The year’s most significant meeting of the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission occurred last Friday in Little Rock.
Most Arkansans would agree as they learn the alarming news Richard Mays presented there. Mays was representing the Buffalo River Coalition opposed to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (cough) issuing the permit that allowed C&H Hog Farms to begin spreading millions of gallons of raw waste into the Buffalo National River watershed at Mount Judea.
The coalition was there to alert commissioners and the state of evidence collected over a year ago by Dr. Todd Halihan of Oklahoma State University.
Working under contract with the Big Creek Research and Extension Team and the Cooperative Extension Service, Halihan used electrical resistivity imaging in March 2015 to show what Mays said is “evidence that there has been and continues to be a possible release of contamination beneath the C&H hog farm.”
Using slides from Halihan’s study, Mays explained how hog waste could be shown through technology. The waste reflects a particular level of electrical conductive signature, which can be charted in colors. Halihan’s studies were conducted on waste-spray fields and beneath the facility.
The slides used at Mays’ presentation, which appear to reveal contamination as deep as 120 feet beneath the factory, should have been enough to upset any commissioner learning of it for the first time.
Halihan’s slides indicating contamination reportedly show high conductivity signals extending 40 feet beneath the surface on the east side of the waste holding ponds and 60 feet deep (along with a possible flow channel) on their southern end. On the west side, between the ponds and barns, the signals measure to 90 feet, and reveal a possible “major fracture and movement of waste,” in a quote attributed to Dr. Halihan.
In October, Tim Kresse, with the U.S. Geological Survey and member of the Big Creek team, sent an email to team leader Dr. Andrew Sharpley, saying in part: “… it would be nice to put a well on the west side in the vicinity of where Todd believed he saw a major fracture and movement of waste. This could be critical to resolving the interpretation of the resistivity data. Todd would be willing to assist in getting the drilling done for free. … Todd is fairly confident of his interpretation.”
Mays told commissioners that because neither OSU nor the Big Creek team “offered any further explanation of this concerning information, the Alliance sought independent expert opinions. One was Dr. Christopher Liner, a University of Arkansas geophysicist.”
Liner said: “In my opinion, interpretation of the holding pond data implies groundwater contamination to a depth of at least 120 feet, most logically from leakage of the hog manure storage pond. According to the Arkansas state geology map, the Mount Judea area is underlain by the Mississippian Boone limestone formation. This introduces the possibility of rapid and distant groundwater transport through weathered limestone pathways.”
The coalition also turned to respected geologist Tom Aley, who said the data “are a matter of significant concern. The data strongly suggest that there is appreciable leakage downward out of the manure ponds. Such leakage not only introduces pollutants into the groundwater system but in this karst setting may also lead to subsidence or collapse of the ponds. At a minimum the data indicate that an adequate drilling program is needed prior to the installation of a liner in the ponds. Such a program is in the interest of C&H Hog Farm, various state and federal agencies and those people and groups concerned with the protection of the Buffalo National River.”
This information only reinforces the concerns of many Arkansans who treasure the Buffalo that all relevant facts have not been made public. It certainly further shakes whatever lingering remnants of faith I had that our state government has the best interest of our national river’s well-being at heart.
Former Second District Rep. Ed Bethune also spoke. He said former Gov. Mike Beebe and the Legislature approved monies to create the Big Creek team project that supposedly would objectively monitor the hog factory.
“Taxpayers were assured that the research would be independent and that the goal was to protect the public interest,” he stated. “Now we learn OSU did a study over a year ago that raises important questions. And we learn that the director of [the Department of Environmental Quality] and you, the PC&E Commission, were not told about the OSU findings. OSU gave the information to the Big Creek Research group, but they did not tell you about it. Why?
“In my experience, bureaucracies are unwilling to divulge findings and information that is contrary to the outcome they prefer. … [You] should be outraged. There should be an effort to find out ‘who knew what and when did they know it.”
The governor also needs answers.
This column appeared in the May 3 edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Used by permission.