Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Time for an update on the hog CAFO in Newton County

I have written frequently in the past 18 months or so about the industrial hog farm on Big Creek, in the Buffalo National River watershed in Arkansas.  Read more here, here, here and here.  That operation, C & H Hog Farm, was approved by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) without notice in any area newspaper or, for that matter, to the National Park Service.  The only notice given was on the ADEQ website.

Ever since folks in Newton County realized the CAFO was under construction, local and regional groups of concerned citizens have been trying to get it shut down.  Among other things, they filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture "Farm Service Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration for their inadequate review and improper authorization of loan guarantee assistance to C & H Farms."

Efforts are also underway to change Arkansas law so that no more operations of its kind can be sited in the Buffalo River watershed. That watershed includes parts of Madison, Newton, Searcy, Boone, Pope, Marion, Van Buren, Stone and Baxter counties) As of May, 2014, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission (APC & EC) "enacted a 6-month moratorium on issuing new permits for large confined animal operations in the area of the" river.

In June, APC & EC held a hearing in Harrison, in neighboring Boone County, about proposed changes to APC & EC regulations 5 and 6 on "Liquid Animal Waste Systems" and "Regulations for State Administration of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System," respectively.  These changes proposed would apparently make the moratorium on CAFOs in the Buffalo River watershed permanent.  The usual suspects showed up, including Gordon Watkins, an organic farmer in Newton County who leads the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (BRWA). He reported that the Alliance had grown to about 1000 members this year, growth largely attributable to interest in this issue.  Needless to say, the Alliance supports the permanent moratorium.

Also speaking at the meeting were two farmers form Benton County, which presumably would not be affected by the moratorium because that county is  not in the Buffalo River watershed.  Nevertheless, the farmers traveled to Harrison to speak against the proposed amendments and permanent moratorium. One of them, a diary farmer, said:
We rely on science and technology to produce a healthy product and protecting our environment for our family, our community and our cows.  This rule making sets a very negative precedent, and is not based on science.  This year it's hog farms.  Next year it could be poultry, dairy or beef.  I am pleading on behalf of family farmers for you to consider delaying all rulings until the research takes its course.
Clearly, this farmer is concerned about a slippery slope that could mean added regulation of her operations in the future.  One Newton County residents also spoke in opposition to the changes.  He  closed with:
We don't need further restrictions that destroy our freedom and our lifestyle.
Another spoke in favor of the proposal, focusing on the need to protect property values, jobs, and clean air.  He also expressed concern about well water contamination and the need to keep the promise "to our children, and to their children, that special places like the Buffalo will be preserved for them to experience."

Neither the temporary moratorium nor the changes under consideration will impact the permit under which C & H Farm operates, which was issued in August, 2012, and which will expire in October, 2016.

A few days before the hearings in Harrison, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the Ozark Society, the Arkansas Canoe Club and the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance hosted a day-long media event. The event was on the lower Buffalo, between Grinder's Ferry and Gilbert, a segment below where Big Creek flows into the national river and therefore the stretch that would be most affected by pollution from C & H Hog Farm.  Among those participating in the event, which included an aerial tour over the hog farm, was Dr. John Brahana, a retired hydrologist with the University of Arkansas and Bob Allen, Piney Creeks Chapter president of the Arkansas Canoe Club.  The Newton County Times June 11, 2014 issue quotes Allen speaking to the media:
We all want to eat bacon but we can't raise it in the watershed of the Buffalo River.
Brahana reported rumors that Cargill, which has the contract with C & H Farms, "wants out of the situation."  In addition, he reported, Teresa Marks, head of ADEQ, "ways out of her job and the governor wants a resolution of the problem."  Brahana reported that "he has taken some 40 samples from wells, springs and creeks in the area around the hog farm and has found dangerous concentrations of hazardous materials. He added that he introduced non-toxi dye into the ground across the road from the hog farm.  About 30 hours later, he said, it showed up in Big Creek."

Emily Jones, Southeast Program Manager for NPCA said that her organization filed the lawsuit against USDA and the Small Business Administration only after attempts at dialogue with the ADEQ authorities failed.

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