Buffalo no place for hogs

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Now that the permit for C&H Hog CAFO has been denied, there are those who want to make this an issue of “environmental elitists vs. poor farmers.” In fact, this is about ordinary citizens stepping up to protect a shared resource, one that ADEQ was supposedly protecting, from being used to flush hog waste for profit. And the bulk of the profits don’t even end up in C&H accounts. They go to JBS, a South American corporation whose track record in Brazil indicates they aren’t likely to be concerned with a river in Arkansas.

Those who attended public hearings in Newton County noted the smirks of the insiders who thought they’d gamed the system perfectly by using a new permit regimen, with a hidden Public Comment protocol, to bypass the lawful right of Arkansas citizens to speak out against the outrage of such a facility being permitted on a major tributary of our beautiful Buffalo River.

The entire effort to establish a corporate beachhead in a poor rural area, with plans to expand it, was based on stealth and deceit. It was claimed that C&H facilities and disposal fields were not on karst – despite USGS maps showing otherwise.

That claim has since been proven false. Karst is fractured limestone that creates bluffs and caves and springs, elements that make the area so vulnerable. The required environmental assessment was judged to be inadequate and cursory. The “state of the art” liners for the holding lagoons turned out to be red clay studded with rocks and prone to leakage, and the electrical resistance resonance testing revealed the likelihood that there are large voids below the ponds, channeling waste directly into the water table.

Those who stood up to speak against this whole ugly chapter in Arkansas history were called “overly emotional” and were told to “wait for the science.”

Well, the science is coming in and it shows degradation is entering the Buffalo from a variety of directions. Big Creek now satisfies the requirements for impaired designation due to low DO, and monitoring reveals excess phosphorus is present in the watershed at increasing rates. C&H proponents say we can’t prove it’s from the CAFO. But they also can’t prove it’s not from the CAFO. Dye tests might settle this, but the owners refused to allow them. Sadly, we are also learning that if and when this facility ceases operation, the legacy of excess phosphorus will impact the river for years to come.

Now Jason Henson is the one displaying emotions as he talks about losing his family’s investment and livelihood, and he should feel sad. He and his cousins were misled by a corporation with an agenda, abetted by Farm Bureau and the Pork Council, all who would benefit from expanding hog production in our most fragile and precious watershed, for profit. No one should take pleasure in the prospect of a family losing their investment.

But while some call this a “right to farm” issue, others question how far those rights should extend. Citizens standing up for the river get no compensation for their efforts, nor did they expect any. Whatever was raised in fundraising has been plowed back into the cause.

So whose motive is more righteous? Those who have labored to protect the river for all, or folks who decided unilaterally to put a shared resource at risk for private gain?

Lin Wellford

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