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  • 20 Jan 2019 9:31 AM | Anonymous

    Nwaonline


    Panel to consider hog farm's request

    by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette


    The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission will meet Friday to hear a petition to stay environmental regulators' denial of a new operating permit to C&H Hog Farms, among other issues.

    C&H Hog Farms owners have asked the commission to stay the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's denial of the farm's new operating permit and to allow the farm to continue to operate under its expired permit while the farmers appeal the denial.

    The commission approved a similar petition about a year ago when the department issued its first denial of the farm's application.

    The farm's owners also have proposed as an alternative a stay that states that the commission believes continual operation of the farm is appropriate but ultimately denies the stay because relief has already been granted by Newton County Circuit Judge John Putman when he placed a stay in October on a commission decision allowing the department to reopen the permitting process for the second denial.

    NW News on 01/20/2019

  • 17 Jan 2019 9:46 AM | Anonymous

    MIKE MASTERSON: Watchdogs' biasImpaired Buffaloby Mike Masterson | August 7, 2018 at 2:15 a.m.


    It's troubled me for years that our Department of Environmental Quality (cough) relies on the Big Creek Research and Extension Team, with an obvious agricultural bent toward protecting C&H Hog Farms, to authenticate any contamination leaking from that facility into adjacent Big Creek.


    Dr. Andrew Sharpley with two team members-to-be, including the extension agent for Newton County, were working with the C&H owners in their capacity with the University of Arkansas extension service before former Gov. Mike Beebe formed that team from within the university's Division of Agriculture.


    When the university accepted that watchdog responsibility to document and prevent harmful effects to our Buffalo National River, Sharpley became its chairman. At the time they were called the Big Creek Research Team. The agricultural term "extension" was later added reportedly at the suggestion of a university extension service employee.


    For me and others, the team's focus on agriculture rather than environmental sciences represents a conflict of interest that has shaken trust in anything it reports, or doesn't. Sharpley has been grilled about his biases in a deposition where he denied any conflict of interest.


    I was especially troubled by his actions in initially failing to readily disclose to the Department of Environmental Quality the results of Dr. Todd Halihan's 2015 electrical resistivity imaging tests, which revealed an apparent subsurface fracture beside one of the factory's waste containment ponds.


    I'm also bothered by the failure to acknowledge increasing levels of fertilizer-generated nutrients found in the Buffalo tributary Big Creek until the mess became bad enough to deem the creek impaired.

    This and more indicates an unacceptable agenda to assist and protect C&H rather than as an impartial watchdog over the Buffalo, portions of which also are now officially contaminated.


    And because of the state agency's politically efficient draft 4(b) category of these impairments, the department is not required to discover why. Being listed 4(b) means it need not determine the source of low dissolved-oxygen levels and the river's massive algae overgrowth containing pathogens, some harmful to humans.


    Adding to the politicized aspects of such failure to protect both Ozark streams, the governor has appointed two members to the state's Pollution Control and Ecology Commission who are openly supportive of the mislocated factory with 6,500 waste-generating hogs.


    Gov. Asa Hutchinson appointed Commissioner Mike Freeze in February, even after Freeze had sent two letters to the Department of Environmental Quality avidly supporting C&H. He is a fish farmer and a paid member of the Farm Bureau's State Board of Directors that also contributes to C&H's legal team.


    Because of his obvious conflict, Freeze was asked last week to recuse from voting in the commission's review of a finding by Administrative Law Judge Charles Moulton. Moulton recommended denying a motion by C&H attorneys seeking to allow the factory's original discontinued operating permit to remain active indefinitely. Freeze said he refused to recuse because he supposedly knows more than when he was appointed in February and therefore could be impartial (cough).


    Then commissioners voted 8-3 to approve Moulton's recommended denial.

    The other commissioner I believe clearly supports the factory in its present location is Bruce Holland, a former legislator and cattleman, who also directs the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission. His deputy director, Ryan Benefield, was the Department of Environmental Quality's assistant director when that department approved the factory's original 2012 permit.


    Holland's position matters because his commission is among the groups supposedly assigned to monitor Big Creek.


    Freeze and Holland voted against Moulton's recommendation that determined C&H's coverage under its original Regulation 6 general permit had indeed ended in January when its application for the Regulation 5 permit was denied.


    C&H lawyers had argued to commissioners that the factory's original general permit coverage should continue indefinitely anyway until being replaced by a Regulation 6 individual permit.


    To swallow that illogical argument, one would have to agree the factory's Regulation 5 permit application (and resulting process requiring almost two years to process before being denied) was an exercise in futility. The judge's recommendation was approved despite Holland's and Freeze's no votes, along with that of retired farmer Rusty Moss of Dermott.


    The argument in favor of continuing C&H's general permit coverage until it is replaced by an indefinite individual permit was in this instance ludicrous, as Moulton's opinion more politely pointed out.


    And the willingness of Holland, Freeze and Moss (none lawyers) to vote against Moulton's reasoned findings I believe spoke volumes about any self-proclaimed greater knowledge and impartiality.


    In light of such obvious bias among some commissioners responsible for policing pollution and enhancing ecology (not assisting agriculture), I'm hoping our governor will embrace fairness and balance by appointing commissioners from the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and the Sierra Club.

    ------------v------------

    Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

  • 17 Jan 2019 8:21 AM | Anonymous

    NWAonline


    Court-transfer snag holds up hog farm's suit against Arkansas agencyby Emily Walkenhorst | 


    The Pulaski County Circuit Court still has not received the files for a hog farm's lawsuit against state environmental regulators nearly 50 days after a Newton County circuit judge ordered the transfer.

    Proceedings in the lawsuit, which alleges that the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality violated public-records law, cannot go on if the case is not actively filed in a court.

    On Wednesday, employees of each circuit court offered different takes to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on how court transfers are supposed to occur, and the Newton County Circuit Court eventually said it would mail a paper copy of the case file to the Pulaski County Circuit Court.

    Newton County Deputy Clerk Vanessa Moore said the case records were available electronically. She said the order for transfer had been entered into the system and that the Pulaski County Circuit Court was responsible for taking the records online and transferring them to its jurisdiction.

    Jason Kennedy, assistant chief deputy clerk for the Pulaski County Circuit Court, said electronic transfers were not possible yet through the electronic system. While he could print off the records from the state court website, Newton County needed to certify they were the complete copy of the case file, he said.

    Moore told the Democrat-Gazette later that the clerk's office would print out the case file, certify it and mail it to Pulaski County, even though she believed the process to be "a waste." The Pulaski County Circuit Court will be responsible for obtaining the $50 transfer fee from the Department of Environmental Quality to reopen the case in the new court.

    C&H Hog Farms alleges the department violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act when it did not fulfill a records request the farmers made Oct. 10 for communications about their permit application and records related to other farms located in karst or areas suspected of being karst.

    Instead, the department replied Oct. 14, arguing that the request was for "such a voluminous and broad category of records" that the department "cannot locate and identify potentially responsive records with reasonable effort."

    C&H sued in Newton County, but Circuit Judge John Putman ordered the case be transferred to Pulaski County Circuit Court on Nov. 30 after the department petitioned for the transfer.

    On Wednesday, C&H attorney Chuck Nestrud said he wanted the case to be transferred by now.

    "I'm anxious to get it in Pulaski court so we can have a hearing," he said.

    Two department spokesmen did not return an email seeking comment by Wednesday evening.

    Metro on 01/17/2019

  • 14 Jan 2019 10:24 AM | Anonymous

    GREG HARTON: Shhhh! Public doesn't have to know, right?

    by Greg Harton | January 13, 2019 at 1:00 a.m.


    Here's an idea: In government offices at every level, administrators should make it an assigned duty of a high-ranked employee to interject a single question into every discussion of projects or major policy changes

    Which question? "So, shouldn't we be notifying taxpayers and others affected by this and asking for their feedback?"


    The most recent example of bureaucratic tone deafness comes from the University of Arkansas, which began cutting down trees for a street project last week. Those trees were near private homes. That anyone would be shocked by a negative reaction in Fayetteville to felling a bunch of trees demonstrates higher education doesn't always equate to common sense.

    The UA isn't alone in the practice of asking for forgiveness rather than permission, or even just understanding. Whether it's state or local government, or sometimes public utilities, projects that can go through hundreds of hours of internal discussions get under way without anyone questioning whether the greater public ought to be brought up to speed.


    Arkansas' worst-case example is the large-scale hog farm the state licensed to operate near a creek that feeds directly into the Buffalo National River. State agencies ostensibly focused on protecting the environment issued the initial permit for the hog farm without notifying nearby landowners, county residents or their leaders, the Arkansas Department of Health or the National Park Service.


    Suggesting that nobody raised the issue of notification is, admittedly, a bit naive. Indeed, it seems possible, if not probable, in a lot of these "Oops, we should have told you" scenarios that a conscious decision to exclude public notification was made, a roll of the dice that increases the likelihood a project will be carried out before any concerned citizens have a chance to get all stirred up.


    The Washington County Quorum Court and County Judge Joseph Wood recently created a similar circumstance with Wood's 2019 budget. Despite the Quorum Court's protests to the contrary, its members provided relatively weak oversight of the spending plans developed by full-time elected officials. The 15 members of the Quorum Court are supposed to be the last line of defense to prevent exorbitant spending.


    Judge Wood included pay raises well beyond the 3 percent overall raises the Quorum Court favored for county employees. For example, his chief of staff, Carl Gales, saw his pay increase 28 percent, from $71,415 to $91,428. Three employees in Wood's financial management area saw 20 percent increases totalling $12,000, $9,389 and $6,419 a year. Wood's road superintendent realized a 26.4 percent, or $17,420, annual raise. Many others saw double-digit percentage increases. Wood's pay raises for employees totaled $269,797 beyond what would have been covered by the 3 percent raises the Quorum Court favored across the board.


    Were they justified? Who knows? The Quorum Court did not question them. Wood's office was content to get them without public scrutiny. Nobody did anything illegal, but nobody can argue the sizable raises were delivered in the full light of day so that the public could understand the reasons Wood felt they were needed.


    The admirable approach to public budgeting is fully exposing and explaining big pay increases or projects that will impact the public. If the changes are justified, why shy away from a public explanation? Laying such things out in full view also insulates them from later criticisms.


    Public officials can ignore the public as long as the public allows it. We get what we ask for when we re-elect people who prefer to operate secretly when spending public dollars. Bureaucrats can function with impunity until they're called out by higher influences, such as a college board of trustees.

    The strongest message to convince public officials they need to operate with transparency is to boot those who operate behind a veil of secrecy to the curb at the next opportunity.

    Commentary on 01/13/2019

  • 12 Jan 2019 9:30 AM | Anonymous

    MASTERSON ONLINE: The incomplete index

    by Mike Masterson | Today at 1:50 a.m.


    Thanks to some fine enterprise reporting by Emily Walkenhorst of this newspaper, we’ve learned the index created by academics at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville to measure levels of potentially contaminating phosphorus leaking from the surfaces of agricultural fields during rain has failed to include that which invariably drains through and into underlying karst terrain.


    To that revelation I say: Oh, come now. You have to be kidding.


    Excess nitrogen and phosphorus in water, both fertilizers generated by animal waste, cause algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle, and result in danger to aquatic life from explosions of algae blooms and resulting low dissolved oxygen. Did you try canoeing through the mess along some 70 miles of the Buffalo last summer?


    Agvise Laboratories reports that many states, out of environmental concerns over excess phosphorus application and runoff, are now regulating animal manure application, focusing first on its phosphorus content, followed by nitrogen.


    I’m assured that streams such as our beloved Buffalo National River don’t care whether contaminants originate from runoff or subsurface fissures and cracks.


    The excess fertilizer that attaches to soil particles and becomes trapped in the subterranean fractured limestone openings becomes known as legacy phosphorus. Unlike runoff, it can steadily pollute for decades and much longer.


    The so-called Arkansas Phosphorus Index, developed in 2010, is primarily used by farmers, although processing plants and municipal wastewater plants have started applying it as well.


    The index was established by Andrew Sharpley, a professor in the Agriculture Division’s Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences at UA, and others. Sharpley also heads the Big Creek Research and Extension Team.


    That group, comprised largely of members of the University of Arkansas Agricultural Division, has received hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars over the past six years to monitor potential waste discharges, including phosphorus, from C&H Hog Farms.


    I wonder, with all that expertise and an obviously inadequate Phosphorus Index, why this monitoring group hasn’t been taking carefully measured accounts of all known ways phosphorus enters natural waters statewide, especially where it is widely known the Buffalo watershed surrounding C&H is riddled with karst.


    Walkenhorst quoted Brian Haggard, director of the Arkansas Water Resources Center at the UA’s College of Engineering, saying the variability of karst terrain means it shouldn’t be factored into the index. I suppose that means let’s pretend like it doesn’t exist. I’d sure want karst included in Mikey’s Imaginary Updated and Remarkably Complete Phosphorus Index.

    The existence of pervasive karst in our Buffalo watershed is well-documented, including in caves and underground springs that honeycomb the rocky hills and mountains.


    Water flow tests voluntarily conducted by emeritus Arkansas geoscientist and noted hydrologist Dr. John Van Brahana—not by our state—showed that dye he injected into property surrounding C&H traveled rapidly, was widespread and emerged as far as 12 miles downstream in the Buffalo.


    “The state’s hog farms—and neighboring fields where hog manure is used as fertilizer—are often in karst areas in north and southwest Arkansas,” Walkenhorst wrote. “More often than not, the soil on which the manure has been spread has phosphorous levels that are considered excessive for plant nutrition, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette review of the permits and soil analysis samples of about 100 Arkansas hog farms.”


    The index, Walkenhorst wrote, “assigns a phosphorous-runoff risk value to land upon which a farmer wants to spread animal waste. Manure can be applied only on land deemed to have a ‘low’ or ‘medium’ risk of runoff, according to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.”The Department of Environmental Quality (cough), which should never have approved the factory with up to 6,500 swine in this incredibly environmentally sensitive region without extensive testing, last year denied it a new operating permit.


    The factory’s initial Regulation 6 permit issued in 2012 was discontinued and expired two years ago. Yet the factory has operated as usual since because of ongoing legal appeals.


    In part, the agency, in its final permit denial last fall, was concerned about the presence of karst, the measurably increased phosphorus levels and the now-documented impairment of the nearby Buffalo River, Walkenhorst wrote.


    C&H sprays the swine manure as fertilizer on surrounding fields along and near the Buffalo tributary, Big Creek, flowing six miles down into the Buffalo.


    Jessie Green, executive director of White River Waterkeeper, told Walkenhorst the phosphorus index should have accounted for subsurface leakage. The fact it doesn’t is “a considerable failing.” Hmmm, ya think?

    Sharpley said the index was designed only to measure surface phosphorus runoff in rain and is finally being updated to account for local conditions such as karst.


    The original C&H permit application and nutrient management plan failed to account for the acres of karst upon which it has freely operated. Where was the Department of Environmental Quality in 2012?

    Unbelievable stuff, eh?

  • 08 Jan 2019 8:34 AM | Anonymous

    Critics: Arkansas Phosphorus Index faulty; it gauges fertilizer on fields but omits terrain factor, they say


    by Emily Walkenhorst | January 6, 2019 at 4:30 a.m.


    The calculation used to determine how much fertilizer farmers can apply to their crops in Arkansas doesn't take into account the potential of the fertilizer leaching underground, meaning it doesn't adequately protect the state's waterways, critics say.


    The Arkansas Phosphorus Index calculates the potential of phosphorous runoff during a rain. The index is largely used by farmers, but recently processing plants and municipal wastewater plants have been using it.


    Where the Buffalo River is located, for example, the index doesn't take into account all of the ways phosphorus can get into waterways, critics say. The area is karst, which often features cracks, fissures and sinkholes that allow substances to trickle down and move underground.


    But the variability of karst terrain means karst shouldn't be factored into the index, said Brian Haggard, director of the Arkansas Water Resources Center at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, College of Engineering.


    The state's hog farms -- and neighboring fields where hog manure is used as fertilizer -- are often in karst areas in north and southwest Arkansas. More often than not, the soil on which the manure has been spread has phosphorous levels that are considered excessive for plant nutrition, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazettereview of the permits and soil analysis samples of about 100 Arkansas hog farms.


    It's the raw soil samples, not the nutritional needs of crops, that pertain most to the index -- which is designed to address surface-runoff pollution.


    The Arkansas Phosphorus Index assigns a phosphorous-runoff risk value to land upon which a farmer wants to spread animal waste. Manure can be applied only on land deemed to have a "low" or "medium" risk of runoff, according to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.


    The phosphorous index multiplies three things together: phosphorus source potential (based on soil tests and the phosphorous application rate), transport potential (how easily phosphorus might move, based on the slope of the land and other elements), and best management practices (such as ponds, fencing or buffers on the land).


    Each of the three factors has its own factor that determines its value. Factors are assigned numeric values, even when they are not actual measurements, such as the values for how often an area of land floods (0 for "very rare," 0.2 for "rare," 0.5 for "occasional" and 2 for "frequent"). Soil samples help to recalculate the land's risk every year.


    The index was put together by Andrew Sharpley, a professor in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Haggard; and others from the University of Arkansas System and employees of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.


    Last fall, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality denied a new operating permit for C&H Hog Farms in Newton County in part because of concerns about karst, phosphorous levels and the impairment of the nearby Buffalo River.


    The farm, located in the Buffalo River watershed, has become the focus of environmental groups that believe it is a threat to the national river. Phosphorus can contribute to algal growth in water.


    Like many farms, C&H Hog Farms uses the manure its animals produce as fertilizer for its land. Often, farmers send the manure to other farmers who want to use the nutrient-rich material.


    Farmers should factor in karst within devising their nutrient management plans, Haggard said. Such plans are required for poultry operations in 13 Northwest Arkansas counties (considered to have excessive nutrients) and hog farms. The plans can be more than 100 pages, and they describe how waste will be contained and disposed of.


    Not every karst-susceptible area has karst, Haggard said. Farmers can look for visible signs of karst and determine what needs to be written into their plans, he said.

    Manure cannot be applied within 50 feet of a hole, Sharpley said, as an example.


    But karst areas, which have little topsoil, can often include cracks underground that don't appear on the surface, said Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance. That means phosphorus could leach into the ground faster and end up falling through cracks and into waters, he said.


    Watkins acknowledges that phosphorus is retained in soil better than are some other nutrients. But, he said, that "legacy phosphorus" can leach for decades underground or through surface runoff.


    "Legacy phosphorus" has been cited as a continuing contributor of phosphorus in the Illinois River watershed, where land application of poultry litter is now limited.
    Karst is formed when chemical weathering, such as acid rain, or natural dissolution breaks down limestone, dolostone marble or evaporite deposits -- types of geological formations, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.


    Karst terrain can have caves, springs, "disappearing streams" and sinkholes, among other features. "Disappearing streams" are waters that disappear from the surface, travel underground through fractures and show up at a surface level elsewhere.


    Karst is widespread in the Ozark Plateaus. A portion of southwest Arkansas has limestone and several springs and caves, and the Boston Mountains region in north Arkansas has limestone and numerous caves and springs.


    The Arkansas Geological Survey describes karst-susceptible land as running across north Arkansas, from Washington and Crawford counties in the west to Randolph and Lawrence counties in the east.


    In comments submitted to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality on its new draft of impaired water bodies list, Jessie Green, executive director of the White River Waterkeeper, said the phosphorus index should account for subsurface leaching. It said the fact that it doesn't is "a considerable failing."


    But the index was developed as a way to analyze surface runoff risks, not subsurface risks, Sharpley said.
    "That is not what this is designed to do," he said.
    C&H Hog Farms' permit application did not account for karst, which the Department of Environmental Quality decided was ultimately needed, among other things, in order to issue the permit.


    The Department of Environmental Quality did not grant an interview request -- sought over the course of several weeks -- for this article.


    In its denial of C&H's permit, the department noted that excess phosphorus not absorbed by crops is "vulnerable to removal by surface runoff or leaching." The statement of basis for permit denial also mentions that the phosphorus index "may still allow application of swine waste because of other factors."


    After C&H's permit was denied, Watkins said the index is "only as good as what's factored into it."


    The index should better account for local conditions, Sharpley said. He and others are updating the index, which was written in 2010, to factor in row-crop conditions of east Arkansas.


    "That will probably look quite a bit different than the index for pastures, I would guess," Haggard said.


    Metro on 01/06/2019

  • 06 Jan 2019 5:06 PM | Anonymous

    Arkansasonline


    Environmental groups can intervene in C&H Hog Farms' appeal of its permit denial, a judge ruled Friday.


    Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission Administrative Law Judge Charles Moulton issued the order.

    The intervenors are the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Ozark Society, Gordon Watkins, Marti Olesen, Alan Nye, Robert Cross and David Peterson. All are opponents of C&H's operating location in the Buffalo National River's watershed.

    The parties have successfully intervened in two circuit court appeals and successfully intervened in C&H's appeal of its first permit denial last year. 

  • 06 Jan 2019 5:05 PM | Anonymous

    Arkansasonline


    Judge cancels order to summon officials


    Arkansas environmental regulators won't have to appear in court Wednesday as scheduled to argue why they shouldn't be held in contempt of a Newton County Circuit Court order.

    Circuit Judge John Putman quashed his order for the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to "show cause" why it should not be held in contempt, stating that department Director Becky Keogh and Caleb Osborne, the associate director over the Office of Water Quality, were never served their court summons.

    C&H Hog Farms is appealing an Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission decision that remanded the Environmental Quality Department's denial of a new permit for the farm back to the department.

    Attorneys for C&H had asked Putman to order the department to show cause. They said the department knew about a stay that Putman had ordered on the commission's decision to remand the permit back to the department. The department was subsequently in contempt of court when it issued a second permit denial, the attorneys contended.

    But C&H attorneys never served Keogh or Osborne with court summons or notice of court proceedings after Putman's order to show cause.

    In his Wednesday order quashing the show-cause hearing, Putman said parties did not have adequate time to respond before next Wednesday's hearing. He wrote that attorneys could request another order "after the plaintiff determines and obtains the appropriate legal process regarding its motion to show cause."

    Later that day, C&H attorneys filed affidavits of service that confirm the delivery of documents. In filings, C&H attorneys stated they would later serve Keogh and Osborne with court summons.

  • 06 Jan 2019 5:01 PM | Anonymous

    Arkansasonline


    Critics: Arkansas Phosphorus Index faulty; it gauges fertilizer on fields but omits terrain factor, they say


    by Emily Walkenhorst | January 6, 2019


    The calculation used to determine how much fertilizer farmers can apply to their crops in Arkansas doesn't take into account the potential of the fertilizer leaching underground, meaning it doesn't adequately protect the state's waterways, critics say.

    The Arkansas Phosphorus Index calculates the potential of phosphorous runoff during a rain. The index is largely used by farmers, but recently processing plants and municipal wastewater plants have been using it.

    Where the Buffalo River is located, for example, the index doesn't take into account all of the ways phosphorus can get into waterways, critics say. The area is karst, which often features cracks, fissures and sinkholes that allow substances to trickle down and move underground.

    But the variability of karst terrain means karst shouldn't be factored into the index, said Brian Haggard, director of the Arkansas Water Resources Center at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, College of Engineering.

    The state's hog farms -- and neighboring fields where hog manure is used as fertilizer -- are often in karst areas in north and southwest Arkansas. More often than not, the soil on which the manure has been spread has phosphorous levels that are considered excessive for plant nutrition, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazettereview of the permits and soil analysis samples of about 100 Arkansas hog farms.

    It's the raw soil samples, not the nutritional needs of crops, that pertain most to the index -- which is designed to address surface-runoff pollution.

    The Arkansas Phosphorus Index assigns a phosphorous-runoff risk value to land upon which a farmer wants to spread animal waste. Manure can be applied only on land deemed to have a "low" or "medium" risk of runoff, according to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

    The phosphorous index multiplies three things together: phosphorus source potential (based on soil tests and the phosphorous application rate), transport potential (how easily phosphorus might move, based on the slope of the land and other elements), and best management practices (such as ponds, fencing or buffers on the land).

    Each of the three factors has its own factor that determines its value. Factors are assigned numeric values, even when they are not actual measurements, such as the values for how often an area of land floods (0 for "very rare," 0.2 for "rare," 0.5 for "occasional" and 2 for "frequent"). Soil samples help to recalculate the land's risk every year.

    The index was put together by Andrew Sharpley, a professor in the Department of Crop, Soil and Environmental Sciences at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; Haggard; and others from the University of Arkansas System and employees of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    Last fall, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality denied a new operating permit for C&H Hog Farms in Newton County in part because of concerns about karst, phosphorous levels and the impairment of the nearby Buffalo River.

    The farm, located in the Buffalo River watershed, has become the focus of environmental groups that believe it is a threat to the national river. Phosphorus can contribute to algal growth in water.

    Like many farms, C&H Hog Farms uses the manure its animals produce as fertilizer for its land. Often, farmers send the manure to other farmers who want to use the nutrient-rich material.

    Farmers should factor in karst within devising their nutrient management plans, Haggard said. Such plans are required for poultry operations in 13 Northwest Arkansas counties (considered to have excessive nutrients) and hog farms. The plans can be more than 100 pages, and they describe how waste will be contained and disposed of.

    Not every karst-susceptible area has karst, Haggard said. Farmers can look for visible signs of karst and determine what needs to be written into their plans, he said.


    Manure cannot be applied within 50 feet of a hole, Sharpley said, as an example.

    But karst areas, which have little topsoil, can often include cracks underground that don't appear on the surface, said Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance. That means phosphorus could leach into the ground faster and end up falling through cracks and into waters, he said.

    Watkins acknowledges that phosphorus is retained in soil better than are some other nutrients. But, he said, that "legacy phosphorus" can leach for decades underground or through surface runoff.

    "Legacy phosphorus" has been cited as a continuing contributor of phosphorus in the Illinois River watershed, where land application of poultry litter is now limited.

    Karst is formed when chemical weathering, such as acid rain, or natural dissolution breaks down limestone, dolostone marble or evaporite deposits -- types of geological formations, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas.

    Karst terrain can have caves, springs, "disappearing streams" and sinkholes, among other features. "Disappearing streams" are waters that disappear from the surface, travel underground through fractures and show up at a surface level elsewhere.

    Karst is widespread in the Ozark Plateaus. A portion of southwest Arkansas has limestone and several springs and caves, and the Boston Mountains region in north Arkansas has limestone and numerous caves and springs.

    The Arkansas Geological Survey describes karst-susceptible land as running across north Arkansas, from Washington and Crawford counties in the west to Randolph and Lawrence counties in the east.

    In comments submitted to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality on its new draft of impaired water bodies list, Jessie Green, executive director of the White River Waterkeeper, said the phosphorus index should account for subsurface leaching. It said the fact that it doesn't is "a considerable failing."

    But the index was developed as a way to analyze surface runoff risks, not subsurface risks, Sharpley said.

    "That is not what this is designed to do," he said.

    C&H Hog Farms' permit application did not account for karst, which the Department of Environmental Quality decided was ultimately needed, among other things, in order to issue the permit.

    The Department of Environmental Quality did not grant an interview request -- sought over the course of several weeks -- for this article.

    In its denial of C&H's permit, the department noted that excess phosphorus not absorbed by crops is "vulnerable to removal by surface runoff or leaching." The statement of basis for permit denial also mentions that the phosphorus index "may still allow application of swine waste because of other factors."

    After C&H's permit was denied, Watkins said the index is "only as good as what's factored into it."

    The index should better account for local conditions, Sharpley said. He and others are updating the index, which was written in 2010, to factor in row-crop conditions of east Arkansas.

    "That will probably look quite a bit different than the index for pastures, I would guess," Haggard said.

    Metro on 01/06/2019

  • 30 Dec 2018 9:05 AM | Anonymous

    Arkansasonline


    Judge orders Arkansas regulators to explain permit denial for hog farmby Emily Walkenhorst |


    Arkansas environmental regulators must appear before a judge next month to argue why they should not be held in contempt of court for denying C&H Hog Farms a new operating permit, according to court records.


    The Newton County Circuit Court order is the latest in C&H's two circuit court appeals, one commission appeal and one civil lawsuit regarding its permit denial this year.


    C&H Hog Farms is near Mount Judea in Newton County, about a half mile from Big Creek, which is a tributary of the Buffalo National River.


    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, which denied the permit, is not a party in the appeals related to its permit denial. But Judge John Putman ordered department officials to appear in his court Jan. 9 to explain why they were not acting in contempt of court when they continued with the permitting process after Putman stayed a commission order to reopen the public comment period on the permit.


    "C&H alleges, among other things, that on November 19, 2018, with knowledge of this court's October 17, 2018, order, ADEQ issued a permit decision regarding C&H's application for a Regulation No. 5 permit, which included a process to shut down C&H's operation," Putman wrote. "After examining C&H's motion and the exhibits attached to said motion, the court finds that the motion should be granted."


    Putman stopped short of holding the department in contempt of court, instead ordering Department Director Becky Keogh and Associate Director in the Office of Water Quality Caleb Osborn, to appear Jan. 9 to "show cause" why they should not be held in contempt.


    If found in contempt, the charge would be civil, not criminal, although both charges are punishable with jail time and fines, said Richard Mays, an attorney for intervening environmental groups.


    Department spokesman Nate Olson said the matter is under review, and the agency could not comment.


    After the stay, "any further action by ADEQ pending the appeal would be null and void, because ADEQ does not have jurisdiction to act after the notice of appeal," C&H's attorneys argued in their motion to order the department to show cause.


    The lawsuit from which the order stems is C&H's appeal of the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission's decision to remand the department's original permit denial back to the department for a draft denial and second round of public comments.


    Because the department is not a party in the circuit court case, the order to show cause is "a very interesting issue," Mays said.


    "ADEQ certainly has a relationship to the commission, but they are not the same," Mays said.


    The commission is the department's appellate and rule-making body. People appeal department decisions to the commission, and people and the department petition the commission to change environmental regulations.


    In August, the commission ordered the department to reissue its denial of C&H's permit as a draft decision open to public comment. The department had previously issued its denial as a final decision, reversing its proposed approval in 2017. The department received public comment on that proposal that spring.


    C&H appealed the commission's order because it "remanded" but did not "reverse" the department's original permit denial. Putman issued the stay in October on the department's first permit denial and on the commission's decision to remand the permit issue.


    In his order, Putman said the Newton County Circuit Court "obtained jurisdiction over C&H's application" when the farm appealed the commission's decision Sept. 6.


    C&H's attorneys asked for the stay "to avoid potential confusion and preserve the status quo of C&H's operating authority pending completion of C&H's appeals to the Court and any other appellate courts to which this matter may be appealed."


    The day after the department denied C&H's permit, Nov. 20, C&H's attorneys filed a motion to order the department to show cause why they should not be held in contempt. Attorneys attached documents that they said showed that the department knew about the stay order.


    The Jan. 9 hearing is the only circuit court hearing scheduled among the three circuit court cases C&H has filed.


    C&H also has appealed an Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission decision to uphold an order by the commission's administrative law judge denying motions made by C&H that argue that its original permit was indefinitely active until another type of permit was issued.


    Putman is also overseeing that appeal.


    C&H attorney Chuck Nestrud said Thursday that he believes the appeal has been fully briefed, but he requested that oral arguments in the case be added to the Jan. 9 court date.


    A Jan. 4 preliminary hearing on C&H's appeal of its second permit denial is to be held via teleconference.


    That appeal is before the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, which is the department's appellate body. An appeal of a commission decision would go to circuit court.


    C&H's attorneys have requested a stay of the department's second permit denial and asked the commission Thursday to continue that hearing to a later date.


    "We don't think that that appeal should proceed until the circuit court's appeals are resolved," Nestrud told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Ozark Society, Gordon Watkins, Marti Olesen, Alan Nye, Robert Cross and David Peterson -- all opponents of C&H's operating location in the Buffalo National River's watershed -- have filed a motion to intervene in the appeal. The parties have successfully intervened in the two circuit court appeals and successfully intervened in C&H's appeal of its first permit denial earlier this year.


    C&H's third circuit court case is a lawsuit that says the department violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act when it did not provide records requested by C&H. The agency argued that the request was too broad.

    The case has been moved from Newton County Circuit Court but has yet to be transferred in Pulaski County Circuit Court, where it was ordered to go Nov. 29, according to Nestrud and a Pulaski County Circuit Clerk records department employee.


    Sunday on 12/30/2018


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