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It's time once again for our weekly roundup of thumb-worthy news items.

It hasn't been a very happy new year for our mates in Australia or our amigos in Puerto Rico. Wildfires down under have ravaged the countryside for the last couple of weeks, killing 25 people, destroying thousands of homes and businesses and scorching 20 million acres of land. The scenes we see on the screen of valiant firefighters battling walls of flames and distraught victims picking through the rubble of their homes have become all too familiar to folks in the U.S. Similar disasters have swept across the American West for several years in a row. So we're sympathetic when we see Australians suffer much the same heartache. We also note the smouldering anger among the citizenry in Australia as they demand a better response from its government to the ongoing tragedy. Here's hoping the recent rains provide much needed relief.

Meanwhile, if a series of deadly hurricanes over the past four years weren't enough, now Puerto Ricans are dealing with the damage dealt by a series of earthquakes, culminating in a 6.4-magnitude temblor earlier this week. It plunged the entire island into darkness and chaos, something with which its residents are all too familiar. At least one person was killed, and buildings tumbled to the ground. Even the island's natural landmarks suffered, with the collapse of Punta Ventana, an iconic natural bridge rock formation on the southern coast.

This latest disaster comes on the heels of a man-made one, an upheaval in local government and a constitutional crises that ousted one president and sorely tested his successor. Puerto Rico, a truly beautiful tropical oasis, deserves a break, as well as all help we can send her way.

The land that used to be C&H Hog Farms, a massive swine-raising operation in the Buffalo National River watershed, now belongs to the state of Arkansas as a conservation easement.

Hallelujah.

It was never a good idea for the state to grant a permit for the hog farm operation, which was adjacent to Big Creek in Newton County and only 6.6 miles from where that stream empties into the Buffalo. While the owners of C&H did everything by the book to get the permit and followed the rules the best it could during the 5 years it was in business, such a huge hog farm so close to one of the nation's natural wonders should never have been allowed in the first place. Algae blooms and high E. coli readings caused alarm in recent years and C&H ran into trouble renewing it's permit. So the state worked out a deal with the owners to close the farm and acquire the property for $6.2 million. The farm began removing the hogs in the fall and papers say they were all gone by Christmas. The check changed hands this week.

Deficiencies in the state's notification and permitting process -- now corrected, we hope -- allowed this to happen. The state has a bit more work to do in emptying a couple of manure ponds, but it appears that a serious environmental risk will soon be eliminated. After that, nature can once again take its course.

Congratulations to Lucas Kellar and Julian Sanker, a couple of high school students who recently won a regional competition with an app they created to track emergency calls.

Kellar is a student at Springdale's Tyson School of Innovation and Sanker attends Haas Hall in Fayetteville. The pair developed "Crime Map," an app that locates and displays emergency 911 calls in Fayetteville. The two started working on it together in October at the J.B. Hunt-sponsored "Hackathon," a local app-building contest that required them to complete their work in 18 hours. They won.

After refining their original concept, the pair entered the app in the 2019 Congressional App Challenge sponsored by the U.S. Congress. It was the winner for Arkansas' 3rd Congressional District.

We hope the folks at NWASpace reach their goal of creating a new science center and observatory in the region. The paper tells us plans are underway.

The nonprofit organization already has a 36-foot telescope and a proposed location. It is now in the process of planning and fundraising to build the structure to house it and the programming that will attract participants.

Northwest Arkansas is already home to some world-class attractions -- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Amazeum, to name only two. Yet another place where people can expand their horizons and learn something new will be a welcome addition.

GIVE ‘EM A THUMB: Want to give some brief feedback on news? Someone who deserves a pat on the back? An idea that needs a dose of common sense? Submit your “Thursday thumb” by calling Greg Harton at (479) 872-5026 or by email at gharton@nwadg.com.

Commentary on 01/09/2020

Print Headline: Thursday's thumbs

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