Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
Listen to a 1992 interview with Dr. Neil Compton on KUAF Radio
By KYLE KELLAMS • AUG 9, 2019
Tomorrow is Dr. Compton Day in Bentonville, honoring the man who played a central role in saving the Buffalo River. In 1992, Neil Compton talked to us about his book, Battle for the the Buffalo.
NWA EDITORIAL: A dramatic pausePanel surprises with hesitance to protect Buffaloby NWA Democrat-Gazette
Gov. Asa Hutchinson took a strong lead in protecting the Buffalo National River when he worked out a deal that would shutter C&H Hog Farm, that large-scale operation near a tributary to the state's most important river.
OK, we'll grant you that the Arkansas River is pretty vital, what with all the commerce flowing from its waters. But in terms of tourism and environmental protection, it's hard to think of any waterway so important to who we are as Arkansans as the Buffalo.
What’s the point?
It’s astonishing the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission hesitated to begin a rule-making process to protect the Buffalo National River.
The hog farm should never have been authorized by the state. The governor stressed in announcing the state's $6.2 million buyout of the farm that its owners did everything expected of them in licensing their operation. The problem was the state simply didn't expect enough.
For most Arkansans, keeping large sources of potential pollutant-producing materials out of the Buffalo's watershed is a no-brainer. Then, apparently, there's the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.
By it's title, one might think pollution control and ecology might be important factors to this state panel. It's a reasonable presumption. Not necessarily an accurate one, but a reasonable one.
We point to the commission's last meeting, at which members approved the beginning of a rule-making process to permanently ban hog farms of a federally classified large to medium size from the Buffalo River watershed. A temporary ban has been in effect since 2014.
The outcome belies the fragility of the commission's apparent commitment. When Commissioner Doug Melton made a motion to support the rule-making, it required the parliamentary second. Matters that aren't seconded die. And Melton's motion hung in the air for an extended period of silence.
Commissioner Mike Freeze instead made a motion, quickly seconded, to delay the proposal until the next meeting. It couldn't be considered, though, because Melton's motion took precedence.
It's flabbergasting this panel wouldn't eagerly embrace a measure to protect the Buffalo National River. It took a recess and considerable consultation before its members became satisfied enough that starting the rule-making process doesn't mean the rule is written in stone. In fact, it doesn't mean the rule is written at all. That's what the process is all about, and it's got to start somewhere.
We get it: Some people don't believe the hog farm polluted or threatened to pollute anything. Some people are worried agricultural operations, of which there are plenty in Arkansas, might be impacted more by politics than by science.
But state leaders of all stripes should recognize the Buffalo River is the state's gem of gems. Of all places, the state should not play games with possible ecological damage to the Buffalo.
Save the Buffalo, indeed.
Commentary on 08/03/2019
Arkansas panel backs effort on hog-farm ban; Buffalo watershed is focus of proposed rule
by Emily Walkenhorst
Environmental regulators are moving forward with a plan that would prevent a farm like C&H Hog Farms from building again in the Buffalo National River's watershed.
The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission on Friday approved, without opposition, the beginning of a rule-making process to permanently ban hog farms of a federally classified medium or large size from the watershed.
The proposed permanent ban will go out for public comment later this year, and a public hearing will be held. After the public input, state legislative committees must additionally review the proposed ban and allow the rule-making to proceed.
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.
Such 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.
After Friday's meeting, supporters of the ban and opponents of C&H said they were glad to see the rule-making move forward but were disappointed with how the meeting proceeded.
"It was a little disturbing that there wasn't more vigorous support," said Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which formed in 2013 to oppose C&H's operations in the watershed.
Minutes before Friday's vote to move forward with the ban proposal, the commission appeared poised to reject it.
Commissioner Doug Melton, a governor appointee, made a motion to support the rule-making, proposed by the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment's Division of Environmental Quality. He received no seconds to the motion from the other commissioners. Commissioners paused for an extended silence to listen for a possible second to the motion.
"I was shocked that we would not consider the approval of this minute order," Melton said.
Melton said he texted the governor during the meeting, who expressed surprise that the commission would not consider the ban. Hutchinson confirmed the conversation after the meeting.
"Yes, I shared my view that the rule should go forward for public comment, and I reiterated my support for making the current ban on large-scale hog permits in the Buffalo River permanent," the governor said in a statement released to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Before Melton's motion, Commissioner Mike Freeze, another governor appointee, raised objections to starting the rule-making before C&H had the money from the state to close down. Not everything required by the buyout agreement has been completed.
"I can assure you, it's not a done deal," Freeze said.
The proposed ban does not include a clause that would grandfather in existing medium or large hog farms. C&H is the only large hog farm in the watershed.
Freeze made a motion, which was quickly seconded, to delay the proposal until next month's meeting when, he anticipated, everything would be in place for C&H's closure. But the motion could not officially be considered because Melton's unseconded motion was still on the floor.
Richard McMullen, the commission's designee from the state Health Department, then seconded Melton's motion.
Freeze expressed frustration on the point of order because he supports the ban but would have to vote against starting the rule-making process for it now.
Mike McAlister, managing attorney for the Division of Environmental Quality, said a series of steps needs to be taken before the state can deposit the $6.2 million in closure funds and other compensation into escrow for eventual delivery to the farm's owners.
The division must write a closure plan, then certify delivery of the closure plan to C&H, which must then dismiss with prejudice "all legal proceedings," according to the buyout agreement. After that, the escrow agent will deliver the executed conservation easement for the land and disburse the money.
C&H has appealed to circuit court the rejection of its permit application and other issues related to it and has sued the Division of Environmental Quality over alleged noncompliance with the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
Delia Hawk, a farmer and a new governor-appointed commissioner, asked McAlister if the Big Creek Research and Extension Team report would be completed soon. Members of the public should have a chance to consider it in their comments, she said.
McAlister told commissioners that rule-making processes typically last a few months or more and that public-comment periods can be extended.
After some discussion on the terms of C&H's buyout agreement and the rule-making process, Freeze requested a 10-minute recess, which commission Chairman Robert Reynolds approved.
Freeze spent much of the recess on his cellphone, which he later told the Democrat-Gazette was because he had received questions from his fish farm's employees all morning.
When the meeting restarted, Freeze was the first member to speak.
"I've been informed that even if we initiate the rule-making ... if the [buyout] deal fell through ... we have the ability at that time to oppose the moratorium," he said. "Given that, I'm willing to withdraw my motion, though I guess it's not on the floor."
Once a rule-making process is initiated, McAlister said, officials can modify it.
"If the changes are material and significant, it usually results in a new draft and a new round of notice and comments saying, 'Look, we've made some changes. Here's where we are now,'" he said.
If the commissioners didn't like the proposed rule anymore, they could reject it, McAlister said.
The commission, without opposition, then approved starting the ban's rule-making process.
C&H Hog Farms opened in 2013 along Big Creek, about 6.6 miles from where it drains into the Buffalo River. The farm houses up to 6,503 hogs. Not long after the farm opened, conservation groups and others voiced concerns about its potential to pollute the Buffalo River and about the regulations that supported its construction.
In 2018, the then-Department of Environmental Quality placed Big Creek and the Buffalo River near Big Creek on its list of impaired water bodies that it submits every other year to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It did not attribute the pollution to the farm but acknowledged it is a potential pollution source.
No research has definitively shown Buffalo River pollution caused by C&H.
The Buffalo River attracts more than 1 million visitors annually. The National Park Service estimated 1.2 million visitors spent $54.9 million in the region in 2018.
A Section on 07/27/2019
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Process to ban medium, large hog farms in state's Buffalo watershed moves forward
The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission has started a rule-making process that would make permanent the ban against medium or large hog farms in the Buffalo National River's watershed.
The proposed permanent ban will go out for public comment later this year, and officials will hold a public hearing.
Farms are federally classified as small, medium or large, and medium hog farms are defined as 750 or more swine of more than 55 pounds or 3,000 or more hogs of 55 pounds or less.
Such 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 impact of C&H Hog Farms on Big Creek and the Buffalo River.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, after signing a buyout agreement with C&H owners that would close the farm in the coming months, asked state environmental regulators to petition to make the ban permanent.
Eureka Springs Independent
Not everyone was entirely pleased with the recent $6.2 million settlement to buy a conservation easement at C&H Farms where a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) near Mount Judea was permitted to grow 6,500 hogs indoors. There were concerns about being paid to stop pollution that never should have been allowed in the first place.
Although the owners claimed there was no proof that the operation was linked to decreasing water quality and large algae blooms in the Big Creek and the Buffalo National River, opponents pointed to evidence that the liquid waste spray fields around the facility were over saturated with phosphorus, a nutrient well known to cause oxygen deprivation and algae blooms.
Officials with the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (BRWA), which was established because of the hog factory, said the settlement was a major victory that will allow the CAFO to be shut down and more pollution avoided.
“Of all the possible resolutions to this, we think this is absolutely the best,” Jack Stewart, BRWA co-founder and vice president, said. “If we would have won in the court, it would have taken a couple more years and untold amounts of money. The cost of lawyers and expert witnesses is through the roof, $400 to $500 an hour. And it wasn’t even so much the economics of it, but all the time there would be increasing phosphorus in the surrounding fields that could leak into Big Creek or contaminate underground streams.”
Stewart said if C&H had been shut down without compensation, there could have been a strong blowback in the local community because C&H had supporters.
“This way they have been made whole,” Stewart said. “While six million sounds like an awful lot of money, some is going be used to eliminate their debt, and the settlement is split among three farmers. This was their livelihood. While there has been a complaint about the taxpayers being involved, we are culpable in a way because we have allowed our Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to get away with these kinds of things.”
The issue of debt has come up recently with news reports the Arkansas Legislative Council has granted its leaders the authority to approve the governor’s funding request only if the state has the first lien position on the property in the conservation easement. Stewart said that addresses the issue some people had with a lack of transparency about the settlement; that action shows that this wasn’t just a back room deal with no public oversight.
The ADEQ permit for the large CAFO was issued in 2012 with the only notice being a small legal ad. Most locals didn’t know about the facility until it was under construction. Recently ADEQ denied a new permit to the facility, and that decision was under appeal.
Concerning the issue of C&H and its ally, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, saying there was no proof that the CAFO was polluting, Stewart said it has been well-established elsewhere in the country, such as in North Carolina, that CAFO hog waste caused major declines in water quality and massive fish kills. Locals observed that water quality had declined and algae blooms increased since the Mount Judea CAFO started operating.
“The more you learn about CAFOs, the more you see how terrible they are,” Stewart said. “But that is a worldwide issue. These big corporations are sending their method of so-called agriculture all over the world. My issue is that we promised the nation, when we set aside the area around the Buffalo River, that we were going to protect it for present and future generations. If we can’t protect the Buffalo River, everything is vulnerable.”
About claims that the settlement subverted the claims process, Stewart said it didn’t go through the state claims commission, which has a low limit on the amount of money channeled through it.
“It was about as upfront as it could be because to say the buyout was going to happen would have made the price would go up,” Stewart, a former member of the National Audubon Society Board of Directors, said. “It had to be done tactfully because C&H was under pressure with these lawsuits. One thing that took them into being willing to negotiate was the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed to take our case.”
BRWA had argued that a local judge didn’t have jurisdiction over ADEQ in acting to give C&H permission to continue to operate on an expired permit while the issue made its way through the courts.
Once the buyout was announced, that lawsuit was put on hold. But Stewart said they haven’t backed off on it yet because they want everything finalized before dropping the lawsuit.
Another concern was that the settlement could let the C&H owners off the hook for future liability. But Stewart said there is nothing in writing that exonerates C&H from future liability if it is found it harmed endangered species or caused other environmental degradation.
“Have they been exonerated? No, they have not,” he said. “The governor took responsibility for ADEQ even though it wasn’t under his administration. Our lawyers tell us that C&H still could be liable for damage, particularly if it is an endangered species. I have to give the governor credit. This was tough politically to buck the Farm Bureau. It took a lot of his political skills. And our understanding is that his office has been flooded with thank you calls.”
The impact from the hog waste is expected to continue for years. Flyovers have shown the hog lagoons are full.
“We plan to carefully monitor the cleanup process as soon as details are made available and there will be a public comment period,” Stewart said. “We have also hired a consulting firm.”
One other concern was that another hog operation could come into the same area if there is not a permanent moratorium on not just large, but also medium CAFOs. Stewart said ADEQ made it clear in the just-released permanent moratorium language that medium CAFOs will also be prohibited.
“We will be watching closely in case there is an attempt to weaken any part of the language during the comment period,” Stewart said.
Stewart thinks it highly unlikely another CAFO will be allowed to operate in the karst geology of the Buffalo River watershed and ADEQ is now taking a harder look before permitting similar facilities in the state.
The issue has had implications far beyond Arkansas. Recently a CAFO was turned town in Michigan in a karst area after the Buffalo National River case was referenced. Also, because of concerns raised in BRWA lawsuits about the way that funding was approved, the Small Business Administration and the Farm Service Agency have changed procedures for loan guarantees of this type.
The Buffalo River was first threatened by dams in the 1960s. The dams were stopped and the Buffalo became the first national river in 1972. The first big threat had the bumper sticker slogan: Save the Buffalo River. The hog waste issue’s bumper sticker said: Save the Buffalo River Again. Stewart said they now have a new bumper sticker: Save the Buffalo River Forever.
Foreigners get large slice of pork aid
by Nathan Owens | July 12, 2019 at 1:48 a.m.
Some of the world's largest meat processors have won bids, worth tens of millions of dollars, from a federal program set up last year to help pork farmers stung by the ongoing trade war.
JBS USA, a subsidiary owned by a Brazilian meatpacker, has been awarded the lion's share of the bids, while competitors Tyson Foods, Cargill and others have earned far less, according to bid award data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Trade Mitigation Program, established after major trade partners China, Canada, Mexico and others began retaliating against the U.S. for tariffs placed on imports, were meant to offset harm to U.S. farmers and producers. Critics argue the companies obtaining most of the federal support are foreign-based and shouldn't be eligible for the program, even if the growers live in the U.S. However, industry veterans say the farmers will feel relief in the form of a trickle-down effect from the meatpacker.
"It's a foreign-owned company and getting U.S. support payments. On the surface, it sounds a little non-kosher, if you will, but it's still U.S. product raised by U.S. producers," said Travis Justice, chief economist of the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
Analysis of the data shows $300 million has been allocated to pork so far. It was first reported by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit newsroom.
According to the results, JBS USA has won $78 million in pork contracts so far, followed by Goodman Foods and Lakeside Foods. Contracts from the program have gone to pork producers Tyson Foods, which received about $28 million; Cargill got $6 million; and Smithfield got $240,000.
JBS USA got 26% of the allocated funds by leveraging its size and undercutting the competition. The world's largest meat producer bid an average of $2.56 per pound for 5-pound pork loin cuts, while competitors bid an average of $3.80 per pound, the Midwest Center reported.
Last August, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue signed off on the mitigation program, which included direct payments to farmers, as well as $1.2 billion worth of crops grown by farmers that were targeted by trade partners. Of the list of commodities facing retaliatory tariffs, pork was hit hardest, resulting in $558 million of planned pork purchases.
The hope is that taking supply off the market will raise pork prices and be beneficial to the farmer, said Chad Hart, an agricultural economist with Iowa State University.
"It's been hard to tell what this program's done because it's caught up in the wash of African swine fever," Hart said. The disease, which kills almost all pigs infected, has ravaged swine herds in China.
Looking at last summer's market prices, when the program was announced, he said today's prices are stronger.
"This procurement is part of it, but I'd argue a relatively small part of it," Hart said.
Others are concerned with how the money is being used. Nine U.S. senators sent a letter recently to Perdue urging him to stop making trade mitigation purchases from foreign-owned companies out of concern they won't benefit farmers. While the USDA allowed Smithfield, a company owned by the Chinese, to terminate its purchasing contract, the department also awarded a series of contracts to JBS and "has not established sufficient procedures to ensure that taxpayer-funded trade assistance for American farmers is not ultimately benefiting foreign companies," they said in the letter dated May 29.
"There really needs to be an examination of how this program is being administered and who is getting these awards," said Tony Corbo, a senior lobbyist with Food & Water Watch, a corporate watchdog group.
"The thing is, JBS is making money and they are not giving this back to the farmers," he said. "It's outrageous that a company that is not hurting is able to do this.”
JBS also has a murky reputation. Aside from the owners' recent arrests and involvement in a corruption investigation, the company's U.S. beef operations were also fined $50,000 by the USDA for not accurately tracking weights, grades and prices for carcasses.
"We used to argue about big versus small, now we are seeing more of a domestic versus international, and I think that's going to be part of the debate as we move forward," Hart said.
Most of the nation's hog farmers are in the Midwest or along the East Coast. According to Justice, the few dozens left in Arkansas raise under contract for Tyson, Cargill or JBS USA. How the payments benefit farmers is through a sort of "trickle down" effect, Justice said.
The trade mitigation payments help maintain contracts between the growers and companies, known as integrators, he said. In general, the integrators own the animals and feed and bear most of the processing costs that growers would otherwise have to face if they owned the animals.
"I guess growers would benefit indirectly," Justice said about the USDA's trade payments.
Business on 07/12/2019
After six years, countless rallies, fundraisers, letter-writing campaigns, lawsuits and legal actions, visits to the capitol, miles of travel to hearings at agencies and the legislature, we finally got the news that the 6500-head hog confined feeding operation (CAFO) impacting the Buffalo National River would be closing.
Jessie Thomas-Blate | July 11, 2019
This guest blog by Lin Wellford is a part of our series on America’s Most Endangered Rivers®. The Buffalo National River was included in this report in 2017 and 2019.
The news is still sinking in.
People told us it would never happen.
They said once these kinds of facilities are permitted, you can never get rid of them.
But here in Arkansas, the public refused to back down.
People who love the Buffalo River united in opposition to subjugating a national river to the abuse of industrial interests. A global corporation convinced three contract growers to get into large-scale hog raising in a rural area that just happened to be less than seven miles upstream of a major tributary to the Buffalo National River.
Supporters of the CAFO, including the powerful voice of the Farm Bureau, claimed that the owner/operators had done nothing wrong, and that there was no proof that more than two million gallons of hog waste spread onto fields and other areas had anything to do with the rapid explosion of algal growth that was soon noticed by visitors. The CAFO, employing eight to ten locals, was soon threatening the livelihood of nearly one thousand neighbors whose businesses, restaurants and float services depended on the steady flow of visitors to a clean and beautiful Buffalo River. No one wants to paddle or swim in a waterway filled with green gook!
Through working to save the river, we all learned some important lessons.
After the Buffalo National River was first selected for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers® list in 2017, I looked at other waterways on the list and realized how many of them, like the Buffalo, are being damaged by the operations of industries who make money by cutting corners, by paying fines rather than correcting mistakes, or refusing to accept any responsibility. When industries pump their waste into rivers through pipes, it is easy to see where pollution is coming from. Now many industries create more elusive non-point source pollution, which is caused by runoff or infiltration into groundwater that then reaches waterways. Often citizens and non-profits are left to prove the industrial players are the ones causing damage.
But I learned something else, too.
Industries may have money to buy influence, but they can’t buy the votes or the passion of individuals who care about our waterways.
When people unite and speak out, when they begin contacting elected officials, writing letters to editors, and hosting meetings and getting loud about what’s happening, they can make things change. Maybe not all at once or as fast as they would like, but relentless passion and action is a force!
We who love the Buffalo River are grateful to American Rivers. They helped to amplify the plight of our river, and their supporters from across the country got involved by responding to action alerts. Each voice raised added to the volume until a tipping point was reached.
The governor got the message!
Don’t be afraid to speak to your representatives at your state’s legislature.Industries have lobbyists working fulltime to influence lawmakers. However, keep in mind that decent lawmakers will listen to constituents who take the time to reach out to them, to keep them informed, and to build relationships and credibility. We were told by many state representatives and senators that they appreciated that we made the effort to meet with them and tell them the other side of the story.
Most of all, don’t give up hope.
Supporters of the Buffalo National River thank everyone who helped us in any way. We are proof that David can take down Goliath.
Please continue to care for our shared water resources. They are worthy of our efforts, even if it will be our grandchildren who reap the benefits.
Lin Wellford has made her home in the Ozarks for more than 40 years. A retired author/artist, she now devotes her talents to environmental issues and community causes.
Lien check on track, Arkansas governor tells panel; search a condition of hog-farm buyout
by John Moritz
Gov. Asa Hutchinson assured legislative leaders in a letter this week that his office is checking for any liens on the Newton County hog farm where the state plans to spend $6.2 million for a conservation easement that would close the farm in the Buffalo River watershed.
Concerns that an unknown lien on C&H Hog Farms could derail the state's efforts to buy out the farm's owners led lawmakers in June to request that such a check be conducted before state money is spent on the easement.
The purchase of a conservation easement on the farm was announced by Hutchinson on June 13, as a proposed settlement to a long-running controversy about the farm's operation along a tributary that feeds into the Buffalo National River, one of the state's most emblematic tourist draws.
Money for the easement is expected to come mostly out of the state's "rainy-day" fund, with additional funding provided by the private Nature Conservancy and grants.
Based on the governor's assurances, the Legislative Council's co-chairmen -- Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, and Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage -- signed off on the transfer of up to $6.2 million in rainy-day funds.
Hutchinson said none of the money will be spent until the state is given assurances that it has priority lien status on the property.
"We are currently awaiting receipt of a title opinion," the governor said in his letter. "If there is not clear title, the funds will not be placed into the Escrow Account and the agreement will not be executed."
J.R. Davis, a spokesman for the governor, said the opinion is being prepared by the First National Title Co., an Arkansas company.
In their own letter to the governor's state budget director sent later Tuesday, both Bledsoe and Wardlaw asked for a full accounting of the amount of money spent on the easement by both state and private sources.
According to Davis, the state is planning to spend $3.7 million from the total amount approved to be spent from the rainy-day fund. Another $1 million is expected to come from the Nature Conservancy, and $1.5 million will come from grants from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council.
In a phone call Wednesday, Wardlaw said the governor's letter "100% addresses" concerns that were raised by lawmakers during a June 21 meeting.
"Our legal people at the [Bureau of Legislative Affairs] agree," Wardlaw said.
Those concerns were raised by Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, who said at the committee meeting that any outside liens that had priority over the state's easement could result in the state "throwing away" money dedicated to the project.
Neither Hickey nor Bledsoe responded to requests for comment late Wednesday.
The hog farm, owned by Jason Henson, Richard Campbell and Philip Campbell, opened in 2013 and has since drawn concerns from environmental groups over the possibility of hog manure leaking into the Buffalo River. While the river is on a state list of water bodies impaired by E. coli, no link has been found between the bacteria and C&H Farms.
Information for this article was contributed by Michael R. Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Metro on 07/11/2019
Buffalo River debacle
All Arkansans owe columnist Mike Masterson a huge "thank you" for having kept up with and written about the various thrusts and parries resulting from the assault on the Buffalo River. Without his estimated 100 factual columns over the last six years, most of us would not have known how to help "save the river" again.
Assuming that the director of the Department of Environmental Quality really did not know about the permit granted to the owners of C&H Hog Farms, have those employees who allowed this debacle been fired? If not, why not?
SUZANNE V. HAMILTON
LIN WELLFORD and TERESA TURK: Our river saved
We can’t let this happen again by Lin Wellford and Teresa Turk Special to the Democrat-Gazette | Today at 1:47 a.m.
Thank you, Governor Hutchinson, for stepping up for your state and our national river. It took real courage and commitment to go against the standard political grain and stalwart Farm Bureau to hammer out an agreement to close C&H Hog Farms.
As you noted in your announcement, this operation should never have been permitted in the first place. The original permit was flawed in numerous ways. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality did not require nor review critical information that would have indicated this was just about the worst place in the state to locate a 2.5 million-gallon per year pollution-generating operation.
Among their oversights were karst-laden geology subject to sinkholes, fractured underground channels, and shallow, porous fields allowing for rapid movement of waste and nutrients. Also flawed environmental assessments that were rushed in order to get the CAFO built before the public could learn of it, fraudulent land leases and forged signatures submitted by C&H to make it appear more acreage was available for manure spreading, and a nutrient management plan which included an unaccounted-for 80 percent loss of phosphorus when the actual amount, according to expert witnesses, is zero percent.
The department should have caught these obvious problems and C&H should not have submitted inaccurate land leases nor hired a nutrient management planner who allegedly manipulated the numbers to make this operation appear environmentally acceptable under the Arkansas Phosphorus Index.
That fact alone, without considering any leakage from the lagoons, means 80 percent more nutrients were applied to the watershed and accounts for the alarming growth of algae and pervasive blooms that made it obvious that something was very wrong with the river within just a few years' time.
As farming has become industrialized and corporations have moved in, the scale of operations has changed dramatically, but the regulations placed on those operations have not changed. Old McDonald's Farm maintained a balance of nutrients produced and nutrients used. Growing thousands of large animals in enclosed buildings, importing feed from elsewhere and calling the waste produced "fertilizer" knocks the environment out of balance, contributing to the rapid decline in waterway health and to a growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
Farm Bureau claims to speak for American agriculture, but it is made up of paid lobbyists for corporate agriculture interests, leaving independent farmers to struggle. They may try to frame the closure of C&H as a "right to farm" issue, but it is actually a "right to harm" issue, where certain entities claim the right to damage shared resources for private profit, then stick the public with the bill for cleanup.
This is personal for the thousands of people who enjoy floating, hiking and swimming in the Buffalo National River, and for the businesses which depend on those visitors for their living. It is personal for Arkansans who take pride in being the first in something good instead of last place by most standards. It is personal because we all need clean water to drink and recreate. Why should one "farm" be able to muck up the first national river designated to be enjoyed by all?
A recent poll showed that 90 percent of Arkansans across the political spectrum want to preserve our healthy and beautiful water resources. Arkansas taxpayers are footing most of the bill to get C&H out of the watershed, and we will pay the price for years to come as excess nutrients continue to be flushed into the Buffalo River.
If anything helped move this effort, it is the passion of Arkansas citizens to protect the river they love. To save our river, we had to pay off the polluter. Let's make sure this never happens again by refusing to reward future bad behavior. Let's ensure Arkansas has strong and transparent protective laws, as well as effective and enforced environmental regulations.
Thank you, Governor Hutchinson, for taking back our river from the clutches of special interests!
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization
Copyright @ 2019