Sides at hog-farm hearing claim backing of science

Posted: October 10, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

A supporter of and opponents of C&H Hog Farms both cited science as the basis of their opinions at the first of two public hearings this month on the farm's permit application.

In September, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality issued a draft decision denying the farm's new operating permit, which it needed to replace its expired one. The department cited a lack of required information submitted by the owners, including a geologic investigation and emergency action plan, and speculated about the farm's possible contribution to documented pollution near its location.

The farm is allowed to continue operating under its expired permit until the permit application process has concluded.

C&H Hog Farms operates on Big Creek, 6.6 miles from where it flows into the Buffalo National River. Recent findings of pollution in Big Creek and a portion of the Buffalo River that stretches above and below the confluence with Big Creek have prompted long-time opponents of the hog farm to blame the 6,503-hog-capacity facility for the problems and for algae growth along the middle Buffalo.

Supporters of the farm point out that Big Creek doesn't have any algae growth and that much of the impairment and bad water quality testing occurred above the farm and above the Big Creek confluence with the Buffalo. Further, a significant amount of the data considered was submitted by hog farm opponents.

The National Park Service, U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Arkansas System's Agriculture Division also contributed data for the two waters. In the past, hog-farm opponents have questioned at times the university's data collection, which they have called insufficient and potentially biased because of the Agriculture Division's ties to the farming community.

C&H opponents cite their own dye tracing study that has shown water can flow through the karst terrain and appear upstream of where it was before.

On Tuesday, opponents of the farm cited the 14 million gallons of hog manure spread as fertilizer as being the cause of the pollution. Supporters of the farm, including one who delivered a comment Tuesday, have argued that evidence is not conclusive and that other activities may be contributing to the impairment.

Some comments got heated and included insults about some people's mental health and involved rural stereotypes.

"It's inappropriate to site a CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] like C&H in karst," said Marti Oleson, a Ponca resident. She added that she heard concerns about the Buffalo from two Norwegians who visit the river each time they visit the United States.

"This is not just a Newton County issue or an Arkansas state issue," she said.

Feral hogs have been increasing in number, said Newton County resident Jared Wheeler, and they are contributing to the problem.

The algae is not coming from C&H, Wheeler said.

"I live on Big Creek. There's no algae," he said, adding that he drove near the creek's confluence with the Buffalo River recently.

"There's no algae there, either."

The farm owners care about the Buffalo River and work hard to ensure everything they do is done right, Wheeler said.

"Do you think they want to take and destroy something they are proud of?" he asked. "I've never seen a hog farm that had to go through so many tests, so much scrutiny."

David Peterson, president of the Ozark Society, said pollution can't be blamed on human visitors to the river, who mostly don't even float. The volume of human waste doesn't compare with the volume of animal waste in the river's watershed, he said.

"On any given day, the farm animals in Newton County outweigh floaters 400 to 1," he said.

The algae on the Buffalo has gotten worse, some commenters said. One woman said tourists asked her while they were floating when they'd get past all of the algae. She told them, "'Didn't you see the takeout? That's when you get out of the algae.'"

The department will hold a second public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Jasper School Cafetorium, which is closer to the Newton County farm.

State Desk on 10/10/2018