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  • 29 Jun 2013 10:53 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Contact Information: Katherine Benenati / 501.682.0821 / benenati@adeq.state.ar.us<mailto:benenati@adeq.state.ar.us>

    FOR RELEASE: JUNE 28, 2013


    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) will hold a public meeting and hearing at Dardanelle July 22, 2013, to discuss proposed changes to the current permit for a Yell County hog farm, and accept comments on the proposed changes. The event will begin at 6 p.m. in the Dardanelle City Hall, 120 N. Front St.

    The facility, owned by Michael Darr, doing business as Darr Swine Farm, is located at 10519 Gibson Lake Rd., east of State Highway 7 about four miles south of Dardanelle. The proposed permit modification would increase the number of hogs allowed at the facility, add land application sites for animal waste, and allow the construction and operation of a second earthen holding pond for liquid waste from the operation.

    ADEQ technical staff will be available at the meeting/hearing to discuss and answer questions about the proposed permit modification. In addition, a hearing officer will be present to accept public comments, which will be limited to the proposed changes to the existing permit. Oral and written statements will be accepted, but written comments are preferred in the interest of accuracy.

    Prior to the public meeting/hearing, written comments on the proposed changes may be sent to Casey Vickerson, Water Division, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, 5301 Northshore Drive, North Little Rock, AR 72118. Electronic mail comments may also be sent to: Water-Draft-Permit-Comment@adeq.state.ar.us<mailto:Water-Draft-Permit-Comment@adeq.state.ar.us>. The deadline for submitting written or E-mail comments prior to the hearing is 4:30 p.m. July 19, 2013. Oral and written comments will be accepted at the meeting/ hearing, but the comment period will be closed upon adjournment of the event.

    Interested parties should contact Casey Vickerson at the above address or by telephone at 501-682-0648 for information about the proposed permit, including instructions on how to obtain or view a copy of the proposal.


  • 27 Jun 2013 1:53 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    The E.P.A. Backs Off on Factory Farms
    Published: June 14, 2013

    The Environmental Protection Agency is obliged under the Clean Water Act to monitor America’s waterways and shield them from the toxic runoff from factory farms. But the growth of that industry, and its courtroom tenacity, has far outstripped the E.P.A.’s efforts to restrict runoff from manure lagoons and feedlots.
    Last year, the agency meekly withdrew two proposed rules. One would have gathered basic information from all factory farms. The other proposed rule would have expanded the number of such farms required to have a national pollution discharge permit. Fewer than 60 percent do now.

    Then, last week, in yet another retreat, the agency announced that promised new regulations governing feedlot discharges nationally would not be forthcoming.

    According to the E.P.A.’s own studies, agricultural runoff is the leading cause of impaired water quality. The amount of manure produced by factory farms is staggering. The agency estimates that those operations create between 500 million and 1 billion tons of manure, three times as much waste as humans produce in the United States. The task of keeping those hundreds of millions of tons of animal waste out of rivers, lakes and estuaries is enormous, clearly requiring a strong set of revised regulations for the handling of factory-farm waste, including provisions for tracking waste when it’s been moved offsite.

    Right now, the patchwork of regulations undefined which assume a great deal of self-policing undefined suits the factory-farm industry all too well. So does the E.P.A.’s inability to gather even the most basic information about those farms. The industry believes that the less consumers know, the better. President Obama’s nominee to lead the E.P.A., Gina McCarthy, is still awaiting Senate confirmation. If and when she gets the job, she should make it an early priority to get the data she needs to shed light on undefined and forcefully regulate undefined an industry that thrives on ignorance.

  • 27 Jun 2013 1:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    3 agencies reverse course on Blueway

    Legislators hear of public backlash


    A public outcry that the federal government will seize private property near the White River caused three state agencies Wednesday to backpedal on their support for designation of the river as a National Blueway.
    The watershed received the conservation-related designation in January, but concerns over the practical effect of the honor rose in the past few weeks, fed in large part by a conservative group opposing the Blueway, Secure Arkansas, and landowners who say they weren’t consulted about goals set in the application.
    “This looks like to us that they’re putting habitat over human,” the group’s chairman, Jeannie Burlsworth, said. The House and Senate Committees on City, County and Local Affairs heard testimony from state and federal groups and officials for 4 ½ hours Wednesday afternoon.
    The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas Waterways Commission, along with the Nature Conservancy and Ozark Water Watch, announced at the meeting that their support of the designation could impede work on conservation matters because landowners are wary of new federal regulations.
    “We like the recognition and the prestigiousness, but it’s not worth the sacrificing our ability and capacity to work with private landowners,” Game and Fish Commission Deputy Director Mike Armstrong said. “We didn’t foresee the backlash, I’ll be honest with you.”
    Each group said it still thinks the Blueway designation is best for the region because it will encourage agencies to work together and make the White River more competitive for federally funded projects, such as its two trout hatcheries that supply the river with fish. Armstrong said the hatcheries have consistently been underfunded.
    “I think that the federal government would have been embarrassed had they allowed these two hatcheries to lapse and go underfunded in a designation that they brought to focus attention to good collaboration and good watershed management,” Armstrong said.
    Natural Resources Commission Executive Director Randy Young said that within the next two weeks the organizations will either ask the federal Department of the Interior to remove the designation permanently or temporarily until they can soothe fears and answer landowners’ questions.
    The watershed was nominated by the National Wildlife Refuge Association in Washington, D.C., but the nomination was supported by dozens of other groups such as Ducks Unlimited, the Arkansas Parks and Tourism Department, the state Forestry Commission as well as the towns of Clarendon and Augusta and two small businesses. Young said other groups supporting the designation may also need to pull support.
    The White River flows more than 700 miles from its headwaters in the Ozarks of Missouri to its mouth at the Mississippi River. The designation includes a portion of Missouri.
    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuge manager Keith Weaver told committee members that the designation has no effect on property rights in the watershed, which makes up about one-third of the land in Arkansas. The order creating the Blueway program states that it is not intended to affect the use of private property, and the federal government has said repeatedly that the designation creates no new laws or regulations.
    Instead the Blueway designation was created to encourage local communities to work with state and federal agencies on conservation, Weaver said.
    That hasn’t calmed fears so far. Prompted by Secure Arkansas, quorum courts in 12 counties have passed resolutions opposing the Blueway designation. Lawmakers told the at least 100 people packed in a committee room at the Capitol on Wednesday that they first learned of the designation when the Interior Department announced it in January.
    When Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, suggested having the designation put on hold until the public becomes more comfortable or having it withdrawn completely, attendees yelled out their preference.
    “Withdrawn, withdrawn,” they chanted.
    Also Wednesday, members of the Arkansas and Missouri congressional delegations asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to answer questions about the Blueway program.
    Burlsworth said after the meeting that county officials should have been allowed to weigh in. She said the initial application sets conservation goals for the area, such as returning some land to seasonal flooding and restoring forestland near the river, that aren’t supported by landowners.
    “They felt like they could just give the order and it [would] just be obeyed and everybody fall in line,” Burlsworth said. “The public has been burned and it is going to stop.”
    Weaver said landowners could choose to meet those goals, but the federal government wasn’t going to force them to comply.
    The Arkansas Farm Bureau was seeking answers to its concerns about the Blueway designation, but hadn’t taken a position, bureau rural development coordinator Beau Bishop said.
  • 27 Jun 2013 7:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    This Ozarks At Large report by Jacqueline Froelich focuses on the battle between Oklahoma and Arkansas over pollution, primarily phosphorus, of the Illinois River by Arkansas poultry producers. While not directly related to hog CAFOs, it does show how industry will attempt to weaken and undermine efforts to protect water quality. The warning for me is that when phosphorus levels (or other pollutants) rise in the Buffalo attributable to C & H hog farm, industry will inevitably attempt to establish "tolerable" levels. This explains ADEQ's comments that CAFOs will no doubt have an impact on the Buffalo, and other waters of the state, but the issue for them is where "impact" causes "harm". Who gets to define "harm"?
  • 27 Jun 2013 7:10 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Deadly piglet virus spreads to nearly 200 U.S. farm site

    Outbreak of deadly piglet virus spreads to 13 U.S. states
    Wed, Jun 19 2013
    By P.J. Huffstutter

    CHICAGO | Mon Jun 24, 2013 5:51pm EDT
    (Reuters) - A swine virus deadly to young pigs, and never before seen in North America, has spiked to 199 sites in 13 states - nearly double the number of farms and other locations from earlier this month.

    Iowa, the largest U.S. hog producer, has the most sites testing positive for Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus: 102 sites, as of June 10. The state raises on average 30 million hogs each year, according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

    PEDV, most often fatal to very young pigs, causes diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration. It also sickens older hogs, though their survival rate tends to be high.

    The total number of pig deaths from the outbreak since the first cases were confirmed May 17 is not known.

    Researchers at veterinarian diagnostic labs, who are testing samples as part of a broad investigation into the outbreak, have seen a substantial increase in positive cases since early June, when data on the PEDV outbreak showed it at some 103 sites nationwide.

    The data was compiled and released last week by Iowa State University, University of Minnesota, Kansas State University and South Dakota State University.

    The virus does not pose a health risk to humans or other animals and the meat from PEDV-infected pigs is safe for people to eat, according to federal officials and livestock economists.

    But the virus, which is spreading rapidly across the United States, is proving harder to control than previously believed. In addition to Iowa, Oklahoma has 38 positive sites, Minnesota has 19 and Indiana has 10, according to the data.

    PEDV has also been diagnosed in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Dakota.

    Swine veterinarians, investigators with the U.S. Agriculture Department and others are trying to determine how the virus is spreading from farm to farm and state to state. Currently the focus is on the nation's livestock transportation system.

    PEDV is spread most commonly by pigs ingesting contaminated feces. Investigators are studying physical transmission, such as truck trailers marred with contaminated feces, or a person wearing dirty boots or with dirty nails.

    While the virus has not tended to kill older pigs, mortality among very young pigs infected in U.S. farms is commonly 50 percent, and can be as high at 100 percent, say veterinarians and scientists who are studying the outbreak.

    The strain of the PEDV virus that is making its way across the nation's hog farms and slaughterhouses is 99.4 percent similar in genetic structure to the PEDV that hit China's herds last year, according to the U.S. researchers.

    After PEDV was first diagnosed in China in 2010, it overran southern China and killed more than 1 million piglets, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.

    No direct connection has been found between the U.S. outbreak and previously identified outbreaks in Asia and Europe, say scientists and researchers.

    (Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter. Additional reporter by Theopolis Waters.; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

  • 24 Jun 2013 7:08 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    CAFO a mistake

    Mathis weighs in

    Mike Masterson

    The man who led our state’s Department of Environmental Quality under three governors says it was a big mistake to ever issue a permit to operate that concentrated animal feeding operation for 6,500 sows and piglets in the Buffalo National River watershed at Mount Judea.
    Randall Mathis told me the permit to C&H Hog Farms Inc. never couldundefinedor wouldundefinedhave been approved had he still been heading the department. He said he did everything in his power during his 18 years with the agency to ensure the environmentally sensitive watershed was protected from contamination.
    “Regardless of how well this farm is operated, it’s a serious mistake to land-apply hog waste in a karst area like this, ” he said. “I don’t understand why this matter hasn’t already been addressed and changed in order to protect one of the state’s extraordinary resource streams. This certainly wouldn’t have happened on my watch.”
    Mathis retired from the agency in 2000 at age 70. He served the agency then known as the Department of Pollution Control and Ecology under Govs. Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker and Mike Huckabee, and was its director when the name changed to the Department of Environmental Quality. Afterwards, he served on the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, which oversees the agency.
    Mathis intimately understands the environment of our state and the treacherous and unpredictable nature of drainage in the limestone karst formations that underlie Newton County.
    This “hog factory,” supplied and supported by Cargill Inc., was permitted in the fall of 2012 unbeknownst to the present agency Director Teresa Marks, the National Park Service, the state Health Department, Game and Fish and the Department of Environmental Quality’s own staff in the Newton County seat. No public hearings were held in Newton or adjacent Boone County where the Park Service has its Buffalo River office. Arkansas’ requirements for issuing such permits obviously are wholly inadequate and ineffective.
    By the way, where have all our apparently mute elected “leaders” (with the exception of Warwick Sabin, Greg Leding and Kelley Linck) been hiding from such an important matter? Thousands of hogs got your tongues?
    This farm is said to meet the requirements for permitting, built to withstand leakage and operated by a reputable and capable hog-raising family. None of that’s been an issue with me. My problem is a hog factory producing millions of gallons of waste land-applied near Big Creek, a major tributary to the magnificent Buffalo National River a few miles downstream and replenished by underground springs flowing through the karst.
    I’m equally concerned, as are many others, that no dye studies were done on karst formations beneath the application fields, or the farm itself. Then there are those questionable approval documents and the gatekeeping processes that I see as deeply flawed that somehow allowed to place this factory where it is today.
    Mathis has identical concerns. And he knows what he’s talking about. During his tenure, this straight-speaking man, who at 83 still tends the family farm near Arkadelphia, said he was dedicated to protecting our state’s streams designated as extraordinary resources, the queen of which being the Buffalo. He also said he had four deputies who each managed various agency divisions and with whom he met twice daily to stay up to speed.
    Mathis issued a specific policy that said he’d be immediately notified of any proposals to locate a CAFO in karst regions of the Ozarks, especially the Buffalo watershed. More significantly, in 1992 he issued a moratorium on placing any CAFOs in the Buffalo watershed, period. Anyone else wondering in 2013 what happened to that protective moratorium and his policy? Who got rid of them? Why?
    Today, Mathis can’t fathom how anyone in his former position could possibly not know their agency was issuing its first hog CAFO permit under the new general permit in the Buffalo watershed. “I would have shut that idea down immediately,” he said. “As I said, during my tenure we were especially sensitive to any possible pollution of the Buffalo.”
    He told me he blamed the agency staff for bringing the permit to the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission for approval. “I don’t fault the commission as much as I do the agency’s director and deputy director for ever even presenting this to them,” he said. “They should have known better. It certainly wouldn’t have happened on my watch.”
    He feels it’s a matter of time until hog waste will flow through the karst into Big Creek and the Buffalo. Such leakage would naturally elevate the coliform bacteria levels in the Buffalo. And that troubles him even more.
    “Were I still at ADEQ , I’d call for a meeting of the commission and issue another moratorium on any hog CAFOs and other operations that need to be limited to prevent polluting this national river,” he said. “It’s just common sense.”

    Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at mikemasterson10@hotmail.com. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.
  • 16 Jun 2013 9:13 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    In search of leadership

    Mike Masterson

    With Mike Beebe’s spokesman saying if he’d had his “druthers,” the governor wouldn’t have permitted that controversial hog factory in the Buffalo National watershed in Newton County, I wondered about the druthers of Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Steve Womack over the waste from 6,500 swine deposited on karst-riddled land within reach of the river.
    Boozman’s office initially implied in a May letter to a constituent that any confusion involved with this farm’s location largely originated with the Buffalo National River Park’s Harrison office that should have known about the plan before the concentrated animal feeding operation for hogs was permitted.
    That rationale confused me, especially since that Park Service office was one of many that (for whatever reasons) was not informed about permitting this hog factory. Among the other uninformed were the director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, which permitted the farm, that agency’s staff in Newton County, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arkansas Health Department.
    To me, any fault for the way this quietly came to pass lay anywhere but with the Park Service and its Buffalo National River office. That’s the very agency that ultimately blew the whistle when it discovered what it called multiple inadequacies in this farm’s loan report prepared by the U.S. Farm Service Agency. We should be congratulating these folks.
    Thankfully, the Republican senator’s original position has since broadened as the new facts detailing the extent of such widespread ignorance have come to light. Philip Moore with Boozman’s office says the senator now believes all the agencies involved could have done a much better job of communicating about the hog factory being placed where it now exists.
    True, but that position seems relatively insignificant to me now that the factory is up and generating waste. It should be a matter of law that proposals for something this huge and potentially contaminating be ballyhooed far and wide. In fact, I still believe a U.S. Inspector General, either from Agriculture or the Interior Department, should examine why this wasn’t done and the fullest truths behind how the entire matter was handled from start to finish.
    Instead of hindsight at this stage, I’ve been searching for signs of decisive leadership and common sense.
    So I asked 3rd District GOP Rep. Womack for his opinions about the CAFO along Big Creek that flows into the Buffalo. After all, it was his own 13-term predecessor, Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt, who in 1972 overcame multiple obstacles over years to protect this river.
    Hammerschmidt (and yes, he’s still my uncle) displayed remarkable fortitude and leadership in hammering out a bipartisan agreement that made the Buffalo America’s first national river. As the 3rd District’s representative and a leader, John Paul saw the struggle through to protect and preserve the magnificent and majestic Buffalo.
    In light of the unique heritage in the very office of public trust he holds, I believed Congressman Womack (and Boozman, his immediate predecessor) would have a special connection with any efforts to protect this sacred river. After all, Hammerschmidt pursued that goal above all else, certainly including the potential for contamination from swine waste.
    The response from Claire Burghoff in Womack’s office: “Congressman Womack has heard the concerns of constituents on both sides of this issue and will continue to keep a close eye on it.” Say what? The congressman told me on Easter weekend that he would “become involved in the matter if he needed to.”
    Naturally I wondered when and how such “need” might be determined and a translation behind “keeping a close eye” on the hog factory on behalf of constituents on “both sides of the issue.” I always believed every issue has constituents.
    I do respect Womack and Boozman. But I was hoping for clear indications of leadership from our state’s top elected officials.
    I didn’t expect fault-finding, “druthers” or eye-keeping. I can’t help but wonder what Uncle John would have done back in 1972 had he been noncommittal when the river’s future appeared at risk, or some constituents and influential contributors pushed back (which I assure you they did).
    Had he straddled the center line, I don’t believe we’d have the Buffalo National River today. Many thousands feel the same way, which prompts me to share some more edited reader views:
    From Kay: “If John Paul Hammerschmidt and Governor Orval Faubus could step up to the plate defending this grand river back in the 1960s, why can’t our Governor Beebe do the same now?”
    From Jeff: “Why aren’t all the organizations fighting against this hog farm talking to Wal-Mart? A simple ‘forget about it’ from Wal-Mart to Cargill would end this. Alice Walton, who has poured so much time and effort into the local community, could with a whisper into the ears of Wal-Mart executives put a stop to things by Monday morning. “
    From Joe: “If procedural matters don’t stop this project, something like [geoscientist John Van] Brahana’s proposal may be the only solution. If a good and detailed study could be done, the owners might have second thoughts about even operating the facility.”
    Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at mikemasterson10@hotmail.com. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.
  • 12 Jun 2013 7:02 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Beebe’s druthers?

    On that hog farm

    Mike Masterson

    Iwondered how Gov. Mike Beebe feels about the risk that waste from the industrial hog farm at Mount Judea poses to the environment of the country’s first national river, a pristine tourism attraction and economic boon for decades.
    After all, he is our governor. And after all, he is dealing with his appointee in Teresa Marks, who heads the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, which permitted this controversial hog factory in the Buffalo National River’s watershed. And he is a politician who’s proven himself adept at getting things corrected and accomplished in the public interest (even behind the scenes over a telephone). Am I right?
    His aide, Matt DeCample, responded for Beebe: “If the governor had his druthers, the permit would not have been issued. However, the applicant followed all state laws and procedures and the governor or ADEQ can’t make arbitrary decisions to deny an applicant who follows the rules.”
    DeCample explained that the best way to change this kind of unimaginable threat to a state treasure from happening again “is to strengthen restrictions for areas of particular concern, such as the Buffalo River watershed. However, such action needs to be legislative. ADEQ cannot change those rules on its own.”
    How’s that for artfully wordsmithing one’s way around a superheated issue that isn’t going away?
    So there you have it. The Buffalo National River watershed can be put at risk of potential contamination from God-awful hog waste because our elected legislators have failed to protect it through responsible lawmaking. And there’s not a thing the governor or anyone in power can do, regardless of his druthers. No calls to Cargill? Wal-Mart? No come-to-Jesus chats with his own Environmental Quality director? Nothing?
    And it now appears Marks may not be the only relevant member of her agency not to know it had permitted C&H Hog Farms Inc. until it was a done deal. The employees based in the agency’s Newton County office at Jasper also were unaware until it was a done deal.
    At least that’s what Don Nelms of Jasper, a former congressional candidate and successful Fayetteville businessman, said Jasper department employees told him the other day. He said they explained that they hadn’t known about the farm before their agency permitted it. “I was shocked to hear that,” Nelms told me.
    If Nelms is right (and he usually is), it leaves me squealing yet again in the hazy realm of downright flabbergastion over the way this farm was smoothly guided through so many opened gates.
    Nelms said he also found it hard to believe the contained animal feeding operation (supplied by the multinational corporation Cargill Inc.) would be permitted in the Buffalo National River watershed without the agency director, or the staff based in that county knowing it was being considered. And if they didn’t know, why not?
    My own suspicions have been that this mega-hog factory was kept quiet and off the public radar as much as possible by powers that be until it was fully smoked and served. Not even one public hearing in either Jasper or Harrison beforehand? Really?
    Isn’t it convenient when those in positions of public responsibility can simply plead plausible deniability, ignorance and/or blame others in the heat of controversy when the obvious right thing hasn’t (or isn’t) being done? And isn’t ours a fine example of ensuring accountability and embracing plain ol’ common sense in so many matters of public concern?
    Speaking of common sense, Newton County’s quorum court fired off a response to the Fayetteville City Council’s April resolution against placing this hog factory in the Buffalo National River watershed. The Newton County body, which I understand has at least one member who’s a co-owner of the farm, said it resented the “interference in the livelihoods of these families by the city of Fayetteville and other entities.” The premise of the objection is basically that anyone who lives outside Newton County should have no say about this national river, even if they and their families and friends enjoy it.
    Tim Slape of Compton, who pushed for the court for its response to Fayetteville, offered what some from there might see as a brilliant argument when he was quoted in the Jasper weekly paper: “What I’d like to ask the quorum court to do is consider drawing up a resolution that states we’re against Bikes, Blues and Barbecue.” The reason, he said, is that the increase in motorcycle traffic passing through Newton County for the event puts an added stress on the county’s law enforcement and first responders.
    Yet again, I find myself at a loss for words. Does that means if Slape had his druthers, he wouldn’t want bikers stopping in Newton County businesses en route to Fayetteville because he compares possibly contaminating every citizens’ national river with microbes from hog waste with bikers stressing local police?
    Hmm. Well, valued readers, I believe I’ll just rest my case at the way this hog farm mess has been mishandled from the top down.
    Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at mikemasterson10@hotmail.com. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.
  • 10 Jun 2013 11:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Updated: Groups Working To Prevent Hog Farm From Polluting Buffalo National River
    Submitted by Kurt Repanshek on June 7, 2013 - 2:43am

    Could a proposed hog farm not quite 6 miles from Buffalo National River contaminate the river?

    Editor's note: This updates with comments from Cargill, clarifies that farm is operating.

    An industrial hog farm that could produce more than 2 million gallons of manure and wastewater annually over porous karst geology roughly 5 miles up a tributary from the Buffalo National River was permitted based on erroneous information, according to a coalition opposing the project.

    The "confined animal feeding operation," or CAFO, is proposed to handle upwards of 6,500 hogs a year. It is located close to Mount Judea, Arkansas, and near Big Creek, a tributary to the Buffalo National River.

    “The ideal thing is to stop it. And the reason being, it’s in absolutely the wrong place, both in terms of being close to the national river, but even worst than that, it’s on karst formations," Jack Stewart, a spokesman for the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, said Thursday during a phone call.

    Karst geology is composed of easily dissolved rocks, such as limestone and dolomite. Via sinkholes and underground caves in the geology, groundwater can flow miles very quickly. In the National Park System, karst geology is perhaps mostly visibly connected to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, but it can also be found along the Buffalo National River and at Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri.

    For many who love the Buffalo National River, the farm run by C&H Hog Farms came as a great surprise earlier this year, according to Mr. Stewart. Though he said there's evidence that the project has been in the works for some time, possibly as long as five years, it only came to light this past January after construction had begun. Under the permit the operation applied for, he explained, there was no requirement that the state publicize the project's permit application in newspapers, and it never was mentioned in the local paper.

    On Thursday, the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Ozark Society sent notice to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency and the Small Business Association that they will be sued unless they ensure that loan guarantee assistance provide to C&H Hog Farms complies with all legal requirements.

    The groups assert that the loan guarantee to the hog facility hinges on a flawed environmental review process that violates the law and does not follow USDA’s own regulations.

    Earlier this year the superintendent of the Buffalo National River sent a letter of his own, running 11 pages, to the Arkansas executive director of the Farm Service Agency citing nearly four dozen concerns the Park Service had with an environmental assessment conducted in connection with the hog operation's permit application. In opening that letter, Superintendent Kevin Cheri said his staff had reviewed the EA and found it to be "very weak from an environmental point of view."

    Additionally, he doubted that the Farm Service Agency had followed its own regulations in compiling the EA, particularly in how it "related to the public communication standard." Somewhat to that point, Superintendent Cheri noted that while the EA identified the National Park Service as a cooperating agency in the matter, "Since we never received word of the document, this is clearly in error."

    Among the additional concerns cited by the superintendent were:

    * National Environmental Policy Act regulations were not followed in the EA's preparation;

    * The EA failed to back up with evidence its contention that no endangered species would be harmed by the hog farm;

    * An endangered species, the Gray bat, roosts in caves at Buffalo National River and could be adversely affected if pollution from the hog farm enters Big Creek;

    * The EA did not study how the hog farm might lower property values resulting from their proximity to the hog farm or the loss of "income to the people who use the Buffalo River as a source of income for ecotourism";

    * While the EA states that the operation would not impact public health, "We feel that FSA utterly failed to consider the impact of the swine waste on the residents of Mount Judea, the people living downstream on Big Creek, or the people recreating within Buffalo National River. We feel that the FSA statement is completely false because 'Public Health' was not adequately analyzed."

    On Friday, a spokesman for Cargill, an international food conglomerate that has contracted with C&H Hog Farms for piglets, said the operation was properly permitted and engineered above and beyond state requirements.

    "We're as concerned as everybody else is, we don't want to see any adverse impact to the Buffalo River or any other waterways," said Mike Martin. "We believe that with the type of engineering that was done to ensure that there wouldn't be an environmental impact from a release of manure, by preventing a release of manure from this particular farm, that the environmental safeguards that are in place, first of all they're state-of-the-art, and second of all, they go well beyond anything that's required."

    In a 25-page response to Superintendent Cheri's letter, Linda Newkirk, the Arkansas executive director of the Farm Service Agency, rebutted each of his comments while also noting that she shared his "concern for protection and preservation of the Buffalo National River and all natural resources in the State of Arkansas."

    In a footnote to her response, Ms. Newkirk's staff wrote that "Superintendent Cheri's letter is fraught with conjecture and innuendo and unsubstantiated conclusions which the Farm Service Agency need not respond, but will as best possible based on the Environmental Assessment ("EA") prepared by Agency personnel and a Finding of No Significant Impact ("FONSI"), both of which are supported by extensive information and documentation contained in the EA file prepared by State and Federal Agencies and previously provided to Superintendent Cheri by the Agency."

    Furthermore, Ms. Newkirk's response pointed out that the notices of the draft permit application were published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on February 10, 2011, and April 18, 2011, that six public meetings were held, and that no one appealed the decision to issue the permit.

    While the Park Service is considered a cooperating agency, her staff noted, there was no obligation to contact the Buffalo National River because the hog farm's location is more than a quarter-mile from the park's boundaries and is not visible from it.

    As to Superintendent Cheri's contention that the EA did not adequately consider public health impacts from the hog farm, the FSA staff pointedly replied, "NPS is oblivious to the EA process and its statement in Paragraph 26 is without basis and reckless at best. Based on the ADEQ and NPDES Analysis and Permit as well as the CNMP, there is nothing to indicate that the proposed operation will significantly affect public health and safety, based on NEPA requirements."

    In a biting conclusion, the FSA staff wrote that:

    The Superintendent of the Buffalo National River, National Park Service, does not understand the Class II Environment Assessment process as used in the case of the C & H Hog Farms project and has failed to take the time to have someone explain it to him, despite the fact that he has had two (2) years to do so. Both the public and applicable cooperating agencies at Federal, State and local levels have received properly published notices, public meetings and the opportunity to contest the permit issued by ADEQ and Class II assessment by the FSA. The project has been properly planned, documented, coordinated, analyzed and permitted in accordance with State and Federal law and complies with NEPA and the EPA, so as to protect the American public, the citizens of Arkansas, and the Buffalo National River.

    Back at Cargill, Mr. Martin said hog farming has been done for generations in northwestern Arkansas, seemingly without harming the river.

    "There were many more hogs in that immediate area, historically, than there are now. There were just more farms that hundreds of hogs on them rather than having 2,500 sows in one location," he said. "And so, when those farms existed and didn't have the same type of environmental safeguards for the waste lagoons and for dealing with the waste and nutrient management plan, that didn't seem to be a concern.

    "There seems to be more of a concern because there's 2,500 sows in one location, as opposed to many more thousands of sows that were spread out over about nine to 11 locations that historically existed in that area. We find that kind of baffling as to why the previous farms that were largely unregulated in terms of being older farms and not having the same requirements that farms do today for environmental compliance, were somehow not as impactful in the view of some people," he said.

    Opposition to the hog farm goes beyond the groups that notified the USDA and SBA of their intent to sue if the permitting process was not reviewed and corrected. A. Keen-Zebert, PhD, a geoscientist, Arkansas native, and professor of geosciences at Murray State University maintains a website tracking the hog farm.

    A University of Arkansas geosciences professor also has written state officials to point to the unsuitability of karst geology for this sort of operation.

    "Although many of the regulations of the NOI (Notice of Intent) appear to have been met ... the heart of the regulations -- the questions of nutrient loading and waste leakage -- are weak and incomplete and do not give confidence that the NOI plans are adequate for preserving environmental quality," wrote John Van Brahana. "My personal perception is that this document does not satisfy the requirements. Coupled with what was perceived as an air of secrecy and a less-than-obvious need for rapid or immediate action, the response of ADEQ in dealing with this project has reinforced the overall feeling that the proposed C&H Hog Farm is a highly risky water-quality endeavor in a fragile, lovely location."

    The Buffalo River, designated in 1972 as the very first "national river," flows through the Ozark Mountains of northwestern Arkansas. The underlying karst geology has riddled the park's landscape with more than 300 caves. The river and its surrounding forests and campgrounds draw more than 1 million visitors a year, many who come expressly to paddle the river. The tourism results in a $38 million economic boost to the region annually, according to NPCA.

    In a press release, Emily Jones, a senior program manager in the NPCA's Southeast Region, said the Buffalo National River must be protected "from the waste and pollutants spewed from an atrociously misplaced industrial facility.”

    Among the problems with FSA's environmental assessment, the coalition said, was that notice of the EA was never published in a local newspaper in the vicinity of Mount Judea, and no public comments were received. The Park Service, the groups added, wasn't notified of the EA until two months after roughly $3.5 million in loans were guaranteed by FSA and SBA to the C&H operation.

    Robert Cross, president of the Ozark Society, said he too learned of the hog operation only months after its loans were guaranteed.

    “I then read the EA in detail. In my many years in industry and academia I have never seen such irresponsibility and negligence in carrying out a task having so much importance to the primary stakeholdersundefinedthe American public," said Mr. Cross in comments carried in the press release. "Although 600 pages long, it is all virtually meaningless and obviously prepared with the thought that there would be no review. I do have faith in the American justice system in that FSA and SBA will be called to account as a step to stopping the hog farm in the fragile ecosystem of the Buffalo National River.”

    Mr. Stewart also said Thursday that another flaw of the plan is the proposal to spray hog waste onto fields near Mount Judea schools. "There are studies that have shown that asthma rates increase dramatically around these CAFOs," he said.

    The coalition's release also said the hog waste, rich in phosphorous, could be washed downstream in storm runoff and lead to algae growth and other ecological impacts in the Buffalo River. "With this facility sitting atop extremely porous ground, the risk for contamination of the Buffalo River is exceptionally high, and this risk is at odds with the protections required for a national park," the coalition said.

    “We believe that FSA and SBA violated both the National Environmental Policy Act and the Buffalo National River Enabling Act with their loan guarantees to C&H,” Marianne Engelman Lado, an attorney with Earthjustice, a public interest law firm representing the groups, said in the release. “FSA also egregiously violated their own regulations requiring local public notice and proceeded through its entire environmental review and decision-making process with absolutely zero public input.”

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

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