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One of the more innocent notions we humans want to believe is that there is fairness within our government's policies. People usually don't find out otherwise until they are personally affected or until there is a threat to something very important and much bigger than themselves. At this awakening, folks choose to be either passive or active in their reactions to forces that are changing, and sometimes destroying, that which they cherish.

Fortunately, now that the time has come -- again -- to protect Arkansas' Buffalo River, there are people of an activist persuasion to wage the fight -- again. Unlike the effort in the 1960s led by Dr. Neil Compton and the Ozark Society to save this beautiful free-flowing river from being dammed, the threat now is pig manure, an estimated 2 million gallons per year of the stuff. This time The Battle for the Buffalo River, as Compton titled his book about the first rescue, has originated within the state rather than being pushed by a federal agency like the Army Corps of Engineers.

In 2011 the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, without even informing the Buffalo National River staff or publishing notifications to the public, permitted a 6,500-hog farm operation to be located on a hillside above Big Creek, a major tributary that feeds into our nation's very first national river. And, the hill's geology where the manure is spread on thin pasture topsoil is karst limestone. If you don't know what that is, visualize a hill of Swiss cheese-like rock that's full of cracks, crevices and caves through which water and pollutants move easily and rapidly with little filtration.

By 2013 when people began to realize the magnitude of what was being built and where, established organizations began to come together around the issue. The Ozark Society, Audubon Arkansas, Ozark River Stewards, Arkansas Canoe Club and the National Parks Conservation Association have all played vital roles in bringing this issue to the public's attention.

The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance was formed in 2013 to educate and advocate for the preservation and protection of the river, and is working for the closing of the C&H Hog Farm and for a moratorium on any future confined hog feeding operations in that watershed.

A timeline on the alliance's website scarcely gives justice to the thousands of hours volunteers have donated to save the integrity of the water and ecosystems of the river, which is a $38 million tourism attraction in a county where there are now probably more hogs than people. Reading between the lines of that timeline, one can recognize the continual obstinance of the Department of Environmental Quality and politicians in facing up to the damaging mistake they made and their slowness to correct it. Instead they have burdened the lives of people, who continually have to seek every avenue possible to raise the thousands of dollars it is taking to protect what is, ironically, priceless.

Currently the hog farm has applied for a regulation (Reg 5) to continue their operations indefinitely, and when the state announces its decision, a 30-day public comment period will begin. Anticipating and preparing for the decision means getting a technical and legal analysis of the permit, which includes consulting with attorneys, agricultural engineers, hydrogeologists, etc., who are all expensive necessities in responding correctly.

Once again, citizens to the rescue! A Buffalo Boogie fundraising bash will rock into musical action Sunday at George's on Dickson Street in Fayetteville from 4 to 9:30 p.m.-ish, with donations accepted at the door as admission. Mayor Lioneld Jordan will issue a free parking proclamation for the Walton Art Center's west lot, and bands begin playing at 5 p.m. with Bill Dollar and Loose Change, followed by The Sumler/Huff Band, Jim Mills & the Hellbenders, Leah and the Mojo Doctors, and the Cate Brothers, who will all be making music to help continue the alliance's battle to save Arkansas' magnificent river -- again.

If rock 'n' roll doesn't cure the ills or cover the cost caused by this hog farm, Mike Alexy, the concert organizer, has yet one more pretty creative solution to the confined animal feeding operation manure problem. He suggests converting the barns into a different kind of CAFO, a "cannabis agriculture facilitating operation," and to call the new products "Bacon Buds" in honor of those who went before. "The sun would come out and butterflies would start singing in the valley," he said, smiling. "Problem solved."

He just may be right.

Commentary on 01/24/2017

Print Headline: Rockin' for the river

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