Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
October 25, 2019
Governor Hutchinson's Weekly Address
More Than Just a River
Governor Hutchinson's weekly radio address can be found in MP3 format and downloaded HERE.
LITTLE ROCK – The Buffalo National River is 153 miles of Arkansas wilderness and great memories, and today I’d like to share some thoughts about why we must be diligent in protecting it.
The Buffalo was the first river in the United States to be designated a national river. That happened because so many Arkansans said we want it as a natural river without dams or obstructions.
Every year, thousands of adventurers brave the whitewater rapids in the upper reaches of the Buffalo or float the more placid waters downstream. Like so many others, my family and I have canoed down the river and hiked along the banks. I have observed Arkansas’s only elk herd in the woods near Ponca.
The wilderness that is the Buffalo is more than a clear-running river. The land tells much of our history. Three features of the Buffalo are on the National Register of Historic Places: The Big Buffalo Valley Historic District, the Buffalo River Bridge on Highway 7, and the Parker-Hickman Farm-Historic District.
The Arkansas Department of Heritage is assessing two other sites for possible nomination to the Register – the home sites of Granny Henderson and “Wild Vic” Flowers.
The very popularity of the Buffalo creates issues, such as litter that washes into the streams, and requires certain accommodations, such as public facilities. The National Park Service is working to improve its waste treatment, which is necessary for its restrooms along the river.
Some hazards aren’t as obvious or as easy to solve, such as aging municipal wastewater and septic systems, streambank erosion, and the sediment and nutrients that run into tributaries from unpaved roads.
We want to preserve this treasured resource. We want the families who have lived there for generations to have the resources to continue their good stewardship of this watershed and the river that runs through it.
As governor, I have a responsibility to protect the Buffalo River. As an outdoorsman, I have a personal interest in preserving its health and beauty.
In 2016, I established the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee to address issues of concern in the Buffalo River Watershed. I asked the members of the committee to develop a non-regulatory, watershed-based management plan. In September, I took the next step by establishing the Buffalo River Conservation Committee, which will utilize the watershed management plan to prioritize and fund projects that would be supported by farmers and the local communities.
I was in law school when I discovered the Buffalo River, and like so many Arkansans, I value the Buffalo as a particularly beautiful part of God’s creation. Let’s work together to safeguard this jewel so that our children can share this natural masterpiece with their children and those who come after.
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BCRET Final Report
BRENDA BLAGG: Bogged down
Lawmakers put hold on governor’s Buffalo River plan
by Brenda Blagg | Today at 1:00 a.m.
Legislative review and approval of a plan to spend $1 million from the governor's discretionary fund for grants within the Buffalo River watershed didn't happen quite as easily as expected.
State lawmakers on Friday held up Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request.
The governor announced last month he wanted to use money from his "rainy day" fund to match another $1 million in private funds promised from the Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation.
The $2 million sum is supposed to go toward funding conservation and water-quality grants within the watershed of the Buffalo, the nation's first national river.
That's supposed to be a good thing, intended to help farmers with best practices to protect the river.
The river, or its protection, has been the subject of long-running debate among preservationists, recreational enthusiasts and those who live and farm nearby.
The state government is in the process now of buying out C&H Hog Farms, which secured the necessary permits during former Gov. Mike Beebe's administration for a concentrated swine feeding operation near the Buffalo.
The farm is at Mount Judea in Newton County. It is adjacent to Big Creek, which flows into the Buffalo just 6.6 miles away.
Hutchinson proposed the $6.2 million buyout earlier this year to resolve the years-long controversy over the hog farm.
The administration is also in the midst of considering a permanent ban on medium or large hog farms, as classified by the federal government, in the Buffalo's watershed.
The state has received comments from more than 400 people on the ban. That's just a hint of how intense this continuing controversy is. Most, but not all, of the comments the state received favor a ban of hog farms in the watershed.
Importantly, the contrary comments came from the Arkansas Farm Bureau and the Arkansas Pork Producers Association, defending the environmental record of pork producers and arguing against any ban.
Their comments are emblematic of concerns from within the agricultural community about how farmers will be impacted by the regulation.
It will be a while yet before the state can respond to all those comments, many of which are quite specific.
Eventually, the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment, which drafted the proposed regulatory change, will have to submit it for legislative review.
In the meantime, lawmakers are honed in on that request to spend those rainy day dollars in the Buffalo's watershed.
State Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, asked the Legislative Council on Friday to withhold those funds from a newly created committee.
The Buffalo River Conservation Committee, named last month by Gov. Hutchinson, also a Republican, is to decide how the grant money will be spent. The panel is made up of the secretaries of the Departments of Agriculture; Health; Energy and Environment; and Parks, Heritage and Tourism (or their designees).
Sen. Irvin was upset the governor's office had not met with elected representatives from the watershed before announcing his plans. The way it happened, she said, was "incredibly disrespectful" of those who represent the impacted area. She also questioned just who might decide how the funds are used.
Others on the Legislative Council backed her up.
The governor suggested the Legislative Council's failure to approve the transfer of rainy day funds could jeopardize the private funds pledged to the grant program. He also said it would delay the availability of the grants to farmers.
Nevertheless, the initiative is at least temporarily stalled because the people most affected want to be represented.
Here's the bottom-line lesson in all of this: The protectors of the Buffalo River got burned years ago when decisions about permitting that huge, potentially polluting hog farm were being made without their knowledge or input.
Those people, many of whom are devout activists now, will never forget it and may never trust regulators again.
No matter how well-intentioned Hutchinson's plan may be to provide grants to help protect the Buffalo's watershed, the process must be totally transparent.
He needs the buy-in of those most affected, including their elected representatives, to calm the deeply rooted controversy that surrounds the Buffalo.
Commentary on 10/23/2019
Print Headline: Bogged down
Listen at KUAF Public Radio
By JACQUELINE FROELICH & KYLE KELLAMS • OCT 21, 2019
The Buffalo River Conservation Committee, which was authorized by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, has been charged with developing a non-regulatory, watershed-based management plan. More than $2 million dollars in state and private funding will be distributed to watershed stakeholders as conservation grants. Attorney Ross Noland, executive director of the Buffalo River Foundationdescribes it as cooperative conservation.
State lawmakers stymie $1M for projects in watershed
by John Moritz | Today at 8:56 a.m.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request to transfer $1 million from state surplus money to fund conservation projects and grants within the Buffalo River Watershed was held up by lawmakers Friday, amid lingering frustrations over the closure of a hog farm near the river.
Many of the concerns voiced by lawmakers who represent areas along the river dealt with the question of which stakeholders would be given input on the projects.
In September, Hutchinson created the Buffalo River Conservation Committee to direct grants and projects in the watershed. The move came after the state's $6.2 million buyout of C&H Hog Farms this summer, bringing a close to the farm's controversial existence within the watershed.
Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, made the motion at Friday's Legislative Council meeting to withhold governor "rainy day" funds from the newly formed committee, accusing the governor's office of not meeting with local officials before requesting the money.
Members of the committee, she feared, could include landowners from the four-county area around the river who do not necessarily live in the region.
"Y'all single-handedly did this without discussing it with any of us who are elected to represent this area to work through these issues with our constituents, with the Buffalo National River," Irvin said. "We have been through so much on this issue, and we have tried so hard to work through it. It is incredibly disrespectful, it is ridiculous that this happened the way it happened."
By a voice vote, the council approved Irvin's motion to withhold the money until the governor's office and state officials meet with elected representatives from the watershed.
In a statement Friday, the governor said the failure to approve the transfer of rainy day funds could further jeopardize an additional $1 million in private funds pledged by the Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation.
"The failure to approve the appropriation today will delay this money being available to farmers," Hutchinson said. "But I do hope the Legislature will return soon to approve the funding."
In an Oct. 1 letter to the chairmen of the Legislative Council, Hutchinson wrote that the rainy day funds would be used to support projects "including but not limited to the following -- voluntary best management practices for farmers and land owners, improvements to wastewater and septic systems for cities and counties within the watershed, and reduction of sediment runoff from unpaved roads within the watershed."
The wording of that letter -- specifically the phrase "but not limited to" -- drew concerns from several lawmakers, including Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, and Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana.
"That's way too broad for what I think this body's supposed to do as far as oversight," Hickey said.
Rice raised similar concerns earlier in the week, when he said the circumstances of C&H Hog Farms' closure had caused misgivings to ripple through the communities of small- and medium-sized farmers.
The hog farm, which opened in 2013 and held thousands of hogs, prompted push-back over the years from environmental groups concerned about the possibility of manure polluting the river. Although the Buffalo River was found to be impaired by E. coli, no government agency had traced the bacteria back to the farm.
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality ordered the farm to close last year, before Hutchinson agreed to the buyout with the farm's owners this summer.
"Our small farms, animal farms, are concerned," Rice said. "Just concerns from the accumulation of events, on the rate change, extensive oversight and testing without violations, the accusations without factual substance, is enough in cost and aggravation to push some of our small farmers out of business or even to keep them from even going into business."
State Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward attempted to alleviate the concerns raised by Rice and other lawmakers Friday, saying that landowners would not be required to participate in projects funded by the $1 million transfer. The Department of Agriculture will hold onto the money from the rainy day fund until it is approved for projects by the conservation committee, according to the governor's letter.
Keeping the scope of the projects open-ended will allow local landowners to decide the best use for the money, Ward said.
"If I was to write down a list of things that the money would be used for, that would be in effect, Little Rock saying, 'Here's what you're going to do in this area," Ward said. "We're going to let the landowners identify what's important and what's not important."
The governor's office said Friday that the members of subcommittees of the Buffalo River Conservation Committee had not yet been appointed.
Full committee members include Ward; Energy and Environment Secretary Becky Keogh; Parks, Heritage and Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst; and Health Secretary Nathaniel Smith.
Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline and Emily Walkenhorst of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
NWAonline - Democrat Gazette
We and many others continue the message that the Buffalo National River has earned a special place in the hearts and minds of Arkansans, so much so that it deserves protection from harmful activities that would destroy its ecology and beauty. Early this week, some lawmakers declined to recommend approval of Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request to spend $1 million on conservation efforts within the river's watershed. They didn't suggest rejecting it, either, so at least there's that. Responding to what they say are farmers' concerns that protecting the Buffalo River watershed is just a first step of environmental activism that could do harm to the state's agricultural heritage, the lawmakers passed the funding on with no recommendation at all to the larger Legislative Council, which meets Friday. We certainly hope lawmakers on Friday stand up for this grand river and back the governor's effort to work with, not against, agricultural interests to protect their livelihoods at the same time the state protects the national river. Agriculture is vital to Arkansas' past and future. One doesn't have to lose to preserve and protect the other. The governor has taken a worthwhile and needed approach to keeping the Buffalo River clean for generations.
$1M transfer for Buffalo National River watershed clears panel
by Michael R. Wickline
A committee of lawmakers Tuesday skipped making a recommendation to the Legislative Council on a request by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to transfer $1 million to the state Department of Agriculture to support grants and projects within the Buffalo National River watershed.
At the behest of Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, the council's Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee forwarded the Republican governor's request to the Legislative Council without suggesting that the council approve or reject the transfer of so-called rainy-day funds.
This way, there will be more lawmakers on hand for further discussion during Friday's council meeting because the Legislative Council has more members, Rice said before the committee approved his motion in a voice vote.
In a letter dated Oct. 1 to the Legislative Council's co-chairmen, Hutchinson said these rainy-day funds "will be used to support grants and projects within the Buffalo River Watershed, including but not limited to the following -- voluntary best management practices for farmers and land owners, improvements to wastewater and septic systems for cities and counties within the watershed, and reduction of sediment runoff from unpaved roads within the watershed."
The newly formed Buffalo River Conservation Committee and its subcommittees will identify projects and distribute funds with the aim of improving water quality and promoting conservation practices, the governor wrote in his letter to the co-chairmen, Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, and Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage.
The Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation also have collectively pledged $1 million toward the Buffalo River Conservation Committee.
Hutchinson's creation of the conservation committee last month is the latest endeavor from his office regarding the Buffalo River, which has been the subject of heated political debate in recent years on how best to protect it.
During Tuesday's meeting, Rice referred to the governor's letter and said that because of what happened in the C&H Hog Farms case, "we have got a lot of young ag people that are concerned about their future that they may become litigants in their livelihood simply doing what they know as the best practices."
In the C&H Hog Farms case, "this Legislature agreed to, and I supported, a buyout of a private business that had no violations, that technically had not done anything wrong," he said. Doing that has "raised concerns with a lot of people."
Rice asked state Budget Administrator Jake Bleed to elaborate on the funding request.
"This is an opportunity, we hope, for folks in the watershed to take advantage of the funding, which has been requested today to get ahead of some potential issues that might cause a water-quality problem later on down the road," Bleed said.
The intent of this program "is not to create litigation, obviously," he said. "It is not to create regulations. It is not to impose anything on anybody."
But Rice told Bleed, "You understand the reason for concerns throughout this process. It's not just one thing. It's the culmination of many things. I don't blame people being concerned about their future."
On June 21, the Legislative Council granted conditional authority to Bledsoe and Wardlaw to approve Hutchinson's request to use up to $6.2 million in state rainy-day funds to obtain a conservation easement to shut down the hog farm, which is in the Buffalo National River watershed.
But the council asked the co-chairmen to first be satisfied that the state has a first-lien position on the easement, meaning the state would be superior to any lien holder regarding the use of the land.
Hutchinson's assurances to Bledsoe and Wardlaw that his office is checking for any liens on the hog farm prompted the two to sign off on that funding request a few weeks later.
C&H Hog Farms will be paid at the closing of escrow when all its swine have been removed, and funds will be concurrently exchanged for a conservative easement, also held in escrow, said Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism spokeswoman Melissa Whitfield after Tuesday's meeting.
C&H Hog Farms will be paid $6.2 million, plus interest and less escrow expenses, probably no earlier than January 2020, she said. The funds include $3.7 million from the rainy-day fund, $1.5 million from the department and $1 million from the Nature Conservancy, Whitfield said.
During Tuesday's meeting, Rice also raised concerns about the state buying land from the Nature Conservancy. He cited two such purchases in Garland County -- one in recent months and one in 2018.
He said he questioned state forestry officials recently about a $1.4 million purchase of 420 acres from the Nature Conservancy in the Hot Springs area and "was told [the purchase is] totally different and it doesn't have anything to do with" the Buffalo River Watershed situation.
"The timing of it was a concern to me," he said.
The Forestry Division bought 360.83 acres within the Hot Springs Recharge Area in Garland County from the Nature Conservancy in May 2018 for $822,000, Department of Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward said. That purchase used funds from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council, he said.
Ward said the department's Forestry Division is purchasing 408.44 acres within the same area in Garland County from the Nature Conservancy using funds from a U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Legacy grant.
The expected price is $1,459,180, he said.
Both items are associated with preserving the Hot Springs Recharge Area, he said.
"All properties acquired in the Hot Springs Recharge Area are voluntary purchases with willing buyers and willing sellers," Ward said in a written statement. "No funds used within the Hot Springs Recharge Area have been used within the Buffalo River Watershed."
Metro on 10/16/2019
Hog farm proposal garners support
But commenters note ban’s limits
by Emily Walkenhorst |
Hundreds of comments have poured in supporting a proposed permanent ban on federally classified medium or large hog farms in the Buffalo National River's watershed.
But a handful of comments expressed concerns that, during the process of state regulators editing existing rules to incorporate the ban, significant changes were made to aspects of state rules that had nothing to do with hog farms.
People had several weeks to submit comments on the proposed ban, with the comment period ending Sept. 23. By law, the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment, which proposed the ban, must read and respond to each comment before altering and/or passing along the proposal for legislative review.
Just more than 400 people submitted comments, with nearly all in favor of a ban.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reviewed the comments after obtaining them through a public-records request. Unlike in previous rule-making proposals, the department has not posted the comments online.
Many comments hit on the same themes: calling the C&H Hog Farms permit a mistake, arguing that the karst topography of the region is unsuitable for sizable hog farms, and/or supporting broader restrictions in the watershed. The suggested restrictions include prohibiting small hog farms, barring other types of concentrated animal-feeding operations, and preventing the transport of hog manure and spread of hog manure on land within the Buffalo River's watershed.
Most comments came from Arkansas, largely from the Northwest.
Only two comments opposed any ban. The Arkansas Farm Bureau contended that state regulators have "no scientific evidence showing animal agriculture is causing an environmental impact." The Farm Bureau said the department was letting "emotion" rather than "sound science" drive the regulation changes.
The Arkansas Pork Producers Association said the proposed regulation changes were a "slippery slope" to further action in the state's other watersheds for "extraordinary resource" waters. The proposal is precautionary, the comment states, adding that "Our state's pork producers have an excellent environmental record."
Several comments questioned why the proposed ban would be limited to hog farms while other animal farms can cause pollution concerns, as well. Poultry farming in Northwest Arkansas has long been blamed for excess nutrients in the Illinois River in Oklahoma.
Some comments questioned whether the proposal, as written, would actually prevent hog farms as large as C&H from being constructed in the watershed.
The White River Waterkeeper organization argued that hog farms exceeding the sizes of "medium" or "large" may still be allowed under the language of the proposal, which refers to farms meeting the definition of a concentrated animal-feeding operation.
Further, the comment states, the change to Regulation 5 refers to "confined animal feeding operations," and the change to Regulation 6 refers to "concentrated animal feeding operations." Those are two distinct technical terms meaning different things. The White River Waterkeeper asked whether that would unintentionally allow some farms to obtain permits despite the ban.
Farms are federally classified as small, medium or large. Medium hog farms are defined as having 750 or more swine of more than 55 pounds, or 3,000 or more swine of 55 pounds or less.
Hog farms often have combinations of the two weight classes of pigs. The proposed ban does not explain how to calculate whether a hog farm meets the size threshold if combining the two weight classes of pigs, the White River Waterkeeper contended.
The draft rules could be interpreted as allowing one less hog than the maximum for both weight classes -- 749 bigger hogs and 2,999 smaller hogs, Ross Noland, an attorney and the executive director of the Buffalo River Foundation, wrote in his comment. "This would comprise a major facility with more swine waste present than that which C&H produced."
Medium and large hog farms have been banned since 2014 but only on a temporary basis, pending the conclusion of the Big Creek Research and Extension Team's research on the effect of C&H Hog Farms on Big Creek and the Buffalo National River.
C&H is a large-scale hog farm that sits within the Buffalo National River's watershed. It has been the subject of yearslong environmental concerns and will close in the coming months after reaching a $6.2 million buyout agreement with the state in June.
After signing the buyout agreement with C&H owners, Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked state environmental regulators to petition to make the temporary ban permanent.
The final research report is expected in the coming weeks.
Not all comments were about the proposed ban on medium and large hog farms.
The proposal places the entirety of two regulations up for amendment. Those are Regulation 5, which governs liquid animal waste management systems that are not allowed to discharge waste, and Regulation 6, which governs federal wastewater permits that allow for discharge.
The department altered numerous provisions within Regulation 6. Some were superficial changes from "Regulation" to "Rule" or "Six" to "6," but some, commenters argued, appeared to change permit application requirements and review processes for facilities that aren't animal farms.
The Beaver Water District opposed several changes, including one that deletes the requirement to disinfect facilities "when necessary" to meet state water-quality standards and another that deletes the requirement to remove nutrients from domestic wastewater effluent "where appropriate." Another change, the group's letter to the department states, would remove many of the permitting requirements for stormwater discharges associated with small construction sites.
The American Fisheries Society and the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance both raised questions about a change allowing higher fecal coliform concentrations in wastewater discharges to extraordinary resource waters and to natural and scenic waterways.
Previously, no concentrations of 200 colonies per 100 milliliters of water were allowed in those waters. The department has proposed changing the limit to a "geometric mean" -- a type of average -- of 200 colonies per 100 milliliters of water, meaning a sample could exceed that concentration as long as the geometric mean remained below 200.
"Whether by averages or geometric means, the application of any mathematical formula should not be allowed to obscure dangerous peak readings when public health is of concern," the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance's comment reads. "Parents allow their children to swim in ERWs on the assumption that this designation means the water is safe for human contact."
The White River Waterkeeper noted that the change is an attempt to be consistent with a separate rule, Regulation 2. But, the organization wrote in its comment, the department has not explained whether the new or the previous language was originally intended. The previous language also listed a limit of an arithmetic mean of 200 colonies per 100 milliliters of water for other water bodies. Geometric means are always lower than arithmetic means, the White River Waterkeeper wrote.
The department issued an executive summary with its proposed changes but didn't mention any reasons for why it altered those specific elements of the regulation. For regulation chapters not accompanied with an explanation, the department's summary states that officials made clarifications, minor corrections and changes to make the regulation consistent with other statutes.
The department did not respond to a request from the Democrat-Gazette for comment on the changes.
A Section on 10/14/2019
BRENDA BLAGG: Unhogging the Buffalo
Governor sets farm-ridding plan in motion
The new Buffalo River Conservation Committee should soon be functional.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson recently announced creation of the panel, pledging $1 million from the governor's discretionary fund to match another $1 million promised from private, nonprofit organizations.
The panel will eventually be using the money to fund conservation and water quality grants within the Buffalo River watershed.
This is the latest step in a Hutchinson administration effort to preserve and protect the Buffalo, the nation's first national river.
The free-flowing river winds through rugged wilderness and beneath soaring bluffs in the Ozarks. It has been a treasured destination for generations.
Then came the hog farm controversy and the threat of pollution to the Buffalo and its tributaries.
Gov. Mike Beebe's administration granted C&H Hog Farms a permit for a large-scale concentrated swine feeding operation at Mount Judea in Newton County. The farm was allowed to have 2,500 sows and up to 4,000 piglets at the site adjacent to Big Creek, which flows into the Buffalo just 6.6 miles away from the feeding operation.
Beebe, reflecting on the matter as he was about to leave office in 2014, acknowledged regret about his administration's role in the controversy.
C&H started the feeding operation in 2013, after complying with then-existing state law to get the permit.
The Beebe administration did manage later to stop future concentrated animal feeding operations temporarily and set up monitoring systems to track water quality in the Buffalo.
But the controversy continued.
This year, it was Hutchinson's administration that found a way to end C&H's operation. The state negotiated a $6.2 million buyout. The money has come mostly from the state government, with something less than $1 million contributed by The Nature Conservancy.
The buyout was announced in June. The farm owners have since been getting the money to pay the balance on their multimillion-dollar loan and to compensate them for other closure-related costs. They're in the process of selling the hogs now. A site cleanup will follow.
Just this week, an engineering firm submitted a draft closure plan to the state regulators who hired them.
The Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment will take comments on the plan through Tuesday. The department will then decide whether to alter or finalize the plan.
Under the buyout agreement, C&H Hog Farms must be fully closed by early February.
On the administrative front, Hutchinson also named a Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee in 2016.
The group drafted a watershed management plan that this new Buffalo River Conservation Committee will use to choose projects to fund with the $2 million Hutchinson said it will have to spend.
The state money is contingent upon legislative review and approval, but that should be readily forthcoming.
The private money will come from the Nature Conservancy and the similarly private, nonprofit Buffalo River Foundation.
The new panel will be chaired by Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward. State secretaries (or their designees) from the Departments of Health; Energy and Environment; and Parks, Heritage and Tourism will fill out the panel.
The effect is to put key people inside state government on the front line, looking out for the best interests of the Buffalo and rewarding those actively safeguarding this treasure for future generations.
Commentary on 10/09/2019
Firm submits closure plans for Arkansas hog farm
State to review proposal to remove watershed waste
by Emily Walkenhorst
An engineering firm has submitted a draft closure plan for C&H Hog Farms to state environmental regulators.
The plan would prevent farm owners from placing any remaining hog manure on the ground in the Buffalo National River's watershed. C&H opponents have expressed concern for years about the use of manure as fertilizer in the watershed.
The land there is already "oversaturated" with manure and phosphorus from it, said Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance. In high enough amounts, phosphorus can cause algae growth in surface waters.
Watkins said his group plans to submit comments on the closure plan but broadly feels comfortable with it.
"We'd like to see some efforts to continue monitoring around the storage ponds as well as Big Creek itself, to see if phosphorus could continue to leach out into Big Creek" or to spot evidence of ponds seeping," Watkins said.
C&H abuts on Big Creek about 6.6 miles from where the creek flows into the Buffalo. Owners did not respond to a request for comment, but research has not explicitly found that C&H has caused the algae increasingly found in the Buffalo River or to other pollution in waters near C&H.
The Big Creek Research and Extension Team at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture has been studying C&H, neighboring Big Creek and the Buffalo River for several years. That study ended in June, and the team is expected to release its final report soon.
[DOCUMENT: Read closure plan for hog farm » arkansasonline.com/107hogfarm]
C&H Hog Farms, which was permitted to house 6,503 swine, took a $6.2 million buyout from the state this summer after years of concerns were raised about such a large farm's potential impact on the river, which is the country's first "national" river. The farm must close by early February. Farmers have begun removing the pigs.
Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment spokesman Jacob Harper said in an email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the next steps are washing down the facilities and closing the manure storage ponds.
The department hired Harbor Environmental to write the closure plan, which was completed Sept. 27. It consists of four pages and diagrams of how the manure holding ponds will be deconstructed.
Interested people have until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 15 to submit comments on the plan. After that, the department will decide whether the alter and/or finalize it.
The plan calls for removing at least six inches of the manure pond liners, in addition to the manure. That follows department policy.
In other states, including Oklahoma, regulators specifically prohibit removal of the pond lining, Watkins said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Association recommends maintaining pond liners when removing sludge.
Watkins cited a white paper done by researchers at five different universities and published by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The researchers caution against trying to remove the liner because of the risk of seepage into the ground. Liners should only be removed if they are damaged, they wrote.
After the manure is removed, the plan calls for demolishing the ponds by filling and grading them. Workers will then plant vegetation on the land to minimize erosion.
Metro on 10/07/2019
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