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  • 10 May 2013 8:57 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    State grilled over permit for hog farm
    Crowd vocal, at times riled about fears for watershed
    By Ryan McGeeney

    JASPER - The director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality said controversy over the agency’s approval of a permit for C&H Hog Farms in Mount Judea is among the most emotional she’s dealt with since she was appointed to the position in 2007.

    Teresa Marks made the remark after about an hour and a half of public comment and debate Wednesday about the farm, a large-scale concentrated animal-feedingoperation 6 miles upstream from Big Creek’s confluence with the Buffalo National River. Many remarks were direct rebukes of Marks and her staff for issuing the permits for the farm’s construction near Big Creek.

    One commenter told Marks that she was lucky that she and her staff weren’t elected officials because they would likely be “out of a job this time next year.”

    “I knew, coming up here, that there were extremely strong feelings on bothsides of this issue,” Marks said. “What we wanted to do was take it out of the realm of emotion and put it more in the realm of science.”

    The public meeting, held at the Carroll Electric Cooperative Corp. building in Jasper, was the second of two gatherings Wednesday dedicated to the topic. Marks’ meeting and the one that preceded it - a panel discussion organized by the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance at Jasper’s Buffalo Theater - were raucous, standing-room-only events, with audience members at times heckling and shouting down opposing viewpoints.

    At least 120 people attended the alliance meeting, which began with a video lecture concerning the health and environmental impacts of confined animal-feeding operations in other parts of the country, especially North Carolina, and a brief explanation of karst geology. Karst, which underlies much of Newton County, consists of soluble rock, including limestone, and is distinguished by caves, sinkholes and other features that sometimes allow nutrients and pollutants to make their way into groundwater.

    Health impacts that have been tied to concentrated animal-feeding operations include asthma linked to breathing particles of animal waste and hemoglobin deficiencies linked to high nitrite levels in drinking water, according to information from the video.

    Panel members at the alliance meeting included Mike Dougherty, president of the Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce; James Lasseter, a Topeka, Kan., physician who said he owns property near Mount Judea; Andrea Radwell, an ecological sciences expert; and Emily Jones, senior program manager of the National Parks ConservationAssociation’s southeast regional office.

    “You’ve got a bunch of battle lines drawn here,” Jones told the audience. “This is going to be about economics, about community values, about convincing decision-makers that a sustainable community is what they’re going to represent.”

    Members of the alliance have voiced concern about the environment and the economy of the river area if hog waste gets into surface water within the Buffalo National River watershed.

    “The Buffalo River can be raging waters, or almost completely dry,” Radwell said. “The organisms there have to adapt, so we have some of the most unique fauna - organisms found nowhere else in the world.

    “That fraction of life is what everything else is dependent on. We can’t always see it, but we know that the rest of life on Earth is completely dependent on it. If the Buffalo River is damaged, there’ll be many organisms we never recognize, and it will be a huge loss of biodiversity in North America and the world.”

    Dougherty said he was angry when he first learned about the farm’s construction, although the anger wasn’t directed at the farm’s ownersand operators - Jason Henson or his cousins, Philip and Richard Campbell.

    “We see the [farm] as a victim, no less than anyone else out here,” Dougherty said.

    Those farmers “are small-business people, and they should be admired for trying to make a buck. Should they make a buck on Big Creek? I don’t think so. But they’re doing the best they can, and I respect them.”

    Dougherty said the state and federal permitting process is useless if it doesn’t take into account surrounding structures and the environment.

    “If you’re going to wrap a hog farm around a small village, there’s something deeply wrong with the regulation process,” Dougherty said.

    Public debate over C&H Hog Farms has grown since January when Buffalo National River Superintendent Kevin Cheri voiced anger that park officials weren’t consulted when the Farm Service Agency branch in Little Rock conducted an environmental assessment of the Mount Judea area.

    The agency found that the farm would have “no significant impact” on the area’s environment, but Cheri’s staff has argued that the assessment was incomplete and inaccurate. The farm, which iscontracted with Cargill Inc., has federal and state permits to house about 2,500 fullgrown sows and as many as 4,000 piglets.

    Most people at the alliance meeting seemed to be squarely against allowing production at C&H Hog Farms to continue and eager for an avenue to nullify the owners’ permits.

    The crowd at the Environmental Quality Department meeting, however, was more divided, with some people peppering the department’s representatives with pointed questions about the permitting processes and others making statements in support of the farm owners.

    Bob Shofner, a Newton County farmer, took his turn at the microphone and implored the crowd to be patient with the families running C&H Hog Farms.

    “One thing I wanted to talk to everybody about is that in this country you are innocent until proven guilty. And this young farm family has definitely had a problem of everybody accusing them of doing something that has not even happened yet,” Shofner said. “I guarantee you this farm will be monitored better than any other farm in the state of Arkansas, any other farm in the [United States]. What I’m saying is let this family do what they need to do.”

    People in the crowd of atleast 150 repeatedly asked Marks why the department hadn’t made more of an effort to alert the public regarding the farm owners’ application for operation permits. Also, they asked why the department would allow such an operation within the Buffalo National River watershed.

    Marks said department staff members had acted within the regulatory constraints of Arkansas law. The department posted notification of the permit application on its website for 30 days beginning June 25, 2012, but no other publication of the notice was made or required.

    Marks also stressed that there is no regulatory basis for special treatment of applications because of their proximity to the Buffalo National River.

    “We issue general permits all over the state,” Marks said. “We don’t have the authority to treat [the Buffalo National River watershed] differently.”

    Marks said the Legislature has the power to enact laws to protect the river.

    “There are people out there that don’t want those extra protections in the Buffalo River watershed. They’re citizens too. So these are things that have to be decided by your duly elected representatives. We can’t, as a regulatory agency, make that type of prohibition,” Marks said.

    A lawsuit may be filed challenging the Farm Service Agency’s environmental assessment of the farm site. On May 6, Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental litigation organization, sent a notice of intent to sue to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Farm Service Agency’s branch offices in Washington, D.C., and Little Rock.

    The notice, which serves as a 60-day warning to the agencies, is the first step in a potential suit alleging that the agency did not collaborate with other agencies, including the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, while drafting the environmental assessment of the farm’s building site. It also intends to allege that the agency failed to account for several endangered species in the area.

    If the environmental assessment is found to have been improperly executed, it could invalidate the farm’s operational permits.

    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association and the Ozark Society are all named as potential plaintiffs in the suit.

    Hannah Chang, a litigator with Earthjustice, said the organization was waiting on a response from the USDA before deciding whether to proceed.
  • 27 Apr 2013 3:02 PM | Anonymous

    4/27/13 Travel and Tourism Week May 4-12


    May 4-12 will be observed as Travel and Tourism Week in Jasper and Newton County by order of a proclamation signed by Jasper Mayor Shane Kilgore and Newton County Judge Warren Campbell.

    The proclamations were presented to the elected officials for signatures last week by Newton County Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Atkinson and Vice President/Tourism Director Donnie Crain.

    The Proclamation states:

    Travel matters to the nation’s economic prosperity and its image abroad.

    For business and other interests, travel to and within the United States generated $1.9 trillion in economic output in 2011, with $813 billion spent directly by travelers that spurred an additional $1.1 trillion in other industries.

    Travel is among the largest private-sector employers in the United States, supporting 14.4 million jobs in 2011. Of those jobs, 7.5 million were in the travel industry and 6.9 million in other industries.

    Travelers spending generated $124 billion in tax revenues for federal, state and local governments.

    In Newton County, travelers’ expenditures in 2012 amounted to $11.9 million. The industry employed 138 residents and generated over $1 million in state and local taxes.

    The officials agreed that travel is a catalyst that moves the Newton County economy forward and contributes greatly to the excellent quality of life enjoyed by the county’s residents.

  • 23 Apr 2013 9:14 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Locals plan forum, demonstration in opposition to hog farm near the Buffalo River
    by Dustin Bartholomew, Flyer Staff
    on April 22, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Locals concerned about a hog farm recently permitted to be built along a tributary of the Buffalo National River in Arkansas are planning a demonstration opposing the plans on Tuesday, April 23 at the University of Arkansas. A public forum on the issue is also planned for May 1 at Fayetteville Public Library.

    The controversy stems from a recent decision by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to approve a permit for C&H Farms to operate the 670-acre farm on the banks of Big Creek near Mount Judea. The farm will generate about 2 million gallons of waste annually, and the plan is to dispose of the liquid waste by spraying it onto 640 acres of surrounding grassland, causing concern that some of the waste will make its way into the Buffalo National River.

    The demonstration, organized by former Fayetteville mayor Dan Coody, will take place at noon on Tuesday at the corner of Maple Street and Garland Avenue on campus. The event is planned to coincide with a visit by the USDA Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who will be speaking in the E. J. Ball Courtroom at the University of Arkansas Law School at 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

    “Actions taken by the Farm Service Agency, a part of the USDA, have resulted in the C&H Hog Factory being built without a complete ADEQ application or environmental impact statement,” the Facebook event for the protest reads. “Secretary Vilsack needs to know there is something rotten in Newton County.”

    The forum is organized by a group calling themselves “Buffalo River Rescue: Mission Possible,” led by locals Kim and Janie Agee, Tammy Graham, Margaret Britain, and Ginny Masullo. The forum is set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 1 in the Walker Room at the Fayetteville Public Library, and will be moderated by Kyle Kellams of KUAF. The event will include short speeches from Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan, Terry Spence of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, and a representative of the Ozark Society. Representatives from the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the Arkansas Canoe Club will also attend, organizers said.

    Organizer Kim Agee said he intends for the forum to be educational. “It will hopefully be a good source of information for people to learn about these CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) farms, and how they want to contend with them,” he said.

    The Fayetteville City Council last week unanimously passed a resolution in opposition to the permit of the C&H Hog Farm, and the Arkansas House of Representatives last week passed HB2252 to create stronger public notification requirements for future concentrated animal feeding operations.

    The ADEQ is also planning a public meeting on the issue on at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 8 at the Carrol Electric building in Jasper.

    An online petition opposing the farm now has over 9,700 signatures as well.

    Agee said he hopes the protest and the public forum will help to raise enough awareness and attention to ultimately halt the C&H Hog Farm operation.

    “There are still things folks can do to help,” he said. “They can call Cargill, they can write to their national elected representatives, they can shop up and peacefully demonstrate at the UA tomorrow, they can learn as much as possible about this CAFO business as they can, and make an intelligent decision about it. Those are some things they can do.”

  • 23 Apr 2013 7:32 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    My report on growing resistance to a swine factory farm permitted on the BNRW will air Tuesday, April 23rd at noon on “Ozarks at Large” our daily news hour on KUAF National Public Radio 91.3fm, repeated at 7pm.

    We hear tape from a regular meeting of the PC&E on the matter, and learn about new legislation just passed to address the issue.

    I am also filing the piece to our regional four-state public radio network for broadcast.

    You can stream our station at KUAF.com

    We also post the show on our website on the assigned day by 2pm. Go to KUAF.com and scroll down to the “Ozarks at Large” section--to see that day's news hour, which will link you to the individual segments.

    Or if you miss the broadcast that day here’s the direct link to the daily showsundefinedbut make sure to search that specific air date. http://www.kuaf.com/ozarksatlarge

    You can download the show for free at the “Ozarks At Large” podcast link: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/ozarks-at-large/id129608203

    Jacqueline Froelich
    Senior News Producer
    KUAF Public Radio 91.3fm
    Station-based NPR Correspondent
    9 S. School Street
    1 University of Arkansas
    Fayetteville, AR 72701
    O: 479.575.6408
    F: 479.575.8440
  • 17 Apr 2013 9:15 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Despite hearing from several angry farmers, the Fayetteville City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night opposing a hog farm aldermen say could pollute the Buffalo River and Fayetteville area.
    The council voted unanimously to oppose a 6,500-head hog factory farm near Harrison in Newton County. Although the farm is a few counties away, the proposed resolution claims the factory could poison Buffalo River waters and hurt Northwest Arkansas tourism revenue.
    Members of the public on both sides of the issue spoke up during the public comment section of Tuesday’s council meeting. Helen Mitchell, a local realtor, said the possibility of pollution and water contamination is obvious and hog farms have decimated the environment of other areas outside of the state.
    Alderman Sarah Marsh and Mayor Lioneld Jordan, the resolution’s co-sponsors, said they have heard from several citizens on the matter and realize it is important to them that the council do whatever it can to keep pollutants from hurting the Fayetteville area.
    Beau Bishop with the Arkansas Farm Bureau told the council pollution is not likely, adding that the eighth-generation family heading the hog farm operation has taken out $4 million in loans to start the farm.
    “This is their livelihood,” Bishop said. “All they’re guilty of is following the letter of the law.”
    Alderman Justin Tennant told his fellow council members he did not feel right voting against the hog farm when so many farmers are already struggling to make a living because of increased regulations.
    The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency found the hog farm would have no significant impact on the local environment and the river, a claim the City Council’s resolution calls “hard to imagine”.
    The resolution, drafted by Fayetteville city attorney Kit Williams, states hog droppings have the ability to pollute the river and keep people from canoeing or hiking along the river locally.
    “Hog excrement…smells very much worse than chicken or cow manure,” the resolution states. The state of Arkansas “would never allow a city of 6,500 people to just use lagoons that can easily overflow after a storm and flow into the nearby creek to store and ‘treat’ human waste.”
    Bishop refuted the resolution, saying hog excrement does not have the same ill effects human excrement can have on the health of those nearby.
    The resolution is non-binding and has no force of law.

  • 16 Apr 2013 12:45 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Not the first conflict
    By Mike Masterson

    During the mid-1980s, a farmer with one or more big financial backers convinced the then-Department of Pollution Control and Ecology (now Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality) to approve a permit that would establish a landfill near the little Ozarks community of Pindall about 20 miles (as the hog walks) from Mount Judea.

    Pindall is miles farther from the Buffalo than is Mount Judea.

    Fortunately and wisely, that state agency back then finally did the right thing in the face of public outcry and national news attention, and repealed its permit months later. Sides had been quickly drawn in that disagreement. A local and statewide battle of reason and will ensued over possible contamination of the national river’s watershed and their own community’s water supply.

    Angry Pindall residents began raising money in any way possible, from donations to pie suppers, to fund professional groundwater tracing near the property in question.

    These good folks blessed with common sense and the knowledge never to place one’s outhouse above their well had the odd idea that such testing was imperative to disclose any potential effects of dumping massive amounts of waste in an environment underlain by cracked limestone formations known as karst.

    Thomas Aley, the nationally respected director and president of the Ozarks Underground Laboratory of Protem, Mo., was retained to perform those tests. And sure enough, Aley discovered the dye he’d applied to the proposed dump site flowed rapidly through waters beneath the ground to show up in local drinking water only days later. The state decided to do its own testing, which confirmed what Aley had found-all after the permit was granted, of course.

    After the tests at Pindall were complete, a national NBC camera crew had departed and an administrative law judge had found for the Pindall residents, the state announced it was repealing its permit to dump waste near Pindall.

    I find it unconscionable that those in Pindall would be forced into holding pie suppers to sponsor work the state’s environmental guardians should have completed before ever approving such a terrible idea. Yet that’s what happened.

    It also occurred in 1996 when the same agency wrongheadedly issued a permit to create a landfill on Hobbs Mountain above the White River near Durham, which feeds the region’s water supply at Beaver Lake. Hobbs Mountain is also a karst-riddled region. That repeal took a year and many pie suppers before common sense and the people prevailed and the permit was withdrawn.

    Those conflicts demonstrated the power of the people when something precious that belongs to them (like drinking water and their national river that also is an enormous economic boon to the region) becomes potentially threatened.

    I see parallels in what is happening today with the concentrated animal feeding operation along Big Creek about 30,000 feet from the Buffalo. So does Thomas Aley, who told me the other day that he believes hydrology testing is absolutely necessary when proposing to dump potentially contaminating waste anywhere across the karst-riddled Ozarks, “especially in the watershed of the nationally significant Buffalo National River.”

    It becomes a matter of how the surface and subsurface waters flow and interact, he explained, adding, “What we learned at Pindall was that distance from the Buffalo River doesn’t necessarily ensure protection. The initial assumption was: ‘Oh, this [permitted waste dump] couldn’t possibly affect the Buffalo.” Sound familiar, valued readers?

    “What we showed was the level of care that must be taken before waste-disposal practices are put into effect within miles of the Buffalo National River,” he said.

    I’d like to examine the state’s hydrology studies that show how the groundwater and underground springs predictably flow through the formations beneath the soil and rocks of C&H Hog Farms. Surely,in light of what happened in the watershed at Pindall, our state learned its lesson and performed its due diligence here.

    Surely, the paid public defenders of our environmental quality in this environmentally sensitive region have insisted that the farmers involved (and their financial backer, Cargill Inc.) conduct such hydrology tests at their own expense.

    If not, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere near the results and this permit should E. coli, phosphorus and worse begin showing up in water testing done after the fact.

    If not these state gatekeepers, who allow enormous amounts of waste to be deposited in environmentally sensitive areas, then who would insist upon such seemingly logical and obvious precautions?

    If not them, then who should bear the expense of such crucial tests? Should it once more come down to the good people who are potentially affected and their fundraising pie suppers and yard sales?

    Those interested in what has become a national issue can attend a public, moderated discussion of the state’s decision to permit C&H Hog Farms beginning at 6 p.m. on May 1 in Fayetteville’s public library.

    Mike Masterson’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at mikemasterson10@hotmail.com. Read his blog at mikemastersonsmessenger.com.

  • 12 Apr 2013 4:21 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    Stuff I Don't Understand, 4/9/13
    Mentally Hogtied, Mike Masterson

    Another thing I don't understand is how a map contained in permitting records at the state's Department of Environmental Quality in connection with C&H Hog farms Inc. in Mount Judea show a field proposed for spraying hog waste comes as close as 300 feet from what appears to the local school's walking track and athletic field (as a hog walks and swims).

    But how could the state agency responsible for protecting our environment and health even consider something like that when these maps are part of their own files? It's even more shocking to me that the director of this agency, Teresa Marks, acknowledged that she didn't know about the notice of intent for this farm until after it was issued.

    The whole plan to place an industrial contained animal feeding operation (CAFO) with as many as 6,500 hogs along Big Creek, which flows into the Buffalo National River some five miles distant, is one big ol' environmental quagmire just waiting to happen.

    I also can't understand how Cargill Inc. would even consider backing such a venture in the most environmentally sensitive region of Arkansas. I suspect many Arkansans whose voices have yet to be heard feel likewise.

    And since our state has granted a permit for this controversial CAFO that envelops the community of Mount Judea and sits along a primary tributary of the Buffalo, doesn't the agency also have a vested interest politically in making sure its decision doesn't look bad later?

    I also believe that Cargill and every governmental agency involved with this really bad plan need to rethink what they are about to do here. I know there are now plenty of eyes and voices waiting to remind them of this decision in times to come.

    Meanwhile, the state's Pollution Control ad Ecology Commission (parent to the Department of Environmental Quality) will meet at the department's commission room in North Little Rock on April 25 at 9 a.m.

    And the Department of Environmental Quality is scheduled to hold a public meeting in Jasper at 6 p.m. on May 8 at the local electric co-op office. But what else can it say after granting the permit? "Hey, it's all legal. Our hands are tied. Nothing to see (or smell) Move along, folks."

    This CAFO might be legal. But why is potential mega-polluter with the potential to negatively affect the live of so many, as well as the environmental quality and tourism in our state, even considered legal in this hallowed place?

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