Here we go again, circling the same wagons accomplishing nothing while avoiding robust discussion over the real potential for environmental calamity in our precious Buffalo National River watershed.

And for what, I continue to wonder? To defend at all costs one family in Newton County who teamed with Minnesota’s Cargill Inc. to convince our state’s Department of Environmental Quality (cough) it was a fine idea to approve the first hog factory in the state’s most ecologically fragile region?

It’s become a relevant question in light of the state’s continuing public expense and political lobbying involved in keeping this misplaced factory running.

It was no surprise the two federal agencies, which guaranteed the loans for the C&H Hog Farms, released their findings the other day. They claim there’s “no significant impact” to the first national river as a result of the millions of gallons of raw hog waste held in two lagoons when not being regularly sprayed across fields near Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo flowing less than seven miles downstream. Don’t worry, Arkansas! Be happy!

This latest environmental assessment follows the initial version filed by the Small Business Administration and the USDA’s Farm Service Agency. U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall on Dec. 2, 2014, found it to be woefully lacking in facts and legally inadequate. Marshall ordered the agencies to redo a complete assessment that documented the potential environmental effects from this factory’s location.

So did the U.S. agencies take the apolitical, mature approach and reach out to the Buffalo River Coalition that opposes this factory’s location? Did they offer to work with the coalition to address serious and scientifically documented concerns? Did either agency perhaps perform dye testings and other groundwater assessments, since the watershed lies atop cracked limestone that rapidly transports water?

Nope. It seems instead they’ve tried to save face by piecemealing what little reported science they could locate to reinforce their original inadequate assessment. Is this a great example of science or what?

Meanwhile, the coalition, comprised of five groups opposing the factory’s location and represented by Earthjustice attorney Hannah Chang, was unimpressed.

The group said it made sure to alert the two agencies to the known potential adverse environmental and economic impacts to the Buffalo watershed. Yet the agencies’ finding of “no significant impact” ignored their science-based data and water-quality studies altogether.

“Perhaps the biggest flaw in the no impact finding is the conclusion that the water quality of the Buffalo River will not be significantly affected,” Chang said. “The federal agencies based this conclusion on inaccurate information and analysis that the swine facility site does not exhibit karst hydrogeology, turning a blind eye to the overwhelming scientific consensus and the comments of the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey to the contrary.”

The coalition said it also alerted the agencies that the Oklahoma State University study that they misinterpreted as supporting their faulty determination had actually found a “major fracture and movement of waste” beneath the site. The finding of no impact overlooks this critical information.

Instead, the agencies’ finding rehashes their denial of the hog factory’s potential impacts on water and air quality, the quality of life in the community, public health, the health of the children who attend school near C&H, any endangered or threatened species, and the pollution from hog waste in the Buffalo National River, the coalition contends.

“The conclusion C&H is not located on karst and that groundwater and surface-water contamination is not imminent is absolutely based on flawed science,” said karst expert and UA geoscience professor emeritus Dr. John Van Brahana, who with fellow volunteers has studied water quality around the factory since it opened in 2012. “The data collected over the past two years by my team and submitted to the agencies puts the likelihood of swine waste from C&H Hog Farms finding its way into the Buffalo National River at 95 percent.

“These data were completely ignored, as were similar comments from noted hydrologist Thomas Aley and the opinions of the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey. We have all concluded that the C&H swine operation may have significant adverse impacts, which requires that a full Environmental Impact Statement be prepared.”

Chang added: “With this [finding], the agencies have failed to meet their obligations under the law. The likelihood of significant environmental harm to America’s first national river mandates a full environmental impact statement, not a finding of no impact that ignores clear data and hard science.”


This article appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Feb. 28, 2016.  Used by permission.