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Something is in the air down at the Arkansas Legislature over the most contentious issue the state has faced involving the waters of the Buffalo River.

Advocates for the Buffalo River, which once upon a time could be said to reliably include many state legislators, are in a lather over draft legislation that could deliver favorable regulatory conditions to operators of a hog farm near a tributary of the state's premier scenic waterway.

What’s the point?

A move in the legislature to continue University of Arkansas-based testing of the Buffalo National River is welcome.

The Legislature is in session in Little Rock, supposedly focused only on fiscal matters important to the operation of state government. For more general changes to state laws, the Ledge has meetings during odd-numbered years. Major changes in the regulatory authority and processes of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality wouldn't seem to fit the intent of the current session, so if the proposal comes, it surely ought to raise some suspicions. Such changes ought to get a full airing that only a regular session can provide, so if the proposal in question is pressed, it's fair to wonder what lawmakers are trying to pull over on the people of Arkansas.

It's something worth keeping an eye on.

The Buffalo National River, as most folks around these parts know, is a river worth fighting for. That's how it became the nation's first national river -- through the efforts of Arkansans and their friends who grasped how damming up the river would be an act of destruction, not of progress. Those kinds of things aren't always apparent until much too late, though. That's why it's critical to remain ever watchful when it comes to changes that could affect the river's water quality and ecosystem.

Last week, at the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee, lawmakers advanced a proposal that would increase spending authority for the University of Arkansas' Division of Agriculture to perform water quality studies within the Buffalo River's watershed. The funding would increase from $100,000 to $200,000. Current funding would subside in 2019, but Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, has proposed an extension of funding through 2022.

As one might surmise, the testing centers around the same swine farming operation, C&H Hog Farms. Since ????, the company's farm has been authorized to raise thousands of hogs in Mount Judea, near Big Creek. The creek flows into the Buffalo River about six miles away.

The Buffalo is one of Arkansas major natural tourist attractions. More than a million visitors visit the river annually. Tourism officials estimate the economic impact of more than $40 million in a region that can use the jobs and the money.

Preservation of the river has long been both an economic issue and an environmental one. Arkansans should want the best of both, and it's up to the state Legislature, the governor and all of the state's leaders to ensure this beautiful river is protected.

The state did an awful job in its initial permitting of C&H Hog Farms. It was approved and in operation before more than a few people knew of it. The farm earns support from Arkansans who recognize the value of agriculture in this state, including the Farm Bureau, a powerful lobby force in the state Legislature.

It's long been our contention that science is the key to understanding what's happening within the Buffalo River watershed, so continued testing of the waters is the best way to make sure advocates of the river and advocates of the farm have solid information to work from.

Douglas had this to say regarding his proposed legislation.

"To reassure the canoeing public out there and recreational [people] that the Buffalo River is not in danger or that if there are problems that they are being found and being recognized, I feel like we need to continue this study for another three years," Douglas told lawmakers.

Ultimately, it should be science, not politics, that determines whether the C&H Hog Farms facility continues to function and how.

Commentary on 03/06/2018

Print Headline: Don't get Buffaloed

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