Buffalo River 
Watershed
Alliance

News


  • 20 Jun 2019 9:37 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Good news for river


    It's been a remarkable week of good news from our state's natural treasure, the Buffalo River.

    Good News No. 1 is the pending closure of the C&H hog farm, sending a clear signal to the world that the Natural State will make the effort to live up to its name. The costly reclamation of the site will have a high return on investment in the decades to come. Think of it as a preservation intervention, the chance to remove a potential pollution problem before it becomes manifest.


    It's difficult to see the future sometimes, even when it's staring you in the face. This was the case in Good News No. 2, the river rescue by intrepid Park Service staff who braved the early morning flash-flood waters of June 7 and sped upriver to remove dozens of campers from imminent danger. A tragedy such as occurred at the Albert Pike campground some years ago was averted. Bravo to our first responders!


    And Good News No. 3, though less dramatic than a daring rescue, is the assignment of Dark Sky status to the Buffalo River park. The quiet beauty of a starlit night sky, brilliantly ablaze with countless points of light, is a heritage that belongs to all people. It makes you proud to be here.


    MARVIN SCHWARTZ

    Little Rock

  • 20 Jun 2019 9:36 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    A big sigh of relief


    I would like to comment on two recent events here in Arkansas. First, I would like to thank the Northwest Arkansas edition of the Democrat-Gazette for actually showing the crowds in attendance at the Pride Parade in Fayetteville. If you had only seen local television news coverage, it would be easy to assume it was a non-event. It appears these entities are uncomfortable with the realities of love and affiliation, and chose to largely ignore it.


    Second, while we can all sigh in collective relief that the C&H hog disaster has been brought to conclusion, let's stop for a moment to review what went down: Behind closed doors, without input from the citizenry, a deal was made to allow a large-scale hog production facility in the watershed of our first national river. We'll never know what transpired to make that happen, but I'll wager it involved some ugly business. Now that issue has been resolved with the aid of over $6 million to buy C&H out. The outcome is good, but who do you think is paying them off? You and me, with taxpayer monies.


    We live in an area that will be growing in population for the foreseeable future, so we as citizens must be constantly on the lookout for dirty deals that enrich a few at the expense of everyone else. We've dealt with "carpetbaggers" in the past.


    STANLEY LANCASTER

    Springdale

  • 20 Jun 2019 9:32 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Friday's Thumbs UP in NWAOnline


    [THUMBS UP] The recent big news about the Buffalo National River had to do with a hog farm, but people who appreciate being able to look up at night and see something other than the glow of man-made lights also got something to cheer about around the river. The national park recently became the first International Dark Sky Park in Arkansas. The river is situated in a rural part of Arkansas where the glare of electric lights can be avoided, giving star-watchers a chance to enjoy the celestial bodies. The national park spent the last two years getting more than 345 light fixtures into compliance with the international organization's standards. We applaud the effort. Anyone who has ever gotten out of the cities and found a truly dark place to observe the night sky can't help but be astounded at the clarity of the night sky. This is an outstanding step that gives Arkansans yet another reason (and their are already so many) to love the Buffalo National River. We appreciate the National Park Service having the (protected) vision to see the value of protecting the night sky.


  • 20 Jun 2019 9:25 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    BRENDA BLAGG: A forever battle


    The state's buyout of a controversial hog farm near the Buffalo National River is an answer to a huge environmental concern.


    Defenders of the scenic river, the first in the United States to carry the national river designation, are rightly celebrating the news.


    The threat of pollution from this hog farm -- real or perceived -- will theoretically end in 180 days.


    At least the farm's operation within the Buffalo's watershed will cease.

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced last week that the state has reached agreement with owners of C&H Hog Farms to close its large-scale swine operation near Mount Judea in Newton County.


    The farm has had 2,500 sows and is allowed to have up to 4,000 piglets at the site near Big Creek, which flows into the Buffalo just 6.6 miles away.


    Brothers Richard and Phillip Campbell and their cousin, Jason Henson, started the feeding operation in 2013, after securing the necessary permit from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.


    That's when the trouble began.


    The farmers did what the state agency required of them to get the permit. The state agency, however, gave what opponents of the hog farm maintain was inadequate notice to the public and to other stakeholders.


    Had others known what was happening, the uproar over location of a commercial swine operation near the Buffalo would have happened before the permit was issued.


    Instead, it happened afterwards and continues to this day -- complete with long-running regulatory squabbles and litigation.


    Those efforts might have eventually shut down the hog farm operation.

    The deal struck by Hutchinson and the Department of Arkansas Heritage to buy out the farmers gets in done in 180 days and, importantly, leaves the farmers whole.


    Hutchinson, in announcing the deal, emphasized that the farmers got their permit fairly and have operated the hog farm with "the utmost care" from the start.


    "They have not done anything wrong, but the state should never have granted that permit for a large-scale hog farm operation in the Buffalo River watershed," he said.


    The $6.2 million buyout will cover the remaining balance on a multimillion-dollar loan and compensate the farmers for additional closure-related costs. The farm owners will cut short their contract for sale of pigs and grant the state a conservation easement on the land, limiting its future use.


    The $6.2 million will come mostly from the state, but Hutchinson has reached out to The Nature Conservancy for help. Its share won't be more than $1 million and will likely be less.


    That initial permit for the hog farm was issued on former Gov. Mike Beebe's watch.


    The hog farm operation has since been intensely monitored, as state and federal regulators and others watched for any impact on water quality downstream.


    That monitoring should continue as whatever waste from the hog farm (or other sources) makes its way through the karst terrain or in runoff into the creek and river.


    Meanwhile, Hutchinson wants to make permanent a temporary ban the state has placed on new medium- and large-scale hog farms in the watershed.


    The regulatory change is subject to legislative review, which begs the question: Will a permanent ban happen?


    Hutchinson has given his Department of Environmental Quality clear enough direction.


    But there are others who want to protect farmers' rights. Most notable is the Arkansas Farm Bureau, a powerful lobby that has stood squarely with the C&H owners in the battle over the hog farm.


    A Farm Bureau profile of the families that jointly own C&H describes them as ninth-generation farmers in Newton County. They're like a lot of the farmers the organization serves all over Arkansas and it sounded a little like the Farm Bureau regrets giving up the fight for the families' rights.


    "This is a private, and personal, decision by the owners of C&H Hog Farm, which, no doubt, was based on what they felt is best for their future," reads a statement from spokesman Steve Eddington. "Arkansas Farm Bureau's support for the owners of C&H has not wavered, and we wish them success in whatever endeavor they choose to pursue."


    He did emphasize that there has been "no credible scientific evidence" that the farm caused harm to the Buffalo River while C&H became "one of the most productive swine producers in the region."


    Farm interests have long held sway among many Arkansas lawmakers and regulators for that matter.


    Expect that sentiment to continue, should vigilance from environmentalists ever falter.


    While the fight for the Buffalo has definitely carried some costly lessons for both sides, the fight to protect the river can't be over.


    The battle is forever.


    Commentary on 06/19/2019

  • 20 Jun 2019 9:19 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MIKE MASTERSON: Saving the Buffalo


    Our Buffalo National River is finally awakening from her long nightmare thanks to the efforts of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who announced the other day the state and owners of the controversial C&H Hog Farms reached an agreement to close that factory at Mount Judea come November.


    In the deal, C&H receives $6.2 million, paid for by the state and The Nature Conservancy. There really was no other fair way to resolve this legally complex situation that should never have occurred.


    Screaming "Alleluia" at the top of my lungs seems inadequate after six years of "breathlessly" writing about the travesty. Many good people, from those at the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance to the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Ozark Society, the Audubon Society and beyond have given their time, energy and resources in hopes this day might arrive.


    It's always risky when a columnist names names. Yet I feel compelled to cite some among the many people who have fought the good fight over the years since our state's Department of Environmental Quality (cough) wrongheadedly issued the permit for C&H to begin spreading millions of tons of raw waste across the fragile watershed.


    My thanks to all who contributed so much, including Gordon Watkins; Dr. John Van Brahana and his volunteers; Joe Nix; Richard Mays; Bob Cross, Sam Perroni; Teresa Turk; Brian Thompson; Duane Woltjen; Steve Blumreich; Jack Stewart; Marti Olesen; Ginny Masullo; Ellen Corley; Chuck and Carol Bitting; Lin Wellford; Nancy Haller (deceased); Alice Andrews; David Peterson; Emily Jones; Bob Evans; Debbie Doss; Jewell, Larry and Pam Fowler; Patti Kent; Dane Schumacher and Tom Aley.

    Many also thank Governor Hutchinson for bringing this environmental nightmare to an end. Again, apologies to anyone missing from this list along with the 20,000-plus Arkansans who wrote the state in support of our river.


    The Newton County families that operated C&H always have been honorable, hardworking people who applied for--and were granted--a legitimate state permit to legally operate the factory with 6,500 swine and to regularly leak and spray the resulting waste across some 600 watershed acres. Those spray fields are dotted around and along impaired Big Creek, a major tributary of the now endangered and impaired national river flowing 6.6 miles downstream.


    The Henson and Campbell families did everything the state asked of them without violations.


    The problem always has rested solely with the Department of Environmental Quality's ineffective environmental "watchdogs" who failed to insist on crucial studies before considering such a permit in this clearly inappropriate watershed. Good grief, even I know this leaky limestone region was never a place for something as polluting as a large hog factory.


    Certain agency employees quietly ushered C&H's general permit through the process without their agency's director ever knowing it was a done deal. Does that abysmal method of doing public business smell beyond rancid to anyone else?


    There were valid reasons former Gov. Mike Beebe, in an interview as he exited office, called this permit approval on his watch his biggest regret. As of last week, the legacy of Asa Hutchinson will be as the governor who closed this place and moved toward permanently closing this precious region in "God's Country" to future farm factories.


    I'm proud of Hutchinson for keeping his word to me one evening as he campaigned for his first term that he would do everything in his power to protect the Buffalo National River.


    It's also my understanding the governor personally researched the history and complexities of this matter before arriving at his conclusion to offer the buyout. He genuinely cared about figuring out how best to untangle such a hog-tied mess for the best possible result.


    Those who have followed the C&H debacle since 2012 when the permit was issued already know all that has happened since. I'm speaking, for instance, of the excessive phosphorus levels on spray fields repeatedly draining into Big Creek and deep beneath the fractured karst subsurface, especially during major rain events.

    That so-called legacy phosphorus will continue to drain downstream for decades to come.


    I lost track a couple of years back how many details and developments I've tried to pack into 100 or so columns since 2013 (thanks for the many kind messages). I remained vigilant for one reason only: to do the best I could to keep Arkansans informed of what was happening to our jewel of a stream that a USA Today poll two years ago voted as our state's greatest natural attraction.

  • 19 Jun 2019 6:32 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Democrat Gazette


    Panel advances hog-farm deal $6.2M for buyout endorsed

    by Michael R. Wickline


    A legislative panel on Tuesday endorsed Gov. Asa Hutchinson's plan to transfer up to $6.2 million in state "rainy-day" funds to the Department of Arkansas Heritage to obtain a conservation easement within the Buffalo National River watershed to shut down a hog farm.

    In a voice vote with no audible dissenters, the Legislative Council's Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Subcommittee recommended the full council approve the Republican governor's request during the council's meeting on Friday.

    The panel also recommended the council approve increasing the department's spending authority by $6.2 million in fiscal 2019, which ends June 30, and in fiscal 2020, which starts the next day, for the purchase of the conservation easement.

    Hutchinson on Thursday announced that C&H Hog Farms, the target of years-long environmental concerns, will close its doors later this year under a buyout agreement reached with Hutchinson and Arkansas Heritage.

    The large-scale hog farm, which sits within the watershed of the Buffalo National River, will have 180 days from last Thursday to cease operations. After that, the Department of Environmental Quality will begin closing and cleaning up the site. The conservation easement will limit the site's future usage.

    State Budget Administrator Jake Bleed told lawmakers on Tuesday that the governor is requesting up to $6.2 million in rainy-day funds because it reflects that "right now we are going to meet our obligations under that contract from a variety of sources, one of which is the private donations through The Nature Conservancy.

    "The amount The Nature Conservancy is going to be able to provide, we're still pulling that together," he said.

    The Department of Arkansas Heritage also will provide an undetermined amount of money, Bleed said.

    The nature of the legislative panel's schedule is such that state officials could have either presented the governor's request on Tuesday or wait until its next meeting in August, "so we decided to go ahead and get up before y'all today," Bleed said. "Our anticipation is that we get all this all nailed down, which will be quite soon, we'll be able to give you a full report and accounting on that."

    Afterward, Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin said the rainy-day fund balance is now $16.28 million. The governor typically proposes using rainy-day funds in cases of emergencies or for his priority projects.

    Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, asked Bleed whether there were any discussions or attempts to raise private funds from others beyond The Nature Conservancy.

    "I do not know that answer to that," Bleed said.

    Sen. Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, asked Bleed whether state officials will make a one-time payment or make payments over a few years.

    "We will do a one-time transfer once we get the funds together in an escrow account and then that escrow account will be held" until the contract's requirements are met, Bleed said.

    "This is an easement on the use of the land. They will still be able to retain title to the land. They will be able to use it for some function, but the easement will restrict use of the land," he said.


    Hickey asked whether future buyers or heirs of the property also will be under the contract.

    "My understanding is that it's a perpetual easement," Bleed said.

    Maloch asked whether "all the expenses related to closure of the lagoon and that type of thing" will be covered by $6.2 million or will the state or other entity have to pay more money on the closure.

    Michael Grappe, chief program officer of the Department of Environmental Quality, said he hasn't heard of any potential costs, "but if there is, it will come out of the closure fund."

    Sen. Terry Rice, R-Waldron, said he read that up to $1.2 million will be provided from other parties for the purchase of the conservation easement, and wondered, "where is the incentive if we are appropriating this now for the full amount?"

    Hutchinson said on Thursday that The Nature Conservancy will not pay more than $1 million toward the buyout and will likely pay closer to $600,000 or so.

    Rice asked, "If we changed this appropriation to $5 million, you think it would help him come up with the other $1.2 [million] to get this deal done?

    "What my concern is ... this farm is going be shut down. I want to make the people whole. The state of Arkansas did this," Rice said. "I still have concern about the precedent it sets and even in that watershed for other type farms, if this doesn't clean up that river up to the standard that many people think it should be or we might want it to be, what this opens up down the road."

    C&H Hog Farms has been in operation since 2013. Its operators faced pushback from environmental groups concerned about the manure ending up in the Buffalo River, the first river in the United States to be designated as a national river.

    The facility is located on Big Creek, 6.6 miles from where it flows into the Buffalo.

    The creek and river are on the department's proposed list of impaired water bodies because E.coli was detected in them, but no government agency has concluded C&H is responsible for the bacteria's presence.


    Metro on 06/19/2019

  • 16 Jun 2019 9:47 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Hog farm's closure


    Governor Hutchinson's announcement Thursday evening of the hog farm closing was most welcome and long overdue.

    The Democrat-Gazette can take pride in its contribution to this much-needed change. In particular, the contributions of columnists Richard Mason and Mike Masterson were very important.


    PAT HARRELSON

    Little Rock

  • 16 Jun 2019 9:45 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    GREG HARTON: Hog farm buyout not final answer on farming concernsby Greg Harton | Today at 1:00 a.m.


    The battle to protect the Buffalo National River is far from over.

    Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivered a "wow" moment in Little Rock Thursday with his announcement the state and the owners of C&H Hog Farms had agreed to shut down the 6,500-hog operation near Big Creek in Newton County. We taxpayers will provide most of the $6.2 million payment to the owners of the hog farm.


    In exchange, they promise to shut down operations within six months. The money will cover the remaining balance on a multimillion loan and provide some compensation to the farmers, who will end their contract with Brazil-based JBS Pork. The land will become state property and will carry a conservation easement, limiting its future use.


    The state messed up royally in issuing the initial permit for the hog farm, which has operated since 2013. More recently, the state has ordered the farm to close, citing water quality concerns in the Buffalo River Watershed and insufficient geological investigations of the area's karst terrain.


    Prior to Thursday, it was virtually assured that the farm owners, the state and other interested parties were going to spend the next several years in litigation. The family that opened C&H wanted to farm; they didn't get into farming so that they could spend hours upon hours in suits with lawyers in offices and courtrooms.


    Hutchinson found what, in my mind, was an almost perfect solution: Make the farmers whole, acknowledge the state's responsibility to do much, much more in protecting the Buffalo and acknowledge its failures in the C&H debacle, and establish a moratorium on such environmentally challenging, large-scale farm operations within the watershed of the Buffalo National River.


    Problem solved, right? Well, maybe not so fast.


    This hasn't all just been about hogs and the byproduct of feeding them. The Arkansas Farm Bureau has vigorously battled on behalf of the farm operation. It seems the organization saw C&H as a sort of line in the dirt: Was Arkansas going to protect farmers or treat them as the enemy?


    Warren Carter, executive vice president of the Farm Bureau, recently wrote in a guest commentary in this paper of the organization's struggle to keep C&H "open and operating." He blamed the challenges faced by C&H on "very vocal folks who don't like where that farm is located and believe if they scream loud and long enough and clutter the conversation with falsehoods, they can make the farm go away."


    Jason Henson, one of the owners of C&H, said last week he and his two cousins/partners appreciate supporters who spent time "defending our right to farm."


    Those comments provides some indication that the fight over the Buffalo is viewed by farming interests as one of property rights and preserving family farms. That, without question, ought to be a goal the state of Arkansas and the Farm Bureau generally can share.


    Carter last month opined that the C&H families followed Arkansas' rules and ought to be left alone. But Hutchinson said last week the state should have never permitted the hog farm in the watershed. Now, Hutchinson says the state should make permanent a now-temporary ban on medium- and large-scale hog farms within the Buffalo River watershed. He's instructed the Department of Environmental Quality to start the rule-making process.


    Don't think for a second that means a permanent ban is a shoo-in. It would not be surprising at all that the Farm Bureau might fight such a change.


    The state won't be offering million-dollar payouts to other landowners whose future farming options would be limited to some degree by a state ban within the Buffalo River watershed. Will the Farm Bureau sit still for that, or view it as a precedent that ill serves the interests of farming in an agricultural state?


    Commentary on 06/16/2019

  • 16 Jun 2019 9:41 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    NWA EDITORIAL: Woo pig, shooieAgreement delivers hope for Buffalo River’s futureby NWA Democrat-Gazette | Today at 1:00 a.m.


    We've heard governors speak at conventions often enough to know it's a rare moment when they actually get to deliver headline-making news to the audience.


    Gov. Asa Hutchinson is an old pro by now with his talks on the rubber-chicken circuit. But at a gathering of the Arkansas Municipal League the other day, his speech made a bigger splash than one of those boulders that's broken loose from a bluff and crashed violently into the waters of the Buffalo National River. There aren't many things so exhilarating as climbing on top and leaping into the (hopefully) clean, moving waters of the river.

    And clean water is at the heart of Hutchinson's news.


    The collection of city leaders in the Statehouse Convention Center's ballroom Thursday broke into applause when Hutchinson revealed he'd just signed a $6.2 million deal for the state to acquire the land on which the C & H Hog Farm has operated since 2013. Hutchinson and Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, joined forces with The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit group, to find a solution that removes the massive hog operation from the watershed of the Buffalo River but does it in such a way that the farm's owners won't face financial ruin.


    Environmentally speaking, this news is welcome alleviation of serious concerns a lot of Arkansans have had ever since the hog operation's quiet state approval was discovered. Locally, we'd liken the reaction to the relief felt when plans for a Fayetteville incinerator to burn trash went down in flames back in the late 1980s or when a waste company's plans in the 1990s to build a landfill on Hobbs Mountain near Durham were scuttled.


    It never made sense to put a large hog operation, with its heavy production of waste, within the watershed of the United States' first national river.


    Congress, through the diligent work of conservation-minded people in Arkansas, recognized the need to protect the outstanding natural beauty of the eroded sandstone and limestone bluffs rising high above the river's meandering flow. By 2017, the American National Rivers group ranked the Buffalo as one of Americas 10 most endangered rivers because of the presence of the hog farm and its potential to pollute the river's watershed.


    Resolving the conflict has been difficult. It should not be lost on anyone that Arkansas is an agricultural state, so shutting down a large-scale agricultural operation creates potentially hot political fallout and touches on issues important to farmers all over Arkansas.


    Environmental advocates couldn't successfully paint C&H's owners as heartless polluters, what with their roots in the state. The owners got support from neighbors in the rural, rugged country, where the opening of a big-time, tax-paying venture like the 6,500-hog operation is rare. The controversy triggered debate over property rights, the authority,


    responsibility and adequacy of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, and the public's right to have a say in decisions with high potential for environmental damage.


    As obvious as it was to Buffalo River and environmental advocates that the hog farm should not be there, it seemed just as obvious to farmers across the state that landowners who followed the state's rules ought to be left alone without having their livelihood threatened.


    One could hear Hutchinson balancing the two sides in his comments announcing the agreement. "Let me emphasize that the farmers -- Jason Henson, Richard Campbell and Philip Campbell -- obtained the permit fairly and have operated the hog farm with the utmost care from the beginning," Hutchinson said. "They have not done anything wrong, but the state should never have granted that permit for a large-scale hog farm operation in the Buffalo River watershed."


    The state, in granting that permit, failed its residents, its ecology and a commitment to protecting tourism, another important aspect of Arkansas' economy. Of all the places in Arkansas, we have argued before, the Buffalo National River deserves the "utmost care" from the state at every level. It did not get it in this scenario, until now.


    Such farming operations should not be permitted within the watershed. Hopefully, state officials recognize that fully now.


    We applaud The Nature Conservancy's commitment of $600,000 to $1 million to make the deal possible. Also deserving of kudos is Hutchinson, who continues to call for making permanent an existing temporary ban on new medium- and large-scale hog farms in the watershed.


    The legal fight over C&H and the Buffalo River could have gone on for many more years. We credit its owners and the governor for finding a better way that serves the needs of the state while meeting the financial commitments of the farmers.


    The bumper sticker popular in these parts urges all to "Save the Buffalo." That's not a one-time achievement. From Neil Compton to Asa Hutchinson, it takes leadership in every generation to protect and preserve the wonders of the Buffalo. It's admirable that those in charge today decided to take steps against environmental degradation so that they could honestly say, "Not on my watch."


    Commentary on 06/15/2019


  • 14 Jun 2019 12:06 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Eureka Springs Independent


    Go hogs!



    As evidence grew of the degradation of Buffalo National River and its tributaries as a result of waste from 6,503 hogs at C&H Farms, there continued to be denials from the farm owners and state officials that there was any proof that the large amount of liquid hog waste was responsible for algae blooms and decreasing water quality in the Buffalo River. With the huge confined animal feeding operation backed by the politically powerful Arkansas Farm Bureau and its large legal defense fund, opponents had been frustrated with efforts to protect the country’s first national river.

    On June 7, the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (BRWA) and the Arkansas Canoe Club filed a notice of intent to sue C&H for alleged violations of the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA). About a week later, there was a surprise victory in the battle to save the Buffalo River when Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced an agreement for the state and The Nature Conservancy to pay $6.2 million to C&H Farms to close the hog factory.

    “In my time in the Ozarks for forty years, I don’t recall anything of this magnitude,” Gordon Watkins, president of BRWA, said. “We had been told by attorneys that with no gross violations at the facility, there was very little chance of shutting it down. I don’t know if this is a precedent for the state or the nation, but I think it is a pretty big accomplishment. It was very significant. Congratulations to everyone who has been involved in the past six years. It has been a team effort to get it done.”

    Watkins said BRWA was created because of C&H and had two goals: shut C&H down and put in place a permanent moratorium on hog farms in the Buffalo River watershed.

    “We feel confident those will be done by the end of the year,” he said. “One without the other is meaningless. We can’t imagine the state would have invested this money if there weren’t assurance that another hog factory would not pop up in the neighborhood. We always felt the permanent moratorium would be the best thing and are glad the governor agreed.”

    Land surrounding the farm will be put under a conservation easement restricting its further usage. The agreement gives C&H 180 days to close the facility, after which the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) will be responsible for cleanup, including closure of the waste lagoons.

    Watkins said they were not involved in the negotiations, but knew there were discussions of some type of acquisition or closure of the farm. In the fiscal session 2018, there were discussions in the Arkansas Legislature about a financial package. While some people have grumbled about the owners of the C&H Farm walking away with a big cash payoff, Watkins said most people have been elated by the news that the farm is closing.

    “From our perspective, we just want to see the thing shut down, the sooner the better,” Watkins said. “It was obvious the legal battle was just going to go on and on and on, probably for years. We were really grateful to the governor for resolving this quickly.”

    About two weeks ago the Arkansas Supreme Court had agreed to hear an appeal regarding the C&H permit. Watkins said they like to think that, combined with the Notice of Intent to Sue, had an impact on the closure.

    “At the very least, it gave a signal that we were not giving up and were prepared to pursue it as long as necessary,” Watkins said. “There were also some wins during the legislative session that probably helped push the negotiations along. There is going to be a public comment period for the closure plan. The ADEQ is going to put that out for public comments and that will be a way to have input on how it is closed.

    “What we want is some ongoing monitoring of Big Creek, which empties into the Buffalo River. There is a phenomenon called legacy phosphorus. It builds up in the soil and is released for a long time period of time, sometimes decades. All the fields surrounding the farms are saturated with phosphorus. All those are above optimum for phosphorus and that will continue to released during rains and through shallow soils into the groundwater and Big Creek.”

    The issue was considered important not just for the environment, but for state tourism revenues. The 2018 National Park Service Visitor Spending Effects Report estimates that 1.2 million visitors spent $54.9 million in the region while visiting Buffalo National River this last year.

    Hutchinson reported initially offer the farm owners less than $6.2 million and reached out for help from The Nature Conservancy, which is expected to provide less than $1 million towards the settlement. Most of the money is designated to come from the governor’s discretionary funds and the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

    To watch the governor’s statement made at a meeting of the Arkansas Municipal League, go to youtu.be/YXnXFIfz6k. For a link to the BRWA lawsuit over alleged CWA violations, go to the website: buffaloriveralliance.org/resources/Documents/PRESS%20RELEASE%20%20CWA%20Notice%20of%20Intent.pdfTo see a copy of the settlement agreement, go to buffaloriveralliance.org/resources/Documents/closure.pdf.


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