We've heard governors speak at conventions often enough to know it's a rare moment when they actually get to deliver headline-making news to the audience.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson is an old pro by now with his talks on the rubber-chicken circuit. But at a gathering of the Arkansas Municipal League the other day, his speech made a bigger splash than one of those boulders that's broken loose from a bluff and crashed violently into the waters of the Buffalo National River. There aren't many things so exhilarating as climbing on top and leaping into the (hopefully) clean, moving waters of the river.
What’s the point?
An agreement to remove a large-scale hog farm from the watershed of the Buffalo National River is worthy of celebration.
And clean water is at the heart of Hutchinson's news.
The collection of city leaders in the Statehouse Convention Center's ballroom Thursday broke into applause when Hutchinson revealed he'd just signed a $6.2 million deal for the state to acquire the land on which the C & H Hog Farm has operated since 2013. Hutchinson and Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, joined forces with The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit group, to find a solution that removes the massive hog operation from the watershed of the Buffalo River but does it in such a way that the farm's owners won't face financial ruin.
Environmentally speaking, this news is welcome alleviation of serious concerns a lot of Arkansans have had ever since the hog operation's quiet state approval was discovered. Locally, we'd liken the reaction to the relief felt when plans for a Fayetteville incinerator to burn trash went down in flames back in the late 1980s or when a waste company's plans in the 1990s to build a landfill on Hobbs Mountain near Durham were scuttled.
It never made sense to put a large hog operation, with its heavy production of waste, within the watershed of the United States' first national river. Congress, through the diligent work of conservation-minded people in Arkansas, recognized the need to protect the outstanding natural beauty of the eroded sandstone and limestone bluffs rising high above the river's meandering flow. By 2017, the American National Rivers group ranked the Buffalo as one of Americas 10 most endangered rivers because of the presence of the hog farm and its potential to pollute the river's watershed.
Resolving the conflict has been difficult. It should not be lost on anyone that Arkansas is an agricultural state, so shutting down a large-scale agricultural operation creates potentially hot political fallout and touches on issues important to farmers all over Arkansas.
Environmental advocates couldn't successfully paint C&H's owners as heartless polluters, what with their roots in the state. The owners got support from neighbors in the rural, rugged country, where the opening of a big-time, tax-paying venture like the 6,500-hog operation is rare. The controversy triggered debate over property rights, the authority, responsibility and adequacy of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, and the public's right to have a say in decisions with high potential for environmental damage.
As obvious as it was to Buffalo River and environmental advocates that the hog farm should not be there, it seemed just as obvious to farmers across the state that landowners who followed the state's rules ought to be left alone without having their livelihood threatened.
One could hear Hutchinson balancing the two sides in his comments announcing the agreement. "Let me emphasize that the farmers -- Jason Henson, Richard Campbell and Philip Campbell -- obtained the permit fairly and have operated the hog farm with the utmost care from the beginning," Hutchinson said. "They have not done anything wrong, but the state should never have granted that permit for a large-scale hog farm operation in the Buffalo River watershed."
The state, in granting that permit, failed its residents, its ecology and a commitment to protecting tourism, another important aspect of Arkansas' economy. Of all the places in Arkansas, we have argued before, the Buffalo National River deserves the "utmost care" from the state at every level. It did not get it in this scenario, until now.
Such farming operations should not be permitted within the watershed. Hopefully, state officials recognize that fully now.
We applaud The Nature Conservancy's commitment of $600,000 to $1 million to make the deal possible. Also deserving of kudos is Hutchinson, who continues to call for making permanent an existing temporary ban on new medium- and large-scale hog farms in the watershed.
The legal fight over C&H and the Buffalo River could have gone on for many more years. We credit its owners and the governor for finding a better way that serves the needs of the state while meeting the financial commitments of the farmers.
The bumper sticker popular in these parts urges all to "Save the Buffalo." That's not a one-time achievement. From Neil Compton to Asa Hutchinson, it takes leadership in every generation to protect and preserve the wonders of the Buffalo. It's admirable that those in charge today decided to take steps against environmental degradation so that they could honestly say, "Not on my watch."
Commentary on 06/15/2019
Print Headline: Woo pig, shooie