Friday, January 10, 2014

Environmentalists, politicians, residents at odds over safety of industrial hog farm in Arkansas Ozarks

A battle is brewing in the scenic, tourist-heavy Ozarks in Northwest Arkansas, where environmentalists, politicians, and state and federal officials fear a hog farm that plans to house up to 6,500 hogs could damage land and water and hurt the tourist trade that draws a million visitors a year to the mountains and the Buffalo National River. But many residents in the mostly low-income rural area welcome the financial gains of the production facility, which says it prides itself on being environmentally friendly, John Eligon reports for The New York Times. (NYT photo by Jacob Slaton: C&H Hog Farms)

"For environmentalists, the development of the Mount Judea (pronounced Judy) hog farm provides a stark example of what they see as lax oversight of such farms by state and federal regulators. Many of them were dismayed last year, for instance, when the Environmental Protection Agency withdrew proposed regulations that would have required all concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, to submit 'basic operational information' and would have increased the number of such farms that require permits," Eligon writes. "But C&H Hog Farms has many supporters, who say that these farms have long dotted the watershed without causing major environmental damage. They argue that the owners of C&H followed all the required steps to obtain a permit and will do all they can to make sure that the farm does not hurt the ecosystem." (NYT map)

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe "has allocated more than $340,000 to test and monitor the water quality in the watershed" and state senators John Boozman (R) and Mark Pryor (D) "have said they were concerned about the location of the farm, and supported close monitoring," Eligon writes. "Environmental groups have filed a federal lawsuit against the Farm Service Agency and the Small Business Administration to try to block $3.4 million in loan guarantees for the farm, arguing that the agencies had not properly considered its environmental impact." But the farm "has received considerable support, not least from some residents who live close by," Eligon writes. "Many see it as an economic bright spot in Newton County, which has high poverty."

The concern, among many, is the 1.5 million gallons of hog manure the farm produces annually, with the manure "stored in large lagoons and sprayed as fertilizer on nearby fields, some of them close to the Big Creek," Eligon writes. "Ten of the 17 fields that will receive fertilizer will have dangerously high phosphorous levels within a year, Kevin Cheri, the superintendent of the Buffalo River for the National Park Service, wrote in a letter to the Farm Service Agency. Environmentalists also worry that rain could cause the manure to run off into streams and creeks."

Supporters "argue that unlike the small operations that have been common throughout the watershed, this one uses more environmentally friendly technology to prevent pollution," Eligon writes. "For one thing, the lagoons holding the waste are larger than required and use a clay liner that will prevent leakage, supporters have said. C&H was the first — and still the only — hog farm in the state approved through a new general permit that officials created for CAFOs to comply with federal rules. That permit did not require the strict procedures for notifying neighbors required for other agricultural permits in the state." (Read more)

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