Sunday, June 2, 2013

Both sides of hog farm dispute vie for public and legislative support

I have been writing for several months about the controversy surrounding an industrial hog farm that just began operation in Mt. Judea, Arkansas, in the Buffalo National River watershed.  (Read my most recent installment here).  That locale, along with the shoddy notice process followed by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, is what created the controversy.  Now, both sides--agribusiness (e.g., Cargill and the Farm Bureau) on the one hand and environmentalists and activists (growing up in Newton County, we called them hippies, but now they are joined by liberal elites)--are trying to sway public opinion, along with the thinking and actions of lawmakers.  

The May 29, 2013 issue of the Newton County Times reports under the headlines, "Lawmakers learn about Buffalo" and "Demonstrators show for law makers' visit." A third front-page headline is "Law makers get facts on hog farm."  Coverage of the same events by the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is somewhat more detailed and, shall we say, differently illuminating.  One headline, picked up from a column in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is "Grassy Greeting at Jasper Protest."  Here's the gist of the news that both papers cover:

The Arkansas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development convened in the Marshall High School Gymnasium on May 21 for "two-day hearing on the controversial C & H Hog Farm."  State Representatives David Branscum (R-Marshall) and Kelley Linck (R-Yellville) hosted the event.  About 100 attended the hearings, including members of groups opposed to hog farm because they believe it will have an adverse impact on the Buffalo River watershed.  Among those who spoke at the hearing were Kevin Cheri, Buffalo National River Superintendent, and Richard Davies, director of Arkansas Parks and Tourism.  The lawmakers even took a short float trip on the Buffalo, from the U.S. 65 Bridge to Gilbert.  The Newton County Times writes: "The evening meal was provided by Cargill, the company the hog farm is contracted to produce pigs, Branscum reported."  The Times also states that, for the lawmakers, "The main attraction was to float the river as many had never been to this area of the state."

The lawmakers also visited C & H Farm, where protocol required all to "take a shower upon entering and exiting the barns to prevent exposing the pigs inside from contamination or disease." That must have been interesting.

After the tour of the farm, the "law makers were invited to drive to the Ozark Cafe in Jasper for lunch courtesy of Arkansas Farm Bureau."  The paper further reports:

The law makers who accepted the offer were greeted by a throng of demonstrators lined up on the courthouse lawn along state Highway 7 many waving placards and chanting, "Save Our River," and "Hogwash!"  Law enforcement officers stood on guard on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant.

Deborah Ferguson, a Democrat who is state representative from the other side of the state, West Memphis, is quoted:
It is important that tourism and agriculture find ways to co-exisst and she believes that can happen here. She said she was impressed with the technology being employed at the hog farm that is designed to protect the environment.
Another representative, Dr. Steven Magie, Democrat of Conway, noted that "some inter-studies" should be made of the farm before the next legislative session.
One remedy that needs to be made is the public notification process so that local public input can be made before permits are issued.
Interestingly, Magie is both a physician and a hog farmer.  Specifically, he is a supplier of gilts (young female domestic pigs that are used on gestation and farrowing farms to replace non-produtive sows), including some to C & H Farm.

Coverage of the protest in the Newton County Times, a secondary story on the front page, indicates that the protesters came at the invitation of Don Nelms, an artist whose frequent subject is the Buffalo. Nelms apparently entered the Ozark Cafe while lawmakers dined there, but uniformed sheriff's deputies and Jasper Police officers (what, are there two of them?) prevented the protestors from entering, "at the request of the proprietor."  Nelms's wife estimated that about 50 people came to protest the hog farm.  Some protestors were locals, but others came from Fayetteville and elsewhere in the state.  "This is a concern all over the state," she said.

Mike Masterson wrote of the event for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette under the headline, "Grassy Greeting:  Weeding out dissent."  His quote from a female protestor, described as a member of a "prominent Newton County family," helps explain that headline:
“I was part of the protest in Jasper in front of the Ozark Cafe while Cargill fed the state’s House and Senate Agriculture Committee members. We surely needed to let Cargill and others see some of the concern for the Buffalo National River. Many came early … and held very creative signs,” she said.  
“At one point I believe there were over 70. It felt good to get to be among others and chant … as [Cargill’s] guests filed into the cafe. We stood directly across the street in front of the Newton County Courthouse. 
“At 12 o’clock sharp, mowing and weed-eating was going on all around us. [My husband] went inside the courthouse to speak to the County Judge [Warren Campbell] about postponing yard work until later and expected to get to do so by phone, but the woman he talked with seemed to just disappear. The yard workers insisted their mowing needed to be done at this time! 
“One informed us he was a county employee and we could be guilty of obstructing their work,” she continued. “There was some risk for the bystanders who cooperated by moving. The mowers were old and didn’t have protective shrouds. No one was injured, though my son did feel something hit the side of his face from the weed-eater. 
“The worker who was weed-eating explained how they had to mow at that time because it was for the holiday [six days later] for the veterans and the flag and also it was shady on that side of the courthouse. Then he wanted to explain how safe CAFOs are and how Mount Judea is fine. He explained how he prefers to eat a CAFO pig instead of an outside pig who wallers about in everything. Those swine are just not clean in his opinion. He thinks the real problem is that some bathrooms are closed at the national park.”
Here is a video of the protestors on YouTube.  Here is the Democrat-Gazette news coverage of the law makers' visit and the protest in response.  All of this reminds me that I could file this post under my "Small-town Government Run Amok" series .... 

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