Buffalo River 


  • 19 Mar 2019 7:28 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MIKE MASTERSON: A real stinkerby Mike Masterson | Today at 2:15 a.m.

    Senate Bill 550, sponsored by state Sen. Gary Stubblefield, a former dairy farmer from Branch, aims to replace the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's permitting system for hog factories with a far less demanding "certification" process by the Natural Resources Commission, which lacks knowledge or experience in preventing waste contamination of our state's water quality.

    Supported whole hog by the state's Farm Bureau (most visibly executive John Bailey, who in 2012 was a key player the state agency that wrongheadedly permitted C&H Hog Farms near a tributary of the Buffalo National River), Stubblefield's bill is likely the worst piece of needless legislation I've seen, so much so that I hereby deem it the "Superfluous Stubblefield Stinker."

    Obviously I'm not alone by a long shot, as evidenced by the following position statement (edited for space) by Central Arkansas Water. (The Beaver Water District of Northwest Arkansas has issued similar opposition to this legislation).

    "SB550 presents a threat to the health and well-being of the people of Arkansas. If enacted, this bill would completely change the way liquid animal waste disposal systems, which are used primarily by large swine to dispose of liquid swine waste, are regulated in Arkansas. Although characterized by supporters of the bill as an effort to achieve greater efficiency in the permitting process, SB550 has the potential to expose some of the state's most important natural resources, including public drinking water reservoirs, to liquid animal waste.

    "Currently ADEQ is charged with issuing permits and conducting oversight of [such] disposal systems. ADEQ's process is effective and fair. It balances the needs of swine and daily farmers with the right of the public to a safe and clean environment. It ensures the involvement of well-trained, knowledgeable professionals with years of experience.

    "SB550 would wipe out the current permitting process and oversight of these facilities and gut current regulatory protections. Public notification requirements would be eliminated. Minimum distance setback from neighbors, streams and lakes could be lost. Subsurface investigation requirements to determine suitability for waste lagoons would no longer be required. Anonymous complaints would not be accepted or investigated, and public reporting necessarily would be deterred. Established, effective enforcement protocol would go by the wayside. As a result, swine farms would operate in a much more permissive environment. And the prospect of liquid animal waste entering the water reservoirs of our great state would become a much greater threat."

    The statement concluded: "While swine farms serve a role in the state's economy and culture, that industry should not be bolstered at the expense of the state's water systems and all of the state's people who rely on clean, healthy drinking water every day. As a result, Central Arkansas Water urges each member of the House and Senate to vote to preserve the current liquid animal waste permitting regimen by opposing SB550."

    Those who care about preserving Arkansas' water quality in the country's first national river and elsewhere need to contact their elected representatives and senators and share your thoughts about the Superfluous Stubblefield Stinker. Time is critical.

    Smoke and water 

    Anyone else find it interesting that our state and national elected leaders showed up at the stump dump fire in Bella Vista to express concern over that legitimate health threat? They've declared it an emergency and pledged tens of millions in tax dollars to extinguish the mess.

    But what of the equally clear and present emergency along our treasured Buffalo National River? I've heard very little outcry from the same officials over the ongoing contamination and health threats within our Buffalo.

    I'm certainly not denigrating the need to get Bella Vista's subterranean blaze finally smothered. I am saying potential health threats posed to those who splash around in the Buffalo (officially ailing along 14.3 miles because of elevated nutrients and potentially dangerous pathogens) represent a serious state and national issue.

    That unacceptable situation surely deserves far more official attention and concern than it's received over the past six-plus years since C&H Hog Farms began spraying hog waste across hundreds of acres in the Buffalo's watershed. Some who've played in the Buffalo in recent years have reported becoming ill.

    While residents of the Trafalgar Road section of Bella Vista have suffered, the impairment of our Buffalo and 15 miles of its tributary Big Creek that flows along the factory's spray fields also potentially affects many livelihoods in and around impoverished Newton County.

    Wouldn't it have been refreshing to see our elected leaders stand beneath the river's majestic bluffs to denounce the pollution while vowing to spend whatever necessary to pinpoint and stop the cause of her sickness for the sake of all of Arkansas and millions of visitors?

    While Bella Vista residents can and should protest their serious dilemma, our river has no voice, vote, or ability to personally lobby and influence legislators.

  • 19 Mar 2019 7:21 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    JOHN BRUMMETT: Listen to the experts, Gusby John Brummett | Today at 4:30 a.m.

    Lonesome Dove is an epic novel and a masterpiece in the television miniseries genre.

    Augustus McCrae leaps from the pages and screen to charm and inspire with his cad's exterior and hero's heart.

    But those were the 1870s. The old Texas Ranger and his buddies were driving cattle through the untamed American West. They didn't worry so much about disposing of their animals' leavings, whether along the trail or on the lush fields of Montana where they'd made the white man's first foray and claim.

    State Sen. Gary Stubblefield of Branch, a Republican and west Arkansas farmer, deems Augustus a hero and role model. He and now-defeated Bryan King of Green Forest used to pal around the Senate calling themselves Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call.

    One could do worse for role models. Rugged independence and down-deep compassion and integrity are hardly bad qualities.

    But I speak of human character, not contemporary environmental policy.

    Stubblefield also likes Rooster Cogburn; hence his bill to establish a True Grit Trail in western Arkansas.

    That's a darned sight better bill than this one on hog poop.

    There are more of us now than there were then. We live closer together than they did then. We raise a lot more hogs, and do so commercially, rather than household to household.

    That's because we have a lot more eaters and a great many of them seem to like bacon and sausage and barbecue and ham and pork tenderloin.

    Somebody must raise all those hogs for all those appetites. They're not going to do it in Silicon Valley or in Manhattan. So we'll do it down here.

    We're not squeamish. We'll sling the slop and hose the manure. It's honest work.

    We'll feed the world.

    But we can't just go around anymore letting people start up pig farms anywhere they want and then rinse off the waste any old way they please.

    Well, we could, presumably, if Stubblefield's Senate Bill 550 passes.

    Complaining as Gus might've about pointy-headed college graduates making rules for the real men on the ranch or farm, Stubblefield already has flown the bill out of the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee.

    All the measure does is move the regulation of hog-farm permits from the Department of Environmental Quality, which has rules and procedures on such things and sometimes applies them competently, to a state Natural Resources Commission.

    This Natural Resources Commission has no such procedures and presumably merely would "certify" applications that looked all right rather than grant formal permits designed to comply with federal Environmental Protection Agency policies.

    The bill also says applicants could "waive" the current requirement that they make formal public notification as part of the application process.

    The Natural Resources Commission would be required to meet in public.

    So anyone complaining under this proposed new system that several hundred hogs had moved in next door and that no one ever notified them such a thing was even in the works ... they should have taken off work and gone to that commission meeting that they were never informed of.

    Stubblefield can complain all he wants about the pointy-headed college guys. But perhaps we ought to listen to the folks at Central Arkansas Water, which serves a couple of hundred thousand metro-area customers in Little Rock, North Little Rock and surrounding communities with some of the nation's best drinking water.

    Here's the statement CAW put out over the weekend:

    "SB550 presents a threat to the health and well-being of the people of Arkansas ... . [It] has the potential to expose some of the state's most important natural resources including public drinking water reservoirs to liquid animal waste. ...

    "ADEQ's process is effective and fair. It balances the needs of swine and dairy farmers with the right of the public to a safe and clean environment. . . .

    "SB550 would wipe out the current permitting process and oversight of these facilities, and gut current regulatory protections. Public notification requirements would be eliminated. Minimum distance setback from neighbors, streams and lakes could be lost. Subsurface investigation requirements to determine suitability for waste lagoons would no longer be required. Anonymous complaints would not be accepted or investigated ... .

    "As a result, swine farms would operate in a much more permissive environment, and the prospect of liquid animal waste entering the water reservoirs of our great state would become a much greater threat."

    Other than that, it's just a little ol' bill to try to help some people make a hardworking living without all that regulatory hassle.

    Pork chops don't grow on trees, you know. Unless the trees are next door.

    Stubblefield told me by email Sunday that, yes, Gus was his hero, but the backlash on this bill has him feeling lately a bit like Jake Spoon.

    Jake Spoon got hanged for horse thievery. That's rather extreme.

    Stubblefield deserves only to have his bill drubbed right out of the Capitol.

  • 17 Mar 2019 3:46 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    MIKE MASTERSON: End run in Ledge

    Did you read about the latest legislative end run around the existing authority responsible for issuing permits to meat-raising facilities like C&H Hog Farms in Newton County?

    Turning into law Sen. Gary Stubblefield's Senate Bill 550--which would transfer the authority for approval of concentrated animal feeding operations from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (cough) to the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission--would effectively toll the death knell for our treasured Buffalo National River and any streams or natural waters located near such factories.

    Yet Stubblefield, a Republican from Branch, insists SB550 has nothing to do with the existing controversy over the Department of Environmental Quality last year denying a Regulation 5 permit to C&H after it failed to submit an environmentally adequate application.

    Despite Stubblefield's insistence that his bill does not involve C&H, I've always been stunned at the lengths our state and certain members of the Legislature will go to to protect this single misplaced factory.

    Stubblefield, a former dairy farmer, has introduced his wholly unnecessary plan to eliminate permitting requirements altogether for liquid animal waste factories, while moving responsibility for approving potential polluters to the commission (whose leaders apparently didn't even attend last week's legislative committee hearing).

    Senators could vote on this bad and unnecessary legislation as early as Monday or Tuesday, which means those who truly care about the future of our precious Buffalo should contact their elected representatives immediately.

    Gordon Watkins, who heads the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, held few punches: "Stubblefield's bill weakens existing water and air quality regulations and undermines current efforts to protect the Buffalo National River from degradation due to swine CAFOs and threatens water quality across the state," he told me. "It does away with permitting requirements for liquid animal waste systems altogether, replacing a permit with mere 'certification'."

    Watkins said SB550 also removes all CAFOs currently covered under the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission's Regulation 5 (historically regulated and enforced by the Department of Environmental Quality), instead placing them under the authority of the Natural Resources Commission, apparently without the requirement for possessing a permit at all. All existing Regulation 5 CAFO permits would be transferred effective Jan. 1, 2021.

    "SB550 exempts most CAFOs from regulation under the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act. Moreover, it allows an applicant to 'waive ... public notification period requirements,'" he continued, saying the Department of Environmental Quality "will be consulted only for technical assistance in the event of violations or modifications" despite being "acknowledged as having the greatest expertise in permitting, regulating and enforcing CAFO permits."

    Watkins emphasized that raw-waste application rates to fields have been guided by the Arkansas Phosphorus Index with no regard for agronomic limits. That means sole reliance on this index is known to result in excessive nutrient applications and degraded water quality.

    Authority for approving, denying or "certifying" a nutrient management plan would be vested with the local Natural Resources Commission board of directors in the district where the operator lives. C&H is in Newton County where local politics have supported the factory's presence despite the impaired state of the river that regularly brings million into the impoverished region.

    "Just because such a board is 'local' does not ensure its members have the necessary expertise to provide adequate technical review of an application," Watkins understated. "Under Stubblefield's plan, while having expertise in reviewing nutrient management plans, [the department] will not be consulted before a CAFO is allowed to operate. Only in the event of a violation is [the Department of Environmental Quality] to be consulted."

    He said considerable state resources have been invested over decades to provide the agency with necessary expertise to properly permit, regulate and enforce factory farm operations, and Stubblefield's bill increases the chance of further contamination of the river by removing the department's Regulation 5 permit authority and giving greatly weakened oversight to commission members, who do not issue permits.

    I cringe (and cough) as I write since the Department of Environmental Quality needlessly created this mess when in 2012 it wrongheadedly granted C&H its initial Regulation 6 permit without insisting on intense testing and oversight in the Ozark environment. Nonetheless, this department is clearly the most qualified to retain authority and oversight over our state's water-quality permits to better ensure protection of environmental resources.

    Please let your elected representatives and our governor know before Tuesday how you feel about Stubblefield's bill ever becoming a needless law.

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


    Owners seek second hog farm permit

    by Emily Walkenhorst

    Co-owners of a Newton County hog farm have resubmitted their application to build a hog farm in Franklin County.

    Philip Campbell and Jason Henson, who co-own C&H Hog Farms with Richard Campbell, withdrew the application late last year after the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality asked for more information, saying they needed more time. They stated that they would resubmit the application, which they did on Feb. 21.

    The farm, which would be called Coon Tree Farm after the road its located on near Denning, would have up to 10,374 hogs: 1,248 gilts of an average weight of 150 pounds; 4,728 gestation sows of an average 425 pounds, 840 lactating sows of an average 400 pounds; 576 nursery pigs of an average 30 pounds, 2,400 hot nursery pigs of an average 12 pounds, 576 gilt development pigs of an average 325 pounds and six boars of an average 450 pounds.

    It would have two pits for hog manure with a storage capacity of a year, and manure would be land applied as fertilizer.

    The barns and pits would be built up several feet to remove them from the flood hazard zone they are located in, according to the application.

    The application is for a permit under Regulation 5, which, if approved, would be permanent.

    The proposal has faced local opposition from residents, business owners and politicians, including state Rep. Sarah Capp, R-Ozark, concerned about nearby waters and the possible smell.

    NW News on 03/17/2019

  • 16 Mar 2019 9:36 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Bill seeks to diminish oversight of hog farms

    On Thursday, Senate Bill 550 passed the Arkansas Senate Agricultural Committee. A Farm Bureau agent sat next to the bill's sponsor.

    This bill is meant to gut the regulations that got the C&H Hog Farm permit denied.

    This bill weakens existing water and air quality regulations regarding liquid waste operations, which are primarily confined hog feeding operations (often known as CAFOs) such as the controversial swine C&H hog factory in the Buffalo River watershed.

    Hog CAFOs oversight would be moved out of Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's purview into the more lax Arkansas Natural Resource Commission.

    SB550 undermines efforts to protect the Buffalo National River from degradation due to swine CAFOs.

    There are numerous reasons to implore our governor and legislators to stop this highly ambiguous and vague legislation. Not small among them:

    • Public participation and transparency is significantly weakened. It is unclear as to what the public notification and appeal processes would look like.

    • The moratorium on swine CAFOs in the Buffalo River watershed could become moot. With the weaker oversight this bill proposes, we could have more and even dirtier CAFOs in the Buffalo's watershed. And, more and dirtier ones in the rest of the state.

    • This purposefully weakened code of practice would have an impact on the state's drinking water sources as well. Imagine CAFOs going in near those sources.

    • Enforcement is gutted, as inspections will require at least 72-hour notice before conducting a site visit. The bill even acknowledges that resources council does not have the technical ability to regulate when it says that ADEQ will be consulted for violations or modifications.

    This is chaos, not efficiency, as the Farm Bureau claims. There's more, a lot more, that's wrong with SB550. It damages years of effort to protect the Buffalo River from swine factory farming and threatens all the waters of Arkansas.

    SB550 will be on the Senate agenda Monday, March 18.

    Ginny Masullo


  • 15 Mar 2019 3:37 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Must protect our river

    As someone who has witnessed firsthand the precipitous degradation of the Buffalo River, I took heart when the state agency that granted the initial permit finally recognized what the experts had said from the start: The geology of the watershed was far too porous, the transmission of groundwater too rapid and unpredictable to safely contain millions of gallons of hog waste sprayed on the ground every year. Now segments of the river meet the criteria to be designated as impaired, and as such, protections should immediately be extended.

    Instead, it seems some state senators down at the Capitol have been busy cooking up a scheme to pass a bill taking the permitting of liquid waste-generating CAFOs out of the hands of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and placing it with Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, whose commissioners lack the means to monitor operations or even much desire to do so. Under their lenient oversight, we can probably kiss any hope of a recovered Buffalo River in our lifetime goodbye.

    If our state can't protect this beloved river from the power of corporate agriculture and its paid lobbyists, no river is safe. These senators were elected to represent the people's interests. Call your senator and tell him what you think about Senate Bill 550. Don't delay. The guys are in a big hurry.


    Green Forest

  • 15 Mar 2019 7:58 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Bill would transfer Arkansas hog farms' oversight

    Permit-process shield also proposed

    by Emily Walkenhorst

    The responsible party for issuing hog farm permits would change under a bill that cleared an Arkansas Senate committee Thursday.

    The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality would no longer have the authority to issue -- or deny -- hog farm permits under Senate Bill 550, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch.

    Also, farmers would have the option to close the public notice portion of the typical permitting process. Public notice and comment are required under current law, but the bill would allow applicants to "waive" those requirements.

    The bill, which cleared the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee without opposition and with not all members present, now heads to the full Senate.

    The bill would affect only new permit applications after Jan. 1, 2021, and current permits would transfer on or before then.

    In discussing the bill, Stubblefield said it was not about C&H Hog Farms in Newton County, whose new permit application was denied last year by the Department of Environmental Quality.

    Stubblefield said the change is necessary because people who have both a poultry farm and a hog farm have to get their nutrient management plans approved at different state agencies.

    The bill would make hog farm permitting the responsibility of the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, which would issue de facto permits for hog farms if it approved of the farms' nutrient management plans.

    "It's a bill that deals a lot with efficiency," Stubblefield told the committee.

    Several people spoke against the bill Thursday, concerned that it would curtail the rules that applicants currently must follow when they seek permits. It would effectively eliminate the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality's Regulation 5, which concerns liquid animal waste management systems.

    That regulation specifies the use of the Agricultural Waste Management Field Handbook as guidance when crafting applications. References in the handbook led department regulators to deny C&H Farms' application last year.

    Department of Environmental Quality officials told the committee Thursday that they are concerned that the change would dilute state rules regarding large concentrated animal feeding operations and make them less stringent than federal rules.

    State rules must be as stringent or more so, department Chief of Staff Mitch Rouse said. Changing the permitting system could raise concern in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which could revoke the state's ability to issue the permits, he said. Further, federal law requires an appeal process for permits, which the bill does not provide for, he said.

    "I think one of our concerns is that we do have a robust administrative process to protect the permits that we issue and allow for everyone to participate in the process," department attorney Basil Hicks said. The bill would diminish that process, he said.

    The bill allows applicants to appeal disapproved nutrient management plans to the commission's director.

    John Bailey, a former department water division employee and current environmental and regulatory affairs manager for the Arkansas Farm Bureau, disagreed with that. Regulation 5 is a state permitting program, he said, and the EPA would be concerned only with the state's implementation of federal permits.

    "I disagree with ADEQ that EPA would even blink an eye at Reg. 5," Bailey said. The Farm Bureau supports the bill, and Bailey said Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office did not oppose the bill.

    EPA officials did not answer questions from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about whether the EPA reviews Regulation 5 changes or permits.

    After the meeting, state department officials told the newspaper that the EPA is concerned with department regulations and actions as far as they pertain to upholding federal Clean Water Act requirements.

    "EPA reviews ADEQ's state programs to ensure that they meet the minimum standards outlined in federal law," a spokesman said in an email. "If state regulations do not implement appropriate standards that comply with the Clean Water Act and other federal laws, then that would subject the entities under those regulations to review by EPA."

    The nutrient management plan is only one aspect of the department's Regulation 5 permitting process, the department stated.

    Leaders with the Natural Resources Commission were not available Thursday for comment.

    No commission officials appeared to be at Thursday's meeting.

    The commission currently has no official role in hog farm permitting but reviews poultry litter management plans.

    Poultry farms do not require permits.

    Poultry litter is often used to fertilize crops. It is waste that is combined with dry elements, such as hay, to reduce its liquidity and make it more transportable.

    Hog manure, also often used as crop fertilizer, is nearly always kept in its liquid form.

    Critics questioned whether the commission staff has the expertise that the Environmental Quality Department staff has in assessing permit applications, but senators argued that the commission staff has access to experts and the people who wrote the handbook.

    "There's a good reason that liquid animal waste systems have been singled out for more scrutiny than dry litter," said Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which was formed to oppose C&H Hog Farms' operation in the river's watershed.

    Nutrient management plans outline how farms handle the waste produced by their animals and take into account the nitrogen and phosphorus contained in the waste. Excessive phosphorus in water can degrade water quality, cause algae to grow and requires years to reduce to healthy levels.

    C&H Hog Farms opponents have complained that the state's current Phosphorus Index that limits the amount of waste that can be applied to land is not sufficient for protection of water quality in sometimes porous terrain.

    Rainwater runoff from land on which poultry litter was applied is frequently blamed for causing high phosphorus levels in the Illinois River and its tributaries.

    Oklahoma sued poultry producers in Northwest Arkansas over river pollution, and the amount of poultry litter spread on land in that region has been reduced. After months of testimony more than 10 years ago, a judge still has not ruled in that lawsuit.

    Most farmers are good stewards of their land, Stubblefield said.

    One person speaking against the bill noted the consolidation of dairy farms into large operations,and Stubblefield said regulations over the years have reduced Arkansas' dairy operations. Stubblefield used to be a dairy farmer.

    He took issue with "some of these college boys that sit in a windowless basement and they draw up rules and regulations and they've never been on a dairy farm ... they put us out of business, but they still have a job."

    Metro on 03/15/2019

  • 12 Mar 2019 7:57 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Trump Administration Pays Brazilian Meatpacker To Foul Arkansas River 

    Bailout Money Intended for Hog Farmers Ends Up in Corporate Coffers  

    By Sarah Okeson

    A Brazilian-owned meatpacking firm that buys pork from an Arkansas farm suspected of fouling our nation’s first national river would receive about $5 million from Trump’s bailout program for American farmers hurt by his trade war.

    JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, will sell 1.8 million pounds of pork products through a Trump bailout program that buys surplus commodities from farmers and ranchers.

    “We at the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance find it ironic, and saddening, that bailout money intended to help American farmers is instead going to JBS, a multinational meatpacker based in Brazil,” said Gordon Watkins, president of the alliance. “…The pork gets shipped away, Brazil gets the money and the Buffalo gets degraded. It’s too bad this bailout money couldn’t be used to close or relocate this facility to a less sensitive location.”

    The Buffalo River was befouled last summer by algae that sickened people, but the U.S. Geological Survey under Trump can’t decide if the nearby pig farm and more than 3 million gallons of pig waste those pigs produce each year are to blame.

    A spokesperson for the USDA said the agency buys American commodities produced on American farms by American farmers.

    ACTION BOX/What You Can Do About It

    Tell Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue your thoughts on our tax dollars going to foreign companies that support polluting our rivers. Write to him at U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, D.C. 20250. You can also tell Perdue your thoughts on Twitter.

    The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance can be reached at buffalowatershed@gmail.com


    “…regardless of who the vendor is, the products purchased are grown in the U.S. and benefit U.S. farmers,” the agency spokesperson said. “JBS qualifies as a bidder under this criteria.”

    In 2017, a conservation group, American Rivers, included the Buffalo on its annual list of the 10 most endangered rivers in our country because of pollution from the hog farm.

    The red dot marks the approximate location of the C&H hog farm.

    C&H Hog Farms, about 6.6 miles upstream of the Buffalo River in Newton County, supplies the U.S. operations of JBS. Cousins Jason Henson, Phillip Campbell and Richard Campbell own the business. Arkansas recently denied the farm a new permit, but the farm is continuing to operate while it fights that decision.

    As part of Trump’s bailout, the administration is buying $1.2 billion in surplus products from farmers, including more than $500 million from pork producers, for distribution to food banks across the country. The U.S. trade deficit, which Trump claims can be combatted with tariffs, has hit $892 billion in merchandise trade, the largest in our nation’s history.

    The Buffalo River runs for 153 miles from its start in the Boston Mountains through limestone bluffs and forests before joining the White River.  Former President Richard Nixon signed legislation in 1972 putting the Buffalo River in the stewardship of the National Park Service.


  • 05 Mar 2019 8:35 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Take action to save the river

    by RICHARD MASON Special to the Democrat-Gazette | February 24, 2019 at 1:52 a.m.

    To The Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee: Resign!

    You are doing more harm to the Buffalo National River by existing than you are by proposing watershed improvements. You are putting up a smokescreen that is hiding the factory hog farm problem.

    I know the overall watershed has other issues, but there is one that overshadows all others, so huge that all your suggestions (and suggestions are all you can do) are immaterial if the hog farm continues to exist on the Boone karst limestone.

    As an expert witness, I can tell you with certainty that, as I write this column and as you read it, the river is becoming more polluted. So if you really want to do something to save the Buffalo, you will resign en masse.

    Consider the effect your committee will have on the river if the hog farm is not moved onto a suitable terrain. 1. The river will almost certainly be polluted. 2. Your suggestions on improving the watershed won't make a hill-of-beans' difference. 3. The amount of hog farm waste---as much as the city of El Dorado disposes of in a year---will eventually overwhelm the river, and all the watershed suggestions you might recommend (if they were put in place) would have such a minimal effect on the tons of hog manure residue that it would be impossible to discern you had done anything. (Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee is fiddling while the river is becoming more and more polluted.)

    On the other hand, if you resign after issuing a statement that the committee can't in good conscience function unless the hog farm is re-sited on suitable terrain, you will have made significant progress in making the governor and Department of Environmental Quality move the hog farm to a more suitable site. (The state should pay for the move; get out your checkbook, Governor.)

    This is not a time to study or fiddle. It is a time to act, and every day of non-action puts more hog manure residue in the river. There are times when radical actions need to be taken to stop an ecological disaster from occurring. This potential pollution problem is not just a small trickle; potentially thousands of gallons of hog manure residue water will carry tremendous quantities of pollutants into Big Creek or into the subsurface, and that polluted water will work its way into the National Buffalo River.

    This threat can't be overstated.

    When the National Park Service posts the river as "No Swimming" and forbids the eating of fish caught in it, will you have any remorse about fiddling while the river becomes polluted? Since you are just a cog in the process, the blame must be spread around, and there are a lot of folks who are responsible, including our governor and congressional representatives.

    The hog farm is the third serious challenge our national river has had, and through a lot of hard work and tremendous activism by the people who love it, the first two challenges have been defeated. The first was the Corps of Engineers plan to dam the river and create another dinosaur lake. Dinosaur lakes can be compared to the fins on a 1968 Cadillac. These oversized lakes have very little purpose except to impound vast amounts of water.

    The river-killing Corps of Engineers proposed damming one of the last free-flowing rivers in the mid-South, but thanks to Dr. Neil Compton, who spearheaded the fight, it wasn't dammed.

    The second challenge occurred in the summer of 1986 when a company applied for a landfill permit near the Buffalo River. Every conservation group in the state banded together to stop the permit from being issued. I was embroiled in a tough fight in El Dorado to stop a company called Ensco from receiving a permit to incinerate cancer-causing PCBs in a waste disposal incinerator. Although we didn't stop the company from receiving a permit, we managed to get a permit so stringent that the company eventually stopped the incineration. During that fight Gov. Bill Clinton appointed me to fill the environmental seat on the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.

    "An oilman to take the environmental seat on the Commission?" screamed several conservation groups. To say I wasn't well received by the rank and file environmental groups in the state is an understatement. However, I met with them, and all I basically said was to give me a chance. After a couple of years and some classic verbal fights during Commission meetings, I changed some environmental minds. I was awarded a Woody Award by the Sierra Club and named Conservationist of the Year by the Arkansas Wildlife Federation.

    In 1986, as soon as I became a Commission member, I became embroiled in a fight to keep the Pindall Landfill from receiving a permit. The reason environmental groups were opposing the permit was because if the landfill leaked, the polluted water from the landfill would flow directly into the Buffalo River. It took a combined effort by dedicated conservationists to rally public opinion against the landfill and to come up with data from around the country from dozens of existing landfills to show that almost every landfill we examined eventually leaked.

    When the Commission met in a packed hearing room, we had the hard evidence that if the Pindall Landfill was permitted there was an over 90 percent chance that it would someday leak and a 100 percent certainty that the polluted water would flow into the Buffalo. The Commission turned down the permit application.

    Today we have an even more critical situation. While the Pindall Landfill leak would put several thousand gallons of polluting liquids into the Buffalo, the hog farm could put hundreds of thousands of gallons of hog manure residue into the river from runoff into Big Creek or by seeping into the subsurface of karst topography. The result could destroy the recreational use of the river.

    I am not a left-wing environmental nut from Vermont telling you the sky is falling. I'm telling you this as a professional geologist with a master's degree from the University of Arkansas, six years as a PC&E commissioner, and as one who has walked the land, explored the caves, and spent hours on the river. If I'm not an expert witness, who is?

    If you don't want the Buffalo National River polluted, you will do whatever you can to stop it. If we don't, the river will be lost.

    Email Richard Mason at richard@gibraltarenergy.com.

    Editorial on 02/24/2019

  • 02 Mar 2019 9:10 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)



    MASTERSON ONLINE: A misleading plan

    by Mike Masterson 

    My Feb. 16 column described how C&H Hog Farms wrongly claimed in its Regulation 6 nutrient management plan that 80 percent of its phosphorus-laden hog waste would not be spread across the Buffalo National River and Big Creek watersheds.

    That naturally begged the questions of who, why and when this pig-in-a-poke percentage came to be included in the factory's claim about removing all that contaminating phosphorus.

    At least one person involved in securing the permit must have arrived at this number to fit requirements. Remember the adage: "If you find a turtle upside down on a fence post you can bet it had help getting there"?

    I believe the "who" involved logically could include one or more of the following: The nutrient management plan was prepared by Nathan Pesta and his firm DeHaan, Grabs & Associates (DGA) of North Dakota and signed off by C&H owner Jason Henson. Others likely included the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Arkansas Pork Producers, Cargill Inc. and/or the University Of Arkansas Division Of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.

    The answer to "why" the erroneous loss factor was included, and how so much waste supposedly would be removed, was described in the May 25, 2018, deposition of Andrew Sharpley, Ph.D., distinguished professor at the University of Arkansas and team leader of the state tax-funded Big Creek Research and Extension Team.

    Our state retained the team in 2013 under a memorandum of understanding with three objectives involving the factory. One stated the group was to "determine the effectiveness and sustainability of alternative manure management techniques including solid separation that may enhance transport and export of nutrients out of the watershed." In other words, how to profitably remove the environmentally damaging phosphorus from the site.

    Pages 65-72 of Sharpley's deposition described the Big Creek team's attempts to develop a profitable method for removing those tons of waste and thereby avoid spraying it widely. Sharpley later in his deposition colorfully said they had been actively seeking a way of "turning s**t into black gold." Were preparers of the factory's nutrient plan told to allow for such an 80 percent storage loss because of this imagined "black gold" idea?

    Regardless, in 2014, with C&H spraying full bore for over a year, the Big Creek team determined the unrealistic haul-away plan wasn't profitably feasible. Sharpley explained in the deposition: "It was not going to work. It was not going to provide a mechanism for that farm operation to remove nutrients from the watershed ... ."

    So what happened to all that apparently unplanned phosphorus? Answer: It's continued to be applied on approximately 550 to 600 acres of watershed fields. But wait, what about that nutrient management plan for the original permit being based on the assumption--aka, unsound science--which assured 80 percent would never be applied in the watershed? Oops, our bad!

    As I've written previously, the amount of such waste sprayed on fields in the Big Creek and Buffalo National River watersheds exceeds 2.5 million gallons each year, or about 4,400 gallons per acre, according to C&H annual reports. Obviously, all this waste contains significantly higher amounts of phosphorus than claimed in the original nutrient management plan.

    Asked to describe specific amounts of phosphorus in the soil samples taken by the Big Creek team in the fields receiving waste, Sharpley testified that 32 of the 36 fields showed "above optimum" levels of phosphorus.

    Perhaps there's another explanation for the bogus 80 percent claim? I mean, aren't those involved in planning this misplaced factory (and who provided input for C&H's initial stated plan) unquestionably among the smartest in agriculture, as well as knowing all requirements for proper waste disposal for hog factories?

    But, as usual, I remain befuddled by the questions that so much seeming expertise raise. For instance, did this group know, or should they have known from the outset, that the factory at Mount Judea didn't have enough acreage to annually absorb 2.5 million gallons of untreated liquid hog waste? That amount times six years of constant application to these fields amounts to ... sorry, I can't count that high.

    Shouldn't they also have known the karst topography that permeates this region wouldn't absorb nearly that amount of waste, leaving the over-application to end up flowing through groundwater to pollute the subsurface flow in all directions, logically including the adjoining major Buffalo tributary Big Creek and ultimately the Buffalo National River?

    Wonder if their nutrient management plan approval and decisions were based on collective bad judgment, or on knowledge together with the willingness to risk the future of the state's greatest attraction (our precious Buffalo) for one factory's bacon and/or black gold? Finally, did they know, or should they have known, that this "black gold" plan to help gain the permit was never destined to work profitably?

    All this raises still another "you've got to be kidding me" issue. C&H is now suing the Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, claiming department erred by denying it a Regulation 5 permit last year. Meanwhile, our tax funds are being used to defend the agency for this permit denial that I believe (based on the factory's erroneous nutrient management plan loss factor) likely should have come initially in 2012.

    If our Arkansas attorney general's office is going to use taxpayer funds in such litigation, it should include funds to investigate who was responsible for supplying the misinformation to secure the factory's original permit. It's called accountability up here in the Ozarks.

    We deserve to know whether taxpayers have been duped into paying for either a big mistake and unsound science, supposedly to produce "black gold," or a deliberate misstatement of material information in the 2012 permit application at the expense of our national river, aka genuine Arkansas gold.

    Arkansans will wait right here patiently for some honest answers.

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

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