Thursday, March 7, 2013

State and fed officials tangle over industrial hog farm in Buffalo National River watershed

In August, 2012, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) approved a 670-acre, 6,500 hog farm along a tributary of Big Creek, just five miles from the Buffalo National River (BNR)--and it did so without input from the National Park Service.  Now, according to the Feb. 27, 2013, issue of the Newton County Times, the Park Service has joined local conservation groups in objecting to the corporate farm, which is locally owned but will operate under a contract with Cargill.

Big Creek Valley, Newton County, Arkansas, area
of proposed industrial farm.  April, 2011.
Officials with the National Park Service say they didn't learn about the plan until after the permit was issued last August.  The Times quotes Buffalo National River superintendent Kevin Cheri,
We are key stakeholders in any decision.  ... We didn't find out until the permit had been taken out and a loan given for the farming operation. ... Why didn't they notify the first national river about this?  We're only five miles from the facility.  
Cheri reported that his agency learned of the proposed farm when local property owners and members of the Ozark Society asked his office about it.  The paper further quotes Cheri:
We're behind the curve and trying to get more information ... so we can articulate our concerns, and take it to the next level, if that is what is needed.  We want to be assured this is not going to cause any contamination of water and affect public health.
What I find shocking about how ADEQ handled this matter is that they published public notices of hearings about the farm only in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in February and April of 2012.  ADEQ did not publish any notices in either the Newton County Times or the newspaper for neighboring Boone County.  I would guess that the number of Newton County residents who regularly read the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is very low.  (See more about Newton County demographics here; 79% are high school graduates and only 12% have a bachelor's degree or more).  ADEQ reports that it held six public meetings received comments from 13 individuals, organizations and corporations.  It does not specify, however, whether any of those offering comment were residents of Newton County, or of neighboring Searcy County, which the Buffalo River runs through not far downstream from Big Creek.

The plan that ADEQ approved includes two "shallow-pit confinement barns" and "collecting states [sic] in two story ponds, then spreading it on a 670-acre farm." The Ozark Society, which reviewed the permit, reports that it approves "17 separate hog waste application fields, 11 of these [  ] adjacent to Big Creek."  The permit specifies:
a buffer zone of approximately 100 feet between Big Creek and the hog waste application fields.  The facility's treatment facility consists of in house shallow pits with a capacity of 759,542 gallons, a settling basin with capacity of 831,193 gallons and a holding pond with capacity of 1,904,730. 
This amounts to 2,090,181 gallons of manure, litter and wastewater generated per year.  This is approximately 5,727 gallons per day spread on fields (630.7 acres).  On average, 9.1 gallons per day would be spread on each acre or 75 pounds per day per acre. 
The permit does not allow discharge of the waste, but rather it must be applied to the owner's fields.  If an overflow occurs, the permittee must test the pond, but has 30 days in which to report the overflow and likely run-off.  All of the fields and facilities are above the 100 year flood level.  The fields will be used for hay and pasture.    
The permit states that "land application areas will receive application at rates consistent with infiltration capabilities of the native soil so that there is no runoff."

Buffalo National River near Ponca
The Ozark Society stated on its website that it "has no desire for this farmer to lose the right to develop his land" and noted that he has operated a successful hog farm near Jasper for a decade with no citations or permit violations.  Nevertheless, the Society asserted that "the water quality of our rivers is at stake" and that it ADEQ should have the "long-term goal" of "deny[ing] permits for any animal or poultry factory farms in the watersheds of major rivers and streams, especially the Buffalo National River, our first National River and a designated Extraordinary Resource Water stream." The website notes the "significant economic issue" given that the BNR "attracts more than a million visitors each year, contributing millions of dollars to the economy of Arkansas."

At the end of its story, the Newton County Times notes that one of the farm's co-owners and its vice president, Richard Campbell, is a justice of the peace/member of the Newton County Quorum Court (the Arkansas equivalent of a Board of Supervisors).  The Newton County Wildlife Association, which also opposes the factory farm, has suggested that the Quorum Court consider this controversy.

No timeline for the opening of the farm is indicated, though the story makes a mention of the farm seeking funding, presumably for start-up costs.


HELP said...

Please help. Governor Beebe's office wrote back to me that CAFO farms are approved for the state, and that it's ADEQ's job to decide. Well, this is a terrible decision, made quietly by a few. Everyone has a stake in this. Search Cargill hog farm pollution. One farm just paid $1.5 MILLION in damages, another paid $12.5 MILLION. HELP HELP HELP! Write ADEQ, call and write Governor Beebe. Here's the petition link

Anonymous said...

So if the buffalo river national park has more than one million visitors each year where does all their poo go while they are visiting the park? Humm I think it goes into the buffalo river. ADEQ followed state law. When sound science
is used the amount of less than 10 gallons of an all natural nutrient is discharged per day per acre. Each acre is 43,560 square feet Mother nature is a much better way to utilize these nutrients than septic systems and park outhouses do with the human poo from these one million plus park visitors.

Anonymous said...

Actually most if not all bathrooms are not on septic systems, but rather "pumped vault storage". the waste is contained in a sealed container and regularly pumped out and removed from the watershed for proper treatment, as apposed to the hog waste which is spread on the fields.

Anonymous said...

I live in Newton County & was raised on the river. This entire permit application/approval process was kept entirely secret from the majority of Newton County residents & the National Park Service. We feel betrayed & violated by the ADEQ/USDA systems & a handful of local residents (including elected ones). It's not a question of "if" a failure/contamination occurs, but "when" it happens. These hog waste lagoons will be clay bottom. The number of ponds in Newton County which fail on a regular basis is too many to count. It's directly due to the geological structuring of the area (karst topography), which is the same as the location of the hog farm. Flooding is another common occurrence along Big Creek & the Buffalo River. Contamination will flow downriver & directly affect other communities & counties. Read Cargill hog farms history with polluting their surrounding areas. Scary stuff. Public hearings for comments/concerns were held in Fayetteville, Danville, Hope, Little Rock & Monticello. Close to Newton County? Nope. Accidental oversight? Hum, don't think so!! Listed in one of our two local newspapers? Nope, didn't happen. This will directly & negatively affect the river, environmental & air quality, groundwater, property values, residents' quality of life & cause health risks through contamination/pollution. We were denied our chance to give any input or express our concerns. Definitely a terrible & tragic decision. The effort spent to keep this hush-hush is appalling & reeks, big time. The Buffalo National River needs to be protected now & forever!!

JDS said...

Anyone growing up on the river, unless they are younger than the National River designation should have observed a lot of negative changes to the river. Over the past fifty years, I have seen the river, and Big Creek, change from deep flowing waterways to their present day shallow flowing streams. Before being turned into a tourist trap, they were full of mussels, snails and a host of other aquatic life. Now even finding one mussel is something to get excited about. It is not that I am against the National River, without it, none of us would have access to the river now. The river is already polluted and is quickly filling with gravel. There is too much mossy filth floating downstream to be able to swim in late summer. At least for a little longer, this is still "the home of the free" and these people have the right to use their land as they wish. From reading all the posts, I'm not sure how many are truly concerned with possible pollution, or have their feelings hurt because no one asked for their permission.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I really enjoyed this blog post. Seems like you know what you are doing and have great knowledge of the area. I will definitely check this blog more often. Battling the sea can never be easy task, you are doing it in it and I am doing it from the land ;)

Amelia - Flood Insurance in Seekonk MA