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  • 29 Dec 2019 8:43 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)



    The 2020 wish list

    by Rex Nelson 

    I've never been a fan of New Year's resolutions. And I'm certainly not a fan of the New Year's resolution newspaper column, which always seems contrived. But as another year of traveling Arkansas comes to a close, I do have a list of things I would like see happen in our state in 2020.

    • I would like to see Arkansans focus more on keeping the state's streams clean. We're blessed with beautiful rivers, creeks and bayous. In a place that markets itself as the Natural State, however, we've too often been guilty of, at best, ignoring our natural treasures. At worst, we've polluted and channelized them.

    The biggest policy story in Arkansas in 2019 came when Gov. Asa Hutchinson took the courageous stand of having the state enter into a $6.2 million buyout agreement with C&H Hog Farms, which operated in the Buffalo National River watershed. I use the term "courageous" because the governor bucked powerful special interests in order to protect the first stream in the United States to be designated as a national river.

    Want an example of how bitter these special interests still are about his decision? Try this on for size: I was fired from my gig of emceeing the annual Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame banquet for having supported the governor's position.

    The large-scale hog farm and its manure ponds were on Big Creek, 6.6 miles from where it flows into the Buffalo. My hope is that the media attention on the fight to protect the Buffalo will encourage groups and individuals across the state to adopt other streams. The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission has a program called Stream Teams that can facilitate those efforts. If we're truly the Natural State, that program should be the strongest of its type in the country.

    • While we're at it, it would be nice to see additional affiliates of the Keep Arkansas Beautiful program formed across the state. God gave us a gorgeous place to live, but we do an effective job of trashing it. There should be dozens of new Keep Arkansas Beautiful chapters with thousands of volunteers picking up trash, planting wildflowers and doing other things to improve the quality of life for residents of Arkansas. Outside of the state's natural beauty, the things that strike me most as I travel Arkansas on a weekly basis are the junk in yards and the trash along the highways. Some days I want to cry. It's high time that we clean up our act.

    • I would like to see the governor and the 135 members of the Legislature finally come to the realization that there's far more to education than K-12. We've starved higher education in this state for years, and it's starting to bite us. Henderson State University, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Monticello all changed presidents or chancellors this year in the wake of severe financial problems. In the knowledge-based economy of the 21st century, we must have more people with either an associate's degree from one of the state's 22 two-year schools or a bachelor's degree, a master's degree or a doctorate from one of its four-year colleges or universities. Here's the bottom line: We're not going to make a serious move in increasing per capita income in Arkansas until that happens. For the life of me, I can't figure out why our legislators don't get it.

    • I would like to see those who are already positioning themselves to run for governor in 2022 realize that Arkansas' turnaround the past 50 years has been due in part to a string of moderate, pragmatic governors. From 1940-60, Arkansas lost a higher percentage of its population than any other state. We've been gaining population since the late 1960s. What happened? Since the election of Winthrop Rockefeller as governor in 1966, we've been fortunate to have a series of pragmatists in the governor's office. Five of those governors have been Democrats. Four have been Republicans. None governed from the far right or far left. The last thing Arkansas needs at this point in its history is an ideologue in the governor's mansion. Arkansas voters need to pay close attention to how potential candidates present themselves.

    • I would like to see business and civic leaders quit viewing economic development as landing manufacturing plants (you've been stuck in that mode since the 1950s and it's no longer working) and instead focus on the things that attract talented people to a state: revitalized downtowns, improved parks, hiking and biking trails, restaurants and craft breweries, historic preservation. Economic development has changed but there unfortunately are still plenty of chamber of commerce types out there who haven't gotten the message.

    • I would like to see the remaining small daily newspapers and weekly newspapers across this state thrive along with the handful of radio stations that have the courage to focus on local news and information. Democracy in Arkansas will suffer without media watchdogs in all 75 counties. These are the people who keep an eye on school boards, city councils and county quorum courts. We here at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette can't cover it all.

    It has been a sad period for newspapers in Arkansas. In one fell swoop, for example, that evil media empire known as Gatehouse left my entire home area (Arkadelphia, Gurdon, Prescott and Hope) without local newspapers. This is dangerous. It's time for Arkansans to support newspapers with their subscriptions and Arkansas businesses to support newspapers and those radio stations that cover local events with their advertising dollars. Believe me, you'll miss local media when it's gone.

    • I would like to see landowners become partners in the quail restoration efforts being undertaken by Quail Forever and the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission. These efforts not only will result in the return of the bobwhite (quail hunting was once an integral part of the rural culture of Arkansas) but also aid songbirds and pollinators. Once again it comes down to either being the Natural State or just claiming to be in ads.

    • I would like to see the tens of thousands of acres of marginal farmland in the Arkansas Delta that were cleared for crop production back when soybean prices were high returned to bottomland hardwoods. The Walton Family Foundation has been involved in this effort. With all due respect to the quality-of-life projects the foundation has undertaken in northwest Arkansas, there's nothing this well-funded organization could do that would have more of a positive long-term effect on Arkansas than hardwood restoration.

    • There are three major things that can still unite people in all 75 counties of what's otherwise a highly disparate state. They are a pragmatic, smart, charismatic governor who understands all parts of Arkansas; a strong statewide newspaper; and the athletic program at the University of Arkansas.

    Along those lines, I selfishly hope that Arkansans will get subscriptions to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, which is going digital-only six days a week in 63 of the 75 counties. We're about the last man standing when it comes to statewide newspapers that try to cover news, business and sports in every county of a state.

    I would also like to see Hunter Yurachek, the UA athletic director, come to the realization that the Razorback football team needs to play in Little Rock every season, not every other season. In his years as athletic director, Jeff Long destroyed the statewide support it had taken Frank Broyles four decades to build. Annual Little Rock games are key to rebuilding that support. It's about far more than sports. It's about uniting a state. I trust that Yurachek is smart enough to realize that. At least he's trying to understand this unique place called Arkansas, something Long never did.


    Rex Nelson is a senior editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

    Editorial on 12/29/2019

  • 10 Dec 2019 3:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    FRAN ALEXANDER: The problem with poop

    Manure on ground can mean it’s in the water

    Nope, the fat lady hasn't sung yet. This opera just goes on and on as the story of the second saving of Arkansas' Buffalo River keeps unfolding. But its future still hangs on a low note of which few people are aware. Supporters of a clean river must don their horned helmets yet again to go forth into what, hopefully, is the final battle to save the country's first national river from hog manure.

    I know the hog farm is closing. And yes, I know that Gov. Asa Hutchinson did what Gov. Mike Beebe should have done. He finally spearheaded the closure of an operation that should never have been permitted. The state and the Nature Conservancy anted up more than $6 million to compensate the farm owners for their investment. The governor has set up the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee to develop a non-regulatory watershed-based management plan. And he also has established the Buffalo River Conservation Committee "to prioritize and fund projects that would be supported by farmers and the local communities." But, most importantly, the governor supports a permanent moratorium on medium and large (swine) confined animal feeding operations, known in government circles as CAFOs, in the river's watershed.

    So, why can't that mythical, plump soprano sing loudly in joy and jubilation declaring an end to this manure madness? Well, because that last item, the permanent moratorium, has to pass by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, then the state's Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, and then be approved, or not, by the Arkansas Legislative Council to become a reality. So, this saga ain't over yet.

    The five-year moratorium on swine feeding operations in this watershed runs out next year, which is why there is a push for a permanent solution. Arkansas citizens have already sent in statements this year regarding this moratorium, with four hundred commenters supporting permanent protection and two opposed: the Farm Bureau and the Arkansas Pork Producers Association.

    Politics and power being what they are, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission has agreed to reopen the moratorium question for yet more comments until Jan. 22. Ostensibly this 90-day period is for review of a report on the farm's nutrient management and the impact on Big Creek, the tributary to the Buffalo that runs near the hog farm. I doubt anything in this report changes what pig poop is made of, however, nor solves the engineering conundrum that water runs downhill and takes stuff along with it.

    Water not only runs downhill, it also seeps into the ground. When spread over hillside fields with thin soil cover, hog manure doesn't just sit there. Too much of this fertilizer oversaturates the soil, and then travels into creeks, rivers and underground springs. Phosphorus feeds algae growth, which has led sections of Big Creek and the Buffalo River to be declared "impaired." This status can mean fishing, swimming and canoeing are affected negatively or are prohibited if severe enough to warrant health risks. Algae blooms can also wreak havoc on ecosystems in the water and on land.

    It is logical that if only one large feeding operation has been degrading the water this much that more swine farms would destroy this river, considered by many to be the state's greatest tourist attraction. It is just foolish and dangerous to ever allow industrial farming operations in this geologically unsuitable area of the state.

    What this new comment period (now active until 4:30 p.m. Jan. 22) means is that we must comment again, or for the first time if you're new to this issue, to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality at: reg-comment@adeq.state.ar.us. Or, written comments go to: Jacob Harper, Department of Energy and Environment, 5301 Northshore Drive, North Little Rock, AR 72118.

    As an early Christmas gift to yourself, to the state and to the nation, please send your comments in now so you don't forget before the deadline. And, also thank the governor for supporting a permanent moratorium on confined animal feeding operations in this watershed. His stand on this issue may become one of his most notable accomplishments.

    If you want to learn more, check out the website of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which has pushed for saving this river from pollution for six long years. This fight has been one marked by great endurance fed by love for this river.

    Nowadays instead of "Save the Buffalo River -- Again!" the mission of all the people of Arkansas should be to "Save the Buffalo River -- Forever! "

    Commentary on 12/10/2019

  • 08 Dec 2019 8:39 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Springfield News-Leader

    Pokin Around: I thought we liked local control over local issues; just not with CAFOs?

    Steve Pokin, Springfield News-LeaderPublished 10:00 p.m. CT Dec. 7, 2019

    Back in November, two of the three members of the Greene County Board of Commissioners failed, in my view,  to stand up for local control over what might become a local issue.

    The comments made by Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon bothered me then and they bother me today.

    Dixon explained in November that he would not ask the commission to vote on a non-binding resolution criticizing a new state law on concentrated area feeding operations (CAFOs) because he didn't want to upset the Republican lawmakers from Greene County who voted for it.

    My first thought: Does Dixon realize he's no longer a Republican state lawmaker?

    He became presiding commissioner after serving eight years in the House and another eight in the state Senate. He is a Republican, as are the other two commissioners — Harold Bengsch and John C. Russell, who was appointed to the board by Republican Gov. Mike Parson in January.

    I've always found Dixon to be thoughtful. I too will do my best to be thoughtful in this column.

    When voters chose Dixon as presiding commissioner in November 2018, they weren't sending him back to Jefferson City.

    He was elected to represent those of us here at the Greene County level.

    I don't remember him pledging in his campaign: "Bob Dixon: I Promise to Never Upset Our GOP State Lawmakers."

    The resolution was brought to the county by two City Council members: Andy Lear and Mike Schilling, a former Democratic state representative. Council members do not have to run as Republicans or Democrats.

    Lear and Schilling view the new law as an intrusion into local control of local issues.

    The law says that no local governmental body, including and most importantly counties, can have tighter controls on CAFO operations than the state of Missouri.

    A CAFO is an operation in which thousands of pigs or chickens can be housed in roofed buildings on a single property.

    CAFOs have prompted concerns about water pollution and manure-fueled odors here and in other states — including Iowa, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Arkansas.

    In Arkansas, a hog farm was approved years ago in the watershed of an Ozarks treasure, the Buffalo National River.

    The hog farm, six miles from the Buffalo, ended operations in June, when Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the shutdown.

    Up until June, the owners of C&H Hog Farms, with support from the Arkansas Farm Bureau, had resisted efforts to close or relocate.

    Hearings had dragged on for years as environmentalists argued that the porous limestone beneath the hog CAFO allowed waste to seep into the water table and that the land application of waste had contributed to runoff polluting a nearby stream that feeds into the Buffalo.

    Do we really need to suck up?

    Here in Missouri, the Missouri Farm Bureau was the main backer of the new state law, along with the Missouri Cattlemen's Association. 

    Although no vote was taken on the non-binding resolution in November, the commissioners explained where they stood to News-Leader reporter Austin Huguelet.

    Dixon said he did not want to ruffle the feathers of our GOP state lawmakers.

    "That creates a very large risk for us given how helpful the delegation was to the

    county this year," Dixon said.

    He pointed out that the Republican-dominated assembly recently allocated money for a new county judge here.

    I have to ask: Do we really run the risk of being short-changed as a county if we don't suck up to our state reps?

    If so, what does that say about our state reps?

    (Greene County has only one Democratic state representative: Crystal Quade.)

    Commissioner Russell agreed with Dixon, but he also said he didn't think the new

    law would affect Greene County's regulations and didn't think a statement would help

    anyone else.

    "If I thought it would do something and this would fix something, I would probably be

    much more supportive," he said.

    I'll respond to that in a minute when I tell you about the entirely different path taken by the all-Republican commission up in Cedar County.

    Our third commissioner, Harold Bengsch, disagreed with Dixon and, in my view, saw exactly what the issue is.

    Every year, he said, the Greene County Commission asks lawmakers to avoid legislation that takes power away from local officials.

    Yet, the legislature passed the CAFO law and another one making it difficult for the commission to regulate the construction of a controversial cell tower.

    "I think we have an opportunity here to pass a statement confirming and supporting

    our longstanding request that usurping legislation at the local level is not done,"

    Bengsch said.

    In a nutshell, CAFO farm operations — which do not necessarily have to be owned and operated by large corporations that are located in foreign lands — want an even playing field throughout Missouri. They want to face the same rules and regulations across our 114 counties.

    It makes things simpler, easier and — from their perspective — fairer.

    State laws and federal laws already cover all possible concerns and controversies, they argue.

    They also contend that they want approval for CAFO operations to be based on science, not emotion and unfounded fear.

    The main argument against that, as Bengsch said: Who decides whether all possible concerns and controversies are already covered by state and federal law?

    Opponents of the state law also believe that state and federal laws regarding CAFOs do not take into account local geology.

    In other words, you need local rules to factor in local springs, local rivers, local watersheds and the porous karst topography of the Ozarks.

    Thirdly, should one side — the Missouri Farm Bureau and other proponents of CAFOs — close further and all discussion on what the science of water pollution does or does not say?

    A different path in Cedar County

    "The topography of Missouri south of the Missouri River is different from north of the river," says Marlon Collins, presiding commissioner of Cedar County.

    Collins and his fellow commissioners — all Republicans — have sued the state over what they see as an encroachment on local control regarding CAFO regulations. Cedar County is footing part of the bill for an outside law firm.

    By the way, all the state lawmakers from Cedar County are Republicans.

    "I campaigned for those folks and helped put their signs up," he says.

    "We have El Dorado Springs, Jericho Springs, Cedar Springs, we have the Sac River, we have Cedar Creek, we have Horse Creek," he tells me. "We have springs all over this county and sinkholes."

    The Cedar County rules regarding CAFOs were established after months of meetings with county residents, he says.

    "We heard from our local farmers who were making complaints about the small CAFOs coming in," he says. "We had public hearings."

    "The state laws are pretty weak — one size fits all," he tells me.

    He says no one has filed to run against him in the next election.

    "All I've been hearing since we filed the lawsuit is, 'Hey, don't let them do that to us."

    Cedar County, thus far, has received no political backlash from a miffed GOP state lawmaker who voted for the state law.

    But Collins admits, "I am worried about repercussions from them."

    He and the other commissioners were or are members of the Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Cattlemen's Association.

    "We are not anti-CAFO, although they try to portray us that way," he says. "We have been portrayed as being anti-farmer. We are not.

    "There has to be a proper place and a proper procedure and some standards that have to be met."

    Those standards should be local, not statewide, he says, and Cedar County is willing to fight for that belief.

    Finally: Did you know Stockton Lake, Springfield's No. 2 source of drinking water, is in Cedar County?

    If you ask me, Cedar County should send part of its legal bill to Greene County.

  • 23 Nov 2019 8:25 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Joplin Globe

    Our view: An expensive lesson in Arkansas could bring a better vision for Missouri

    Joplin Globe Editorial Board

    Our Arkansas neighbors learned an expensive lesson, and we hope Missouri was paying attention.

    Now they are forging a better vision that we think might also offer us a way forward.

    About seven years ago, Arkansas regulators quietly permitted a hog concentrated animal feeding operation on a major tributary of the upper Buffalo River in Arkansas — a river that has been protected for nearly a half century. Not even the National Park Service, which is responsible for managing America's first national river, was aware of what had happened until after the deal was done.

    The result sparked outcry and pushback from all corners, and not just from the state of Arkansas but around the country as well, and this summer Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced an agreement to close down the hog farm, but at a high price. The state would pay $4.7 million while The Nature Conservancy kicked in $1.5 million to help out, in effect paying the hog farm's owners $6.2 million to shut down what the state should never have permitted in the first place.

    That was the expensive lesson.

    This fall, Arkansas officials also announced that $2 million in state and private funds (half from the state, the rest to come from that old Ozarks' ally, The Nature Conservancy and from the Buffalo River Foundation) will be allocated for conservation and water quality grants within the Buffalo's watershed. Last week, lawmakers gave final approval to transfer the state's share of the money to the fund, with it to be used to encourage best management practices for farmers and landowners in the watershed, for local wastewater system improvements and to reduce sediment runoff from unpaved roads near the river.

    The governor, by the way, also has proposed making permanent a ban on medium- and large-scale hog farms in the Buffalo River watershed.

    That is the better vision — a partnership to protect the river — perhaps with a new round of conservation efforts and a cooperative approach, with the state not getting in the way but rather leading the way.

    “We want the protection and enhancement of water quality in the Buffalo River Watershed to continue as a state-led effort,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in September. “Now that the watershed management plan is in place, it is the right time to engage with stakeholders and landowners to start implementing projects that make a difference. The Buffalo National River is an irreplaceable resource, both for Arkansas and the nation."

    A 2018 National Park Service visitor spending effects report, by the way, estimated that 1.2 million visitors spent $54.9 million while visiting Buffalo National River last year.

    A similar report found that 1.3 million visitors to Ozark National Scenic Riverways — Missouri's protected rivers managed by the National Park Service — had a net boost to the local economy of $60 million.

    The message from latest Battle for the Buffalo is clear: Ozark residents want their rivers protected.

    Lawmakers throughout both states would be wise to heed those lessons.

  • 22 Nov 2019 1:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Listen at KUAF Public Radio

    Public Comment on ADEQ Swine CAFO Moratorium Extended


    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality has extended a public comment period to Jan. 22 on whether to declare a permanent moratorium on industrial swine farming on the Buffalo National River watershed.

  • 20 Nov 2019 8:17 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Wach video here: KY3 TV

    Arkansas lawmakers clear up Buffalo River Watershed proposal

    NEWTON COUNTY, Ark. -- One million dollars flowing into projects near the Buffalo National River seemed like a straightforward plan to some.

    "It was for things like erosion-control projects, fencing for cattle to keep them out of the creeks. Things that I thought were a no-brainer," said Gordon Watkins, the president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance.

    Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson proposed spending the money back in September.

    A committee made up of state leaders would decide how much money would go to each project. Subcommittees of local people who live near the river would help.

    "The governor will pick out who they are," said State Rep. Keith Slape.

    But Slape said after holding some public meetings in northern Arkansas, some farmers initially expressed they were not all on board.

    Hutchinson's order came right after the state reached an agreement with C&H Hog Farms to cease operations in Newton County in exchange for $6.2 million.

    Many people believed the farm contributed to pollution in the river, but there appears to be no concrete scientific evidence to back that up.

    And other farmers don't want to be next.

    "They were worried that, OK they've got the hogs out of here. Now they're going to go for the cattle, the chickens, and that. And on the surface that's what it appeared at first," Slape said.

    Slape said farmers were also worried the state would have too much control of the process.

    But the state representative and other lawmakers helped change the wording.

    It's now clear the subcommittees made up of local people will have a lot of the say.

    "There's a history of here of distrust of the government, and people who say there's no such thing as free money," Watkins said. "And in some cases that's probably true. But in this case I think it was an honest effort. It was well-intentioned by the governor."

  • 18 Nov 2019 9:26 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

    Nation’s Leading Public Health Organization Urges Halt to All New and Expanding CAFOs

    New Policy Implores Agencies to Impose Moratorium to Protect Public Health  

    November 18, 2019

    The American Public Health Association (APHA) enacted a new policy statement advising federal, state, and local governments and public health agencies to impose a moratorium on all new and expanding concentrated feeding animal operations (CAFOs). The new policy recommends a complete halt until additional scientific data have been collected and any public health concerns associated with CAFOs are addressed.

    The Precautionary Moratorium on New and Expanding Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations statement was developed by APHA members in collaboration with individual members from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF). The statement outlines the urgent need for full compliance with the policy and provides twelve action steps that span from ending the routine use of medically important antibiotics in food animal production to providing a mechanism that requires large scale producers to report environmental emissions hazards.

    “CAFOs are the dominant production model for food animals in the United States, but government oversight and policies designed to safeguard the health of individuals and the environment from these operations have been inadequate,” says Bob Martin, director of the Food System Policy Program at the CLF. “This policy statement puts the public’s health first and if observed, it has the potential to protect the health of some of our nation’s most vulnerable communities.”

    “Since CLF’s founding in 1996, a priority focus of our work has been to understand and address the public health implications of industrial food animal production. Our research and policy activities have linked this method of food production to a number of serious public health challenges,” says Martin Bloem, MD, director of the CLF and the Robert S. Lawrence Professor of Environmental Health with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. “We are pleased that the nation’s leading public health organization has taken a stand on this critical public health issue. All public health professionals, advocates, and policymakers should keep this new APHA policy statement in mind as they work to protect health and improve our food system.”

    CAFOs confine large numbers of animals of the same species—such as beef and dairy cattle, swine, broilers (poultry raised for meat consumption) and laying hens—on a small area of land. The scale, density, and practices associated with these operations present a range of public health and ecological hazards, including large volumes of untreated animal waste, the release of environmental contaminants to air, water, and soil, and the generation and spread of antibiotic-resistant pathogens. A growing body of evidence shows how CAFOs are directly associated with occupational and community health risks, as well as the social and economic decline of rural communities.

    “Research has consistently found that living near CAFOs is associated with an array of negative health impacts, including respiratory disease, mental health problems, and certain types of infections,” adds Keeve Nachman, PhD, director of the Food Production and Public Health Program with the CLF and an assistant professor with the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health and Engineering. “It’s critical that we work diligently and swiftly to close the knowledge gaps related to the public health and environmental challenges associated with this method of food animal production.”

    Founded in 1996, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) has been addressing some of the most pressing issues in the food system while advancing public health and protecting the environment. As an interdisciplinary academic center based within the Bloomberg School of Public Health, CLF is a leader in public health research, education, policy, and advocacy that is dedicated to building a healthier, more equitable, and resilient food system.

  • 13 Nov 2019 9:59 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Panel backs shift of $1M in state funds for watershed projects

    by Michael R. Wickline

    A legislative committee Tuesday endorsed Gov. Asa Hutchinson's request to transfer $1 million in one-time state funds to the state Department of Agriculture to support grants and projects within the Buffalo National River watershed.

    In a voice vote, the Legislative Council's Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Committee recommended that the council approve the Republican governor's request when it meets Friday.

    Last month, the committee skipped making a recommendation to the Legislative Council on the request, and then the full council delayed action on it.

    Hutchinson said in a letter dated Nov. 1 that he is seeking the council's approval of his request this month, after, "as requested by the council, my staff and I fulfilled the requests to meet with legislators and their constituents to answer any questions that may have caused concern."

    The House and Senate Public Health, Welfare and Labor committees met Oct. 30 in Jasper and Marshall to hear public comment about Hutchinson's executive order creating the Buffalo River Conservation Committee.

    Hutchinson said the $1 million in one-time funds will be used to support grants and projects "including, but not limited to the following -- voluntary best management practices for farmers and landowners, improvements to wastewater and septic systems for cities and counties within the watershed, and reduction of sediment runoff from unpaved roads within the watershed."

    The Buffalo River Conservation Committee and its subcommittees will identify projects and distribute funds to improve water quality and promote conservation practices, he said in the Nov. 1 letter. The Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation also have collectively pledged $1 million toward the committee.

    Hutchinson's creation of the conservation committee in September came after the state agreed this summer to purchase a conservation easement to shut down C&H Hog Farms, a large operation that is within the watershed. The state will pitch in $4.7 million and the Nature Conservancy will provide $1.5 million, according to state officials.

    The conservation committee includes Department of Agriculture Secretary Wes Ward; Department of Energy and Environment Secretary Becky Keogh; Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism Secretary Stacy Hurst; and Department of Health Secretary Nathaniel Smith, or their designees.

    Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, on Tuesday asked Ward about the inclusiveness of small animal agriculture on the conservation subcommittees.

    Ward said, "regarding the subcommittees in particular, we have not identified those directly yet.

    "The reason why is because we wanted that to be a joint effort between the four members that make up the [Buffalo River committee] as well as the governor ... but also legislators, particularly the legislators in that particular area," he said.

    "So in regard to small animal owners and small animal agricultural producers, we certainly would invite their participation to be on the subcommittees," Ward said. "Regarding the makeup of what we are looking at, agriculture certainly would be a role in those subcommittees and in particular in looking at agricultural producers that are well-known and well-respected and within the area, not someone from Little Rock."

    Ward added that two producers had been identified but not contacted yet, pending legislative review of the money request.

    Rice said he appreciates Ward's remarks.

    "We are talking about a $1 million rainy-day fund being put there when we have senior citizens centers closing. We got other ones struggling that we have asked additional monies for," he said. "While this is monies that can do some good, there are a lot of places the monies can do some good."

    Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain View, who chairs the Senate committee that met with its House counterpart in Jasper and Marshall on Oct. 30, said, "the last thing that we would want to do is authorize $1 million that is just going to sit there, that nobody is going to participate with because they are so skeptical.

    "That's just a waste of us spending $1 million sitting over there, doing no good," she said. "That's why this whole process was really important to me and to the area legislators.

    "We have requested that there would be oversight and reports coming to the Senate public health committee which have been agreed upon as well," Irvin said. "We are happy to meet jointly with the agriculture committee if we need to do that."

    Metro on 11/13/2019

  • 04 Nov 2019 4:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Newton County Times

    Watershed could be ‘a bushel of a mess’

    JASPER — A joint meeting of the Arkansas Senate and House committees on Public Health, Welfare and Labor, Wednesday night at the Carroll Electric Building in Jasper. Committee chairmen conducted a public hearing over Gov. Asa Hutchinson's executive order creating the Buffalo River Conservation Committee (BRCC) that would oversee conservation projects in the watershed area, and his request for $1 million for the purpose of leveraging opportunities to receive federal grants for funding conservagtion projects in the watershed.

    Wes Ward, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture, and one of four state agency BRCC members, gave a short explanation about the governor's funding request. When the BRCC executive order was issued it included placing $1 million towards the committee's efforts. It was also made known that the Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation pledged $1 million to go to those efforts, as well. Essentially there are $2 million to accomplish projects identified by BRCC subcommittees.

    Neither the BRCC, nor the cabinet agencies, have control over donations made by any entity that wants to become a participating partner. There may be some agreement between the donor, the BRCC and its subcommittees on which projects those funds could be used. If a list of priorities is identified, but only so much state funding is available, outside entities could take the list and try to accomplish them on their own, Ward said.

    "We need your input,"said state Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View), saying this is just the beginning of conversations. Irvin was joined by her counterpart state Rep. Jack Ladyman (R-Corning). The primary reason for us coming here is to hear what you have to say, he told the crowd.

    With all the information provided, Irvin opened the floor for public comment. The first was a question by Pam Stewart. "My driveway erosion can run into a tributary to the Buffalo River. Would I possibly qualify for a grant to correct the drainage?"

    Anything is on the table, Ward answered. The magnitude of the problem would be considered for prioritization. A project that would benefit significantly more people might be prioritized higher, he said.

    Irvin suggested that this could be considered an infrastructure issue and this particular problem might be included into a more broader project. Similarly, agriculture and tourism are to be considered for projects designed not only to protect the river, but also landowners and their ability to earn a living.

    Kelly Woods said he, his wife and family operate a cow-calf and hay operation in Newton County. He said he opposes the governor spending $1 million for promoting conservation practices that are already available. He said he consults conservation professionals to determine what practices are best for his farm.

    "We make the decision on what we would like to do on our property, not the government," Woods said. He added that there is a fear that what starts out to be voluntary can become mandatory.

    If the governor has a million dollars laying around to spend in the Buffalo River watershed there are better uses for it than focusing on a supposed environmental catastrophe that might or might not happen in the future. Woods thinks some programs, once initiated, could reduce or even eliminate farming activities in the watershed. "This is the perception we have," Woods said.

    To take his point further, Woods mentioned several needs that exist in the watershed.

    There are volunteer fire departments that are understaffed, under-equipped and undertrained. Wouldn't this money be better spent to help those people perform their volunteer duty? When was the last time a tourist fell off a bluff or had a wreck and they called out a snail darter to help? He said there are law enforcement officers working in the watershed who rely on welfare assistance and food stamps to make ends meet. "Hang your heads." Rural school districts within the watershed could use that money to better educate the children who live there. They could get the same modern technology larger schools outside the watershed already have, he said. Or the money could be used to help school districts meet their high transportation costs. When was the last time an Indiana bat was hired to teach your kids English or math, or drive your children over mountainous, curvy roads in the fog or on snowy days?

    Dustin Cowell said local people get the feeling they are being attacked for destroying the watershed. We feel that is misplaced and unfair. The river was beautiful in the past and it continues to be today. What's the difference between then and now? There are fewer hogs on creeks and streams and probably fewer cattle today. Tourism has grown considerably, however.

    Cowell said point 7 in the governor's executive order points to the use of sound science in determining water quality. "We've heard that before," he said, referring to the buy out of C&H Hog Farms at Mt. Judea. The farm was permitted and was operating under the rules of the permit, but found itself under constant attack by conservation groups that believed the farm to be a danger to the river because it is located next to Big Creek a tributary to the Buffalo.

    The governor made it known that the operators of the farm had done nothing wrong and scientific testing and monitoring of the river could not prove otherwise. Yet that did not prevent the farm from being shut down through the voluntary buy out agreement.

    "To me the precedent has been set that you don't have to do anything wrong for the government to step in," Cowell said. What protections would be in place to keep that from happening to others?

    He said tourism's effect on the river should also be studied.

    Andy McCutcheon, president of the Searcy County Cattlemen's Association, said he spoke to the panel in Marshall earlier in the day. He said he had two questions to pose at this time. What will happen to the BRCC if the $1 million isn't appropriated to it? Who will conduct future water quality testing? The testing previously has been controversial as it was conducted by conflicting interests, he pointed out.

    There needs to be an understanding that the Buffalo River watershed is separate from the Buffalo National River. This isn't federal land. This is private land. The Nature Conservancy doesn't hand out money without some kind of agenda or strings attached. The Nature Conservancy is prominently named in the Buffalo River Watershed Management Plan as a reference and as a lead agency in implementing proposed projects.

    Members of the Searcy County Cattlemen's Association utilize the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and others offered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service under the United States Department of Agriculture, McCutcheon said, but if the Nature Conservancy plays a role in these programs a lot of farmers will turn away from them.

    The population of people and livestock residing in the watershed is far less than the number of tourist who recreationally use the river annually, he said. "I'm not against conservation and I don't know a farmer who is. We all are connected to the Buffalo River, some of us deeper than others. I have had family members be baptized in it and I have had family members die in it," he said. But until overuse of the river is acknowledged and it is regulated water quality issues on the river won't be resolved.

    Beth Ardapple, of Cave Creek near Mt. Judea, said the BRCC could help prevent future conflicts if there is good local representation on it and its subcommittees. It could also explore and support economic development. "We want jobs. We want our farmers. We want successful businesses. And we need them to fit in well with the Buffalo River because it's going to become more popular and more of an economic development engine over time."

    Ward responded to McCutcheon's questions. He said the BRCC would continue to follow the governor's directive even without the additional $1 million. Existing programs would continue, but would not have the additional resources to help implement projects at a more urgent pace.

    Water quality testing is a concern, Ward acknowledged. That would be something for subcommittees to consider.

    Ward noted that McCutcheon and Cowell would be perfect subcommittee members.

    Jessie Green, of White River Waterkeeper, said one thing that hasn't been mentioned is that the $1 million could be used towards wastewater treatment plant upgrades. Jasper could use this money as well as Marble Falls and Marshall. Sending the money to municipalities would provide relief to their ratepayers.

    Ed Manor, of Jasper, said in reviewing local history that the river was deeper and cleaner when the local people had stewardship over it. When the National Park Service came it said pretty much what officials were saying tonight, night that the plan is voluntary. The first thing the park service did was put up restrictions. "I can't believe that this voluntary committee is going to protect the property rights of the people who are paying your salaries, he said. "All we ask is that we be left alone."

    Finally, 18-year-old Shianna Brasel, of Jasper, took the microphone crediting the beauty of the lands surrounding the river to farmers like her father who manage the fields and forests. Without farming the watershed area would turn into another New York City or worse, "a bushel of a mess."

  • 01 Nov 2019 4:37 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Harrison Daily Times

    Conservation Committee addresses public distrust


    JASPER — In spite of hurried planning, about 60 or so people attended a joint meeting of the Arkansas Senate and House committees on Public Health, Welfare and Labor on Wednesday night at the Carroll Electric Building in Jasper.

    It was the second meeting of the day in which committee chairmen conducted public hearings concerning Gov. Asa Hutchinson's executive order creating the Buffalo River Conservation Committee (BRCC) that would oversee conservation projects in the watershed area, and his request for $1 million for the purpose of leveraging opportunities to receive federal grants for funding projects in the watershed. A similar hearing was held earlier in the day at Marshall in Searcy County.

    The governor announced in September he wanted to use money from his "rainy day" fund to match another $1 million promised from the Nature Conservancy and the Buffalo River Foundation for the plan. During a Legislative Council meeting last Friday, Oct. 25, state Sen. Missy Irvin (R-Mountain View) asked the council to withhold those funds. Irvin was upset the governor's office had not met with elected representatives from the watershed before announcing his plans. The way it happened, she said, was "incredibly disrespectful" of those who represent the impacted area. She also questioned just who might decide how the funds are used.

    Irvin apologized for the short notice about the meeting. She said a lot of legislators did not have enough information and wanted to meet with staff in the executive branch and to hold hearings to get input and concerns from residents of the watershed.

    Next week is an off week for legislators and then the following week is when the subcommittee reconvenes, she explained. Then the request goes to the Legislative Council, again. She said she had only a three-week window and had to hurry to schedule hearings.

    "We need your input," she said, saying this is just the beginning of conversations. Irvin was joined by her counterpart, state Rep. Jack Ladyman (R-Corning). The primary reason for the meeting was to hear what they had to say, he told the crowd.

    To provide background and an overview of the executive order were BRCC members Wes Ward, secretary of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture; Nathaniel Smith, MD, MPH, director of the Arkansas Department of Health and state health officer; and Stacy Hurst, secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism. Not present was Becky Keogh, secretary of the department of Energy and the Environment. Taking her place on the panel Wednesday night was Dr. Richard McMullen, science director, Arkansas Department of Health.

    Ward said the governor has respect for the Buffalo River and that is stated in his executive order establishing the BRCC. The governor, in 2016, created the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee (BBRAC) charged with developing a voluntary watershed management plan. It was finalized in 2018. This year there has been a realignment of agencies and departments of state governments. The BRCC now replaces the BBRAC. The agencies represented on the BRCC will help local stakeholders form subcommittees to determine what projects are approved.

    This is non-regulatory, Ward emphasized. It's not an effort by the state to come in and place restrictions or requirements on anyone in the watershed. The executive summary of the plan talks about maintaining and enhancing, not correcting, or fixing, he said. Copies of the executive order were distributed for the audience to review.

    State Rep. Keith Slape (R-Jasper) was invited by Irvin to address the panel first.

    Slape said distrust of the government goes back decades when the Buffalo National River was created. Many residents along the river were removed, sometimes by force, from their family farms. He said hard feelings still exist. He said what he wanted to know is what is the "end game" of the BRCC?

    Ward said there is not a certain level or metric that the management plan sets out to achieve. There is the understanding that some projects in the watershed would be able to use assistance. Those projects could be improving a variety of farm management practices, replacing septic tanks or wastewater treatment facilities, controlling feral hogs, or a broad range of things that the committee can be partnered with to provide resources to complete.

    State Sen. Breanne Davis (R-Russellville) said the process appears to be locally driven. She asked if local members of the BRCC subcommittees will be given stronger voices when projects are being considered for funding.

    Ward answered in the affirmative. The committee will look heavily to its subcommittees. The subcommittees will include locally elected officials such as county judges, mayors and legislators who are accountable to the public. They will also be expected to bring aboard other local leaders from both the public and private sectors.

    There is a commitment from the committee to look heavily to the subcommittees, but for transparency, once the subcommittees establish their priorities there would be public hearings where they would be talked through with the BRCC, Ward said.

    One thing Ward said he wanted to make clear is that the BRCC has no intent to use the governor's funds to purchase land or put agriculture operations out of business.

Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization

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