Sunday, June 9, 2013

Rural Arkansas tells urban Arkansas to mind its own business

That's the gist of a resolution passed by a unanimous vote of the Newton County Quorum Court (equivalent to a Board of Supervisors) at its June 3, 2013 meeting. The Newton County resolution responded to resolution by the Fayetteville City Council, passed April 15, which "oppose[s] the permitting and operation of the concentrated hog farm along a major tributary of the Buffalo National River." The City Council indicated that its reason for weighing in was that the hog farm would hurt tourism in Fayetteville, as well as in Newton County.  Apparently, a protest demonstration and rally opposing the hog farm have occurred in Fayetteville.

The dueling resolutions, of course, refer to a controversial factory hog farm that just began operating in Mount Judea, Arkansas, which I have written about here, herehere and here.  That hog farm is in the watershed of the Buffalo National River, just a few miles upstream from the river which is a major draw for tourists to the Ozarks.  The Newton County resolution was proposed and pushed by farmer Tim Slape of Compton, who is quoted:
 What I'd like to ask the quorum court to do is consider drawing up a resolution that states we're against Bikes, Blues and Barbecue [an annual event in Fayetteville].  The reason is that the increase in motorcycle traffic that passes through Newton County puts an added stress on the county's law enforcement and first responders.   
We're going to have to fight back against these people.  If these boys lose that hog farm you can kiss your county good-bye. 
It's in your boys' hands.  We have to fight back.  These people need to know people live here.  
The resolution passed by the quorum court reads in part:
Whereas Newton County is dedicated to its environment, economics, and historical culture; and 
Whereas Newton County has historically depended on the timber industry and its family owned farms; and 
Whereas, a large multi-family owned hog farm having met or exceeded all state and federal regulations has been built providing much needed jobs and increasing the tax base for the county and schools, therefore helping to protect our environment, economic and historical culture. 
Now, therefore, be it resolved by the Quorum Court of Newton County, Arkansas; that
The Quorum Court of Newton County, Arkansas, adamantly opposes the interference in the livelihoods of these families by the City of Fayetteville and other entities.
Let me put these competing resolutions in spatial and economic perspective.  Fayetteville lies about 70 miles to the west of Newton County, both in the northwest Arkansas quadrant.  Both feature lovely rolling Boston Mountains, but that is pretty much where the similarities end.  Fayetteville is the county seat of metropolitan Washington County, Arkansas, part of the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers conurbation that is Arkansas's second of two SMSAs.  Fayetteville is also the home of the University of Arkansas, the land grant university.  It is fair to say that Fayetteville is pocket of liberalism in an otherwise quite conservative state.  It is also relatively affluent, though not quite as affluent as neighboring Benton County, home of Wal-Mart.  Washington County's median household income is $35,900, but that for Washington County is higher, at nearly $42,000.  This probably reflects the fact that Fayetteville has a large student population, which means its poverty rate is also higher than that of the surrounding county.  The median value of a home in Washington County is $153,700.

Newton County, on the other hand, is the state's least densely populated county, and it's entire population barely exceeds 8000. Its median household income is under $30,000, and the median home value is $76,400--just half of the Washington County figure.  Newton County is a persistent poverty county that relies greatly on ecotourism--but even more so on government employment.  It has 90 nonfarm establishments, and it issued one building permit in 2012.  The county has 636 farms with an average per farm market value of products sold (in 2007) at just below $30,000.

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