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State contractors have wrapped up their drilling project to test for hog manure leakage at C&H Hog Farms near the Buffalo National River, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Kelly Robinson said Tuesday.

Harbor Environmental of Little Rock and its subcontractor began drilling Sept. 21 at C&H.

Environmental Quality Department Director Becky Keogh said she visited the site Sept. 21 to make sure the project was running smoothly and that C&H's day-to-day operations were not interrupted.

She told the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission on Friday that the project appeared to be making good progress and the site's operations appeared to be unaffected. Keogh said she received daily reports on the project's progress.

After the sampling is done, Keogh said, it could take six weeks to get the lab-test results. A final report on the project should be completed no later than January, she said.

The department hired Harbor Environmental for $75,000 to design the project, and Harbor hired Cascade Drilling of Memphis as a subcontractor to carry out the drilling.

The research was requested earlier this year by opponents of the hog farm after they learned of research done in 2015 that showed what they said was an unexpectedly high amount of moisture beneath one of the manure ponds.

Big Creek Research and Extension Team researchers disagreed on whether drilling was necessary, arguing that any leak would have been detected at other spots the team is monitoring. The team works out of the University of Arkansas' Agriculture Division and was formed by state officials after an outcry in early 2013 over the state issuance of a permit to C&H in late 2012.

The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which opposes C&H's permit, sued the Environmental Quality Department in August, seeking either to allow its own hydrogeology expert to oversee drilling or to disallow the two members of the Big Creek Research and Extension Team whom the department had permitted to oversee it. The department settled with the group earlier this month, allowing only Tai Hubbard of Hydrogeology Inc., who was already allowed as an independent observer to oversee the drilling, to monitor the project.

C&H, near Mount Judea in Newton County, sits on Big Creek about 6 miles from where it converges with the Buffalo River. It is the only federally classified large hog farm in the river's watershed and is permitted to house up to 6,000 piglets and 2,503 sows.

The Buffalo River, the first national river, had 1.46 million visitors last year, the third-highest total since it became a national river in 1972 and the highest since a record count of 1.55 million was set in 2009.

State Desk on 09/28/2016

Print Headline: State-hired contractor completes testing for manure leaks at hog farm

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