Thursday, August 22, 2013

Conservation groups: pollution monitoring at hog farm not enough

Posted By on Thu, Aug 22, 2013 at 4:42 PM

C&H Hog Farm - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • C&H Hog Farm
A coalition of conservation groups yesterday offered measured support but some skepticism regarding Gov. Mike Beebe's proposal of independent, state-funded testing and monitoring at the C&H Hog Farm in Mt. Judea. The farm has stirred controversy because of its proximity to the Buffalo River

Earlier this month, the coalition -- the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Ozark Society -- sued the federal agencies that backed more than $3 million in loans to C&H. A press release issued yesterday articulates what various coalition members have told me: additional monitoring is a good thing but doesn't address their core concerns, and they fear that if the testing does identify pollution, the damage at that point may have already been done.  

The coalition's statement also expresses regret that Dr. John Van Brahana, a just-retired University of Arkansas geology professor and an expert in karst geology, has not been consulted on the potential project. Brahana has been testing in the Mt. Judea area to establish a water-quality baseline, as well as dye testing to establish water pathways, and identifying and mapping karst features. C&H has declined Brahana's offer to do free testing on their property.

Worth noting that Brahana himself speaks very highly of Dr. Andrew Sharpley, the University of Arkansas water expert who would likely be heading up the governor's proposed monitoring program.    

Press release from the coalition after the jump. 

PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: August 21, 2013
Contact: Perry Wheeler, National Parks Conservation Association, P: 202-419-3712

Coalition Urges Caution in Embracing Governor Beebe Water Testing Proposal for C & H Hog Farms

Groups remain steadfast in efforts to revoke hog facility permit
Statement by Robert Cross, President, Ozark Society
“As widely reported, Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe has proposed a water testing study on and around C & H Hog Farms, an industrial-sized hog facility that has been ill-advisedly located in the Buffalo River watershed. A Legislative Council committee is expected to vote on whether to approve the Governor’s proposal on September 5. The details of the proposed study are not yet public, and the Ozark Society, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association and Arkansas Canoe Club withhold judgment until more information is available. The bottom line, however, is the State of Arkansas should be preventing contamination from reaching the Buffalo River, not monitoring the problem. While monitoring – if done well – is better than no monitoring, we question why the Governor will not take more decisive action and at least review the facility’s ill-conceived permit. To be helpful, any soil and water testing must be thorough, based on sound science, and coupled with a plan for swift action to address violations. However, the fact remains that once contamination is detected, it is too late to undo the damage.

“We are also perplexed that Professor Van Brahana of the University of Arkansas Geosciences Department, who is widely regarded as the scientist with the greatest knowledge of Newton County hydrogeology, has not been consulted on the Governor’s proposal. In early June, Dr. Brahana made his own proposal to Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) Director Teresa Marks for baseline testing followed by water quality monitoring in the region. When that proposal was ignored by ADEQ, Brahana embarked on the study on his own time, with some of his own money and with support from other organizations. That work is ongoing and he is currently testing wells for anyone in the Mount Judea area free-of-charge. The State should have considered Brahana’s previous offer, and moving forward should coordinate with him to utilize the valuable information he is uncovering for the Governor’s proposal.

“Most importantly, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality should have fulfilled its duty to prevent contamination of the Buffalo River in the first place, before the 6500-pig factory became a reality. ADEQ placed it under the radar and away from public scrutiny. Local Mt. Judea residents were not consulted, neither were the Arkansas Department of Health or the National Park Service. The permit process didn't assess the economic impact on tourism or the environmental impact on local residents. Government agencies seem to be going out of their way to protect an industrial swine facility that will produce a handful of jobs, rather than our first national river that belongs to all of us and supports $38 million in local spending and 500 local jobs. Additionally, there are serious concerns over the impacts of air pollution on the over 250 children attending school just across Big Creek and the flood-prone fields where the 2 million gallons of hog manure produced annually will be sprayed.

“We look forward to seeing the Governor’s proposal, but sadly, any monitoring after the fact only demonstrates why this hog farm never should have been approved in the first place. Arriving at this point, the big question we ask is this: Why is the federal government guaranteeing $3 million taxpayer subsidized loans and the state paying $250,000 to place a Cargill industrial-sized pig factory in the Buffalo River watershed? This is getting to be one expensive factory farm, which can only get costlier for the people of Arkansas.”

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