Monday, February 16, 2015

FSA and SBA enjoined from guaranteeing loans for industrial hog farm in BNR watershed

Big Creek, near Vendor, Arkansas, February 2015
I'm catching up on blogging, and have good news to report regarding the litigation about C&H Hog Farm in Newton County, Arkansas.  That's the 6500-hog facility approved by the Arkansas Dept. of Environmental Quality in 2012--with NO local notice--and built in 2013 on Big Creek, six miles upstream from the Buffalo National River (BNR).  The "farm" is supported by loan guarantees from two federal agencies, the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA).  Well, the good news is that in December, 2014, Judge D. Price Marshall of the federal district court for the Eastern District of Arkansas enjoined the FSA and the SBA from guaranteeing the loans to C&H.
Entrance to C&H Hog Farms

Critical to the judge's decision was his finding that the the environmental assessment by the FSA (and adopted by the SBA) was shoddy at best.  Judge Marshall called it "cursory and flawed," noting that
[I]t didn't mention the Buffalo River.  It didn't mention Big Creek.  It didn't mention the nearby Mt. Judea school.  It didn't mention the Gray Bat.  
The latter is an endangered species found on the Buffalo National River.  As for the Mt. Judea school, it is about 3/4 mile from the hog farm and even closer to some of the fields where the hog litter is being sprayed.  (The school has been the topic of several posts about its proposed consolidation here, here and here.  Some Mt. Judea residents worried aloud at an early public meeting about the farm that its proximity to the farm might ultimately be used to justify closure of the school).

Of the environmental assessment, the judge concluded:
Brevity is commendable, but conclusions can’t take the place of reasons.
Having read the EA myself, I would say it was downright deceptive by omission.  The EA is required to address environmental justice concerns, yet it failed to mention the high poverty rate in either Newton County (23-27%, depending on which estimate you credit) or in the Mt. Judea community in particular (the poverty rate in White township, which includes Mt. Judea, is about 43%, while the child poverty rate there is 51.5%).  Further, Newton County in its entirety is a persistent poverty county, a place marked by entrenched, intergenerational poverty.

Mt. Judea School, February 2015

While this is certainly a victory for conservationists and--at least implicitly--for locals who are now tolerating the stench and other negative externalities of the farm, the victory may be short lived because the defendants have appealed.

Read earlier posts about the hog farm and the circumstances of its approval and construction hereherehereherehereherehere, and here.  The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance website also features a wealth of information about the hog farm and litigation against it.

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