This column appeared in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on 3/28/17: Used with Permission:
MIKE MASTERSON: ‘Clearly malfeasant’
A former 30-year veteran of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (wheeze) has written an explosive letter claiming malfeasance and flawed findings, saying that agency inexplicably failed to consult its own geologists before issuing the original permit to C&H Hog Farms at Mount Judea.
Gerald Delevan, previously a geology supervisor at the department, sent a lengthy letter (edited portions below) to Jamal Solaimanian, engineering supervisor of the agency’s Water Division, which listed numerous objections to support his assertions.
The review and approval of the initial application “to allow the land application and disposal of a large volume of untreated hog waste in the Big Creek watershed under a General Permit … was at best poorly conceived and poorly executed by Water Division staff,” Develan wrote.
To his knowledge, he said, the initial application was never reviewed by any geologist throughout the agency before the permit was issued.
Delevan said had the geologists been allowed to review the application, it’s highly unlikely any of them would have signed off on the proposed permit without requesting geologic data about the locations and proposed land application sites.
“I believe the permit review process conducted by the Water Division engineers … was severely flawed,” Delevan wrote, “as it failed to adequately consider several issues, the first being the potential impact of locating this hog farm and its associated land application sites on the shallow karstic limestone geology beneath the site” prior to issuing the permit.
“In addition, Water Division engineers were clearly malfeasant in their review of the … application, as they failed to consider missing key data needed to properly and adequately evaluate the potential environmental impact of this … operation on the local environment.”
Delevan said the known presence of karst beneath the proposed locations along or around Big Creek, a major Buffalo tributary, should have raised a major “Red Flag.”
It’s not as if this highly trained veteran geologist didn’t fully understand the process, having participated in the review of all types of permits, writing their requirements, and responding to public comments. He also understands the nature of the fragile subsurface underlying this grossly misplaced swine factory. “The limestone geology … is known to be highly fractured, with numerous voids and conduits which move surface water and ground water rapidly through a vast system of interconnected fractures, solution channel and springs just inches below the soil profile.”
The C&H Environmental Assessment as part of the permit application barely mentions or discusses subsurface geology beneath the sites, he added, “or discuss any possible impacts hog farm operations may or may not have on shallow local ground water supplies present beneath the farm and land application sites. The [assessment] also failed to discuss any potential impacts to surface water quality or ground water quality from waste infiltration or waste water runoff …
“It is clear, Water Division engineers and [Environmental Quality] senior staff, by overlooking these omissions … and by not requesting additional information be provided by the applicant in regard to these omissions, [the Department of Environmental Quality] failed to adequately review the C&H application as submitted.”
Therefore, Delevan wrote, his former employer should not have issued the final permit to C&H until the deficiencies were addressed. “It is also my opinion [the department] was also malfeasant by not having [a department] registered professional geologist or any other geologist from any agency … review and comment … prior to its approval and issuance.”
Delevan wrote that the agency has options. “It is hoped the agency will do the right thing and step back from seemingly stumbling blindly along … and take the time to evaluate all of the data collected by all of the researchers and scientists, prior to issuing the final permit to C&H.
“Hopefully,” he continued, “this approach would allow … staff conducting the permit review to make a better informed decision regarding whether or not the proposed permit modification application for C&H Hog Farms should be approved and issued by [the department].
“If the data indicates the ongoing farming operation at C&H is already adversely impacting the water quality in Big Creek, then [the farm] is in violation of the Arkansas Air and Water Pollution Control Act and [its] current permit. If this is the case, the proposed permit modification … should, in my opinion, be denied.”
Delevan’s opinion is that granting the permit “will ultimately lead to the slow, long-term, inevitable degradation of overall water quality” in surface and groundwater supplies.
Delevan said he sent a copy of his letter to Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who is receiving plenty of credible forewarning of what many believe is a catastrophe waiting to happen on his watch. See Delevan’s full letter at tinyurl.com/m4tu4sq.