MIKE MASTERSON: ‘Elitist’ Buffalo backers

Morgan’s war

Posted: February 6, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

Meanwhile, back on the front lines in the battle to save our beautiful Buffalo National River from contamination, Jan Morgan, the GOP gubernatorial challenger to fellow Republican Asa Hutchinson, has produced a Facebook video that miscasts thousands of Arkansans interested in protecting our state's valuable river from contamination by millions of gallons of swine waste as "economic elitist environmentalists" from outside.

Morgan further mischaracterizes the many thousands of Buffalo supporters, as well as members of the state's Ozark Society, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and Arkansas Canoe Club as out-of-state environmental elitists and out-of-state influences.

Yes, you read that correctly, all you elitist out-of-staters. Some shockingly uninformed pronouncements, especially since all the people and organizations I know who support protecting the special river are bona fide Arkansas residents who understand its value.

Meatpacker JBS-USA is the Brazil-headquartered corporation with whom the C&H owners contract. JBS purchased C&H three years ago from the Cargill Inc. of Minnesota, which launched the factory. Would those two be considered out-of-state economic elitist influences?

Morgan's sweeping judgments clearly are from a hip-shooting gubernatorial candidate who seeks to govern us. I found her needless fearmongering unexpected and startling.

One news account of the video characterized Morgan as having "gone to war" against those opposing this misplaced factory. "She has friends in the Arkansas Farm Bureau," the story reads. I'll bet she does, along with other politically active buddies in the pork-producing industry.

In her video, Morgan also quotes factory co-owner Jason Henson saying that after four years of continuously spreading millions of gallons of raw waste across fields beside Big Creek (a major tributary of the Buffalo flowing six miles downstream), it is "absolutely false" to say he is polluting the river.

That may be true to this point. But there already is ample reason for public concern over serious potential risk to the Buffalo River and its watershed.

Non-elitist Arkansas geoscientists who know and understand the fractured limestone underlying this factory and its spray fields warn it's only a matter of time until a serious mishap occurs. Either that, or the watershed's ecosystem becomes overloaded with nutrients from waste and makes its way downstream to the Buffalo. Then it's too late.

I fully expect Big Creek to rightly wind up on the state's list of impaired waterways this year because of low dissolved oxygen from excess nutrients, a serious threat to aquatic life.

Canoers photographed an explosion of algae blanketing large sections of the Buffalo last summer. The bloom, fueled by nutrient contamination, had become so thick it was impossible to paddle through it in many spots. They called it the worst overgrowth they'd ever encountered. We need to know where it's coming from.

Also, (non-elitist) UA geosciences professor emeritus John Van Brahana, with his team of Arkansas volunteers, has spent four years tracking groundwater flow around the factory. They discovered dye surfacing in area wells and springs and even 12 miles away in the Buffalo, traveling much faster and farther than originally expected.

Brahana believes Morgan unfortunately has taken "a very divisive stance and, through misrepresentation and fear, has created a very misleading and inaccurate account of on the ground conditions."

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality last month denied C&H's request for a revised operating permit based on scientifically justifiable inadequacies in its application. The factory continues to operate on a stay pending its appeal to the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.

The department should have insisted on realistic requirements before allowing C&H into this watershed, which today has a temporary moratorium on any future such factories.

The bottom line has nothing to do with name-calling or unfounded emotional rhetoric that panders to people's unrealistic fears. It's about statewide concerns over the unnecessary risk to the state's top-voted attraction that in 2016 drew 1.8 million visitors who left $78 million with area merchants and supported some 1,200 jobs.

I don't believe the area's business owners, or those who enjoy the Buffalo, are environmental elitists. They surely don't endorse any nonsense about government takeovers of people's farms. This issue is solely about terrible location.

Decades ago, well before C&H's location was even a bad idea with Cargill, the same agency under the late director Randall Mathis placed a protective moratorium on such animal factories specifically within the Buffalo watershed. It is simply the worst possible place in our state to license such a potentially polluting operation. Yet there are special interests who want to make sure the serious risk to the Buffalo remains entrenched.

We can now add governor-wannabe Jan Morgan to their ranks, although she might want to see what happened to the once magnificent Neuse River in North Carolina after swine factories began operating there.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 02/06/2018