionsemployees who were delivering the waste.
"I could see where they had built up along the highway to handle those big trucks," Soutee said. "They would park the big ones in the field to offload the liquid waste onto buggies pulled by tractors to apply it to the fields."
He said it appeared the Denali crews were being careful not to spray hog waste on steep slopes. The spray areas were marked with red flags to keep the material off the slopes.
Soutee described the application areas as pasture land, and he acknowledged that it did stink.
"There was a strong odor that you could tell was from swine waste," he said.
Soutee said Taney County has no rules or regulations regarding the application of animal waste as fertilizer. However, Taney County officials asked the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to send someone to take a look.
The land on which the hog waste was being applied is part of several parcels totaling more than 1,200 acres that adjoin the Arkansas-Missouri state line, east of JJ highway.
Soutee said county land records show the property is owned by "Maier, Peter et al, c/o Jim Berry of Omaha, Arkansas."
The News-Leader was unable to reach Berry to ask how Arkansas officials settled on the Taney County tracts for disposal of hog waste.
However, Mike Dortch, operations coordinator with Denali Water Solutions, said the Taney County ranch was located "by us going by knocking on doors."
"The terrain was part of it, but we were also looking for the closest acceptable site away from the (Buffalo River) watershed," Dortch said. "This is what we do, 24/7, weather permitting."
In an email, Arkansas environmental officials previously told the News-Leader that “(t)he liquid animal waste in the ponds (at the Arkansas hog farm) will be removed and taken to a permitted site outside of the Buffalo River watershed that is authorized to accept the waste.”
At the time, ADEQ did not respond to a second News-Leader query asking where that "permitted site" was located.
ADEQ contracted with Denali Water Solutions to haul away the liquid hog waste from the hog farm's two lagoons. The $749,019 cleanup contract is not part of the $6.2 million farm acquisition cost.
Teresa Gallegos, a spokeswoman for Denali Water Solutions, said the company applied 2.63 million gallons of liquid hog waste to 199 acres of "Bermuda grass farmland."
That's 13,235 gallons of waste per acre.
"The material is a source of fertilizer," Gallegos said. "We land apply based on crop nutrient uptake in accordance with MU Extension recommendations."
Gallegos said the hog-waste spreading from the Arkansas hog farm has concluded.
Cindy Davies, Missouri DNR's Southwest Regional Office director, said DNR doesn't plan to do any monitoring near the Taney County site "since we did not see any indication of over-application."
"The specifics of the investigation can be provided once our investigation report is complete," Davies said in an email. "The Department does not have application rate requirements for this sort of situation but we do provide recommendations."
Davies said DNR visited the site several times and found no issues with the way the hog waste was being applied or the volume being placed on the fields.
"Regarding the volume, we do want to make sure that they do not apply so much that it runs off the property and causes water quality issues," Davies said. "As we noted previously, we did not see this issue."
She added that there are no laws that prevent animal waste from being taken from one state to be applied in another state.
"Animal waste must be managed appropriately whether it is handled by the producer or exported to another property via a third party such as Denali," Davies said.
"Companies such as Denali are allowed to apply this material as a soil amendment on fields, with approval from landowners, as long as they follow certain requirements such as preventing runoff and ensuring they do not cause pollution to waters of the state."
Davies said the land application of liquid hog waste for agricultural purposes does not require a permit in Missouri.
"The land used for land application is under an agreement between the company applying the waste and the land owner," she said.
"We are not aware of the permit that Arkansas DEQ references but if the land owner agrees to accept the waste then it would be considered an authorized site."
TANEY COUNTY, MO. -- The phrase "not in my back yard" is coming to life along the Missouri-Arkansas border. Thousands of gallons of hog waste are being spread in Taney County as fertilizer.
It's all coming from a hog farm that shut down in Arkansas because of environmental concerns over that waste.
Donald Lee Buckler lives along State Highway JJ, near the state line. He says trucks hauling the fertilizer have been passing his home for weeks.
"That's enough to fertilize the whole state of Missouri," Buckler said. "Day after day, 15 or 20 trucks going by, dumping."
He and some of his neighbors are worried the waste will make its way into their water.
"It's our drinking water. It's the water we clean up in, shower in, wash our clothes in, fish in," Buckler said.
Similar concerns went on for years in Newton County, Arkansas. C&H Hog Farms, Inc. was shut down in the summer of 2019 over fears its waste was polluting the Buffalo National River.
"Mess their own backyard up, not ours," Buckler said.
However, even though many people who live along State Highway JJ don't like what's going on. Officials with The Missouri Department of Natural Resources say no laws are being broken. Environmental Specialist Ashley McDaniel visited the site after the DNR received complaints from neighbors.
"We are making sure they're meeting setback limits, they're not land-applying on steep slopes. It's a more level area, they're evenly distributing the waste. So, the plants can absorb the nutrients from that," McDaniel said.
The farm isn't required to report how many trucks are carrying waste, but KY3 News learned two lagoons at the farm could hold up to 2 million gallons of liquid hog feces and urine.
"It is partially treated because it does go into a lagoon. The lagoon serves as a treatment for the waste to allow for solids to settle, then you have the liquid on top," McDaniel explains.
McDaniel says using animal waste, like hog or chicken waste, as fertilizer is not rare.
"Land-application is very common practice. It is the original fertilizer. It's been used for hundreds of years all over the world," McDaniel said.
Even so, neighbors along Highway JJ wish more rules were in place to protect their homes from possible pollution.
"It is just not right," Buckler said.
While the DNR found no violations at this site, McDaniel says they always encourage people to call them if they have concerns about improper fertilization or other issues relating to Missouri's natural resources.
"We appreciate the concerns of the citizens. We always look into these concerns to make sure that application is occurring correctly," McDaniel said.
The hog farm in Arkansas opened back in 2013. It operated there until it closed last June.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
Web only on 01/18/2020
Print Headline: MASTERSON ONLINE: Hogs gone
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.
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
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization
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