Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
By Caitlin Sinett |
Posted: Tue 3:05 PM, Apr 14, 2020 |
Updated: Tue 4:48 PM, Apr 14, 2020
BUFFALO NATIONAL RIVER, Ark. -- With its 95,000 acres of land, 100 miles of trails, and a 135-mile river, the Buffalo National River seems like the perfect place to avoid people.
"It is public land that's here for everybody," said Cassie Branstetter,
the Buffalo National River's branch chief of interpretation.
Apparently, too many people felt that way.
"We all have to do our part to slow the spread of the virus," Branstetter said.
The park closed more than a week ago after videos showed a long line of cars parked near the river while people were supposed to be social distancing.
Still not everyone is following the rules now, rangers reported that some people were still coming into the park a few days ago. Since the park closed, rangers have given out 16 verbal warnings and eight written warnings. About half of those went to people in Arkansas, the others were from out of state.
"It's just hard for everyone to understand or even to get that information who have been coming for years to the Buffalo National River," Branstetter said.
She said if a ranger finds someone in the park, they make sure to educate them first.
"In some instances, very very rare instances, if there are repeated folks who are attempting to not abide by the closure that's in time, there have been a few tickets that have been written," Branstetter said.
About eight citations have been given out, five to people from Arkansas and three out of state.
And even though turkey hunting season just kicked off, that's not allowed on park lands either.
Branstetter said it's up to the state and federal government as to when the park will reopen.
"We haven't heard any changes from those entities as of now, but whenever we hear that of course our goal is to open as soon as possible based on those health guidelines," she said.
It doesn't beat the real thing, but The Buffalo National River also has information and posts you can check out online if you're missing the park at home. Its website is www.nps.gov/buff/index.htm
A day after Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson called for its closure, the Buffalo National River superintendent announced the river would close to the public.
“It breaks my heart to have to close this incredible public park." Mark Foust, Buffalo National River superintendent said in a statement. "It is, however, the right thing to do to protect the people that work here, live here, visit here, and love this place."
This closure comes a day after the state announced new rules regarding state-run parks. Starting Friday, April 3 at 8:00 a.m. all Arkansas State Parks will move to day use only in an effort to cut down on out-of-state visitors at the parks.
According to a news release, State highways and county roads that run through Buffalo National River will remain accessible to through or residential traffic. Roads that enter and terminate within the park, are closed to all but residential traffic.
The National Park Service will announce on its website when the river will open.
by Bill Bowden, Andy Davis
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Wednesday that he had asked the federal government to close the Buffalo National River out of a concern that visitors from outside the state are spreading the coronavirus.
He also announced the virus had claimed the lives of two more Arkansans, raising the death toll in the state from the pandemic to 10. By Wednesday evening, the number of cases in the state had risen by 60 from a day earlier to 624.
Fifty-five of the state's 75 counties had cases, including the first ones reported in Carroll and Lee counties.
Hutchinson's announcement about the northern Arkansas river, designated as a national park, came a day after the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that the river's largest resort had closed for a month out of concerns about crowds.
At least four Arkansas lawmakers and the mayor of Jasper sent letters to Interior Secretary David Bernhard asking for the park's closure.
"The trail heads are overrun with vehicles from every state in the country, including states with hot spots of covid-19," Republican Sens. Missy Irvin of Mountain View, Scott Flippo of Mountain Home, and Breanne Davis of Russellville said in their letter, dated Tuesday.
[Read two of the letters here]
"This has caused a tremendous strain on our local citizens, law enforcement, grocery stores and restaurants who are trying to follow the president's directives and prevent the virus from spreading in their communities," the senators said in the letter.
Hutchinson also expressed concern Tuesday about visitors to the park from states with larger coronavirus outbreaks than Arkansas' and said he would consult with the National Park Service on the issue.
On Wednesday, he said 60% of the park's visitors the previous day were from outside the state.
"You think about that in terms of hot spots across the country, the fact that other parks have closed, it certainly points to the need that if we're going to try to limit out-of-state visitors and the spread of covid-19 that we need to take this step, and I made that recommendation," Hutchinson said.
The Department of the Interior and the Park Service didn't return a message seeking comment on Hutchinson's request Wednesday.
The National Park Service has closed some parks because of crowds including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Canyonlands, Arches and Joshua Tree.
n Arkansas, all campgrounds in the Buffalo National River have already been closed to overnight camping as well as the Gulpha Gorge campground in Hot Springs National Park.
Pavilions and visitor centers at the Buffalo National River have been closed.
In his letter to the Interior secretary, state Rep. Keith Slape, R-Compton, said closing the river "will deliver a powerful message to all Americans of the severity of the situation and the importance of the simple yet effective tactic of just staying home."
"I don't think we were overrun in Jasper, but the people out in the county were very upset," Mayor Jan Larson said said.
"We're in the middle of a pandemic and there was a total disregard for any rules and regulations. We depend on tourism, but it's got to be managed."
Newton County Sheriff Glenn Wheeler said he's been in close contact with park Superintendent Mark Foust and County Judge Warren Campbell about the issue.
"I also spoke with Rep. Slape about it and reached out to Arkansas Tourism asking them to stop the campaign encouraging folks to get outdoors in the remote parts of the state," Wheeler said in a text message. "It overwhelmed our resources this past weekend, not to mention the influx of people from coronavirus hot spots and their interaction with our local folks, straining our grocery supplies, etc."
But Health Department Secretary Nate Smith reiterated Wednesday that ultraviolet rays from the sun tend to "degrade most viruses," decreasing the risk of transmission.
"That's why I've encouraged being outside," while keeping a safe distance from other people, he said.
In another moved aimed at discouraging visitors from other states, Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, said the state's parks will be closed to overnight visitors starting Friday, a move that she said is "consistent with 28 other states."
She said the state also will close certain "trails that are problematic," including Cedar Falls Trail and Cedar Falls overlook at Petit Jean State Park near Morrilton and the East and West Summit trails at Pinnacle Mountain near Little Rock.
Hurst said where possible, state parks will close their gates to visitors when their parking lots are full and ticket cars parked in unauthorized areas.
Park rangers also will disperse gatherings, and rangers at less popular parks will be reassigned to busier ones to help manage crowds. Other park workers will educate visitors on keeping a safe distance from each other, she said.
"If these measures aren't enough to address issues of overcrowding and inadequate social distancing, we'll pivot and make new recommendations to the governor," Hurst said.
In a news release later Wednesday, Hurst's department said other areas that will be closed include the day-use area on Arkansas 300 at Pinnacle Mountain State Park and the Fossil Flats Mountain Bike and Woody Plants trails at Devil's Den State Park near Winslow.
The state had already closed park lodges, museums and exhibits and limited camping to self-contained recreational vehicles.
To limit the spread of the virus, Arkansas has closed public schools through at least April 17, limited restaurants to takeout, drive-thru and delivery, indefinitely closed fitness clubs, hair salons and other businesses, and limited indoor social gatherings to 10 or fewer people.
Hutchinson said that, during a phone call Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence and Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, didn't bring up the need for a broader order telling residents to stay at home.
According to a count by The New York Times, statewide orders have been issued in 37 states, with Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Nevada joining the list Wednesday. Orders are in place in parts of seven other states.
Birx "was delighted with what we we've done with our social distancing, with our restrictions that we have in place, and also with the success that we're having in terms of reducing the arc and flattening that curve," Hutchinson said.
He added that such orders seem to be mostly symbolic.
"Most governors simply broaden the definition of essential services so everything's an essential service," Hutchinson said.
"We can do that, and we might have to do that because there is some public messaging that if you're not doing something important, you need to to stay home.
"I think we've conveyed that. I think we've conveyed that from everything we're doing."
Hutchinson said the state has asked Birx's help in forecasting the spread of the virus in the state and will be sharing data with the White House.
Although members of the White House coronavirus task force unveiled projections showing that, even with restrictions on movement in place, the virus is expected to kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans, Smith said the Trump administration hasn't provided projections on Arkansas deaths.
"For Arkansas, we really don't know," Smith said. "It really depends a lot on what we do today.
"So far our epidemic curve has been flatter than most places, and a lot of this has to do with not just the number of cases that you have but who's getting sick."
For instance, he said, protecting nursing-home residents has been a top priority.
Although one of the state's deaths was of a nursing home resident, Smith said covid-19 is known to spread quickly in nursing homes, and "we're very happy that we've not seen that kind of explosive spread in nursing homes where we've had positive cases."
He said the state is also trying to slow the rate of infections to avoid a surge in hospitalizations "that overwhelms our system."
"If we can have our peak later than other states, then there'll be more resources, particularly ventilators, available and less need to make difficult decisions," he said.
Arkansas officials said they had placed an order for 500 ventilators from an overseas manufacturer but ended up losing it after New York put in a much larger order at a higher price.
Hutchinson said Pence on Wednesday "gave us the confidence that, when we need ventilators we're going to have ventilators."
"That doesn't stop us from planning and working and trying to acquire what we're trying to acquire, but certainly the vice president and the president understand the future needs that a state like Arkansas has, and they're committed to work with us in meeting those needs," Hutchinson said.
President Donald Trump said at a briefing Tuesday that the federal government has 10,000 ventilators that it has been "holding back" so it can move them to places they're needed the most.
Smith said one of the people who died most recently was a central Arkansas resident, and that he did not have "complete information" on where the other one lived. At least one of the two people had underlying health conditions, he said.
According to the Pulaski County coroner, Virgil Finkey, 63, of North Little Rock, died from covid-19 at 5:37 p.m. Tuesday at Baptist Health Medical Center-North Little Rock.
The identity of the other person who died wasn't known Wednesday.
The state's eighth death, announced Tuesday, was of a 73 -year-old woman from Cleburne County, according to the Independence County coroner.
She died Monday at White River Medical Center in Batesville. The hospital did not provide the woman's name to the coroner.
All the state's other deaths have been of people age 65 or older except for Tanisha Cotton, 42, of Little Rock, who died Saturday morning at Saline Memorial Hospital in Benton.
The virus emerged late last year in Wuhan, China, and spreads through respiratory droplets emitted when people sneeze or cough. Symptoms -- fever, cough and shortness of breath -- have been mild for many people. Studies have indicated that the virus can live for days on surfaces.
The elderly and people with chronic health conditions are considered most at risk of severe illness, including pneumonia.
Smith said 56 of the state's coronavirus patients were hospitalized Wednesday, down from 64 a day earlier, and 25 were on ventilators, up from 23 a day earlier.
The new cases included four nursing home residents: two at The Waters at White Hall nursing home and two at The Villages of General Baptist West in Pine Bluff.
That brought the total number of nursing home residents with infections who have tested positive to 51, including four at the Pine Bluff facility and eight at the White Hall home, where at least one worker also has tested positive.
Five of those who recently tested positive were health care workers, bringing the total number of such workers who have been diagnosed with covid-19 to 84.
The total number of cases increased by 10 in Pulaski County, to 113, and by nine in Jefferson County, to 49.
The number went up by two each in Cleburne, Benton and Garland counties, bringing the number to 63 in Cleburne County, 40 in Benton County and 33 in Garland County.
Faulkner County had 36, with no new cases reported.
Out of all those who had tested positive as of Wednesday afternoon, 18 were children or teenagers 18 or younger, 170 were 65 or older and 396 were 18-64, Smith said.
Within the past day, Hutchinson said, the Health Department's lab had tested 147 people, the most it has tested in a single day.
The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences had tested 65 people, and 691 results came in from commercial labs, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson added that Walmart is working with New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics to start drive-thru testing for covid-19 next week in Bentonville.
Like Walmart's two pilot testing sites in Chicago, this one will serve only health care workers and first-responders showing symptoms of the virus, a Walmart spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
This third pilot site also will let the Bentonville-based retailer test a new site layout and operational needs, the spokeswoman said. She did not say why Bentonville was selected for the site or where in the city it will be located.
"In coming weeks, we anticipate supporting additional drive-thru testing sites in areas where state and local officials have identified a need and requested support," the spokeswoman said.
Quest Diagnostics has a network of labs around the world, including one in Bentonville.
Information for this article was contributed by Serenah McKay and Eric Besson of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
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.
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization
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