Hog farm permit advances
The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality tentatively approved this week a permit for C&H Hog Farms’ for its operations near Mount Judea.
C& H applied April 7 for a new permit to keep operating. The department issued a draft decision approving the permit Wednesday, the day it also notified the public in the Newton County Times.
C& H applied under Regulation 5, the state’s no-discharge permit program, after the department canceled the type of permit the facility had. Provisions of the new permit aren’t much different, according to Caleb Osborne, head of the department’s water quality division.
The new permit clarifies discharge from the facility isn’t allowed outside of a major flood event, defined
as a 24-hour, 25-year event, Osborne said. The hog manure ponds will still be required to leave room at the top to prevent overflow in the event of rain. And while C&H has altered the number of hogs it intends to keep on site, officials don’t expect a significant difference in the amount of waste they’ll produce.
The tentative approval opens a 30-day public comment period on the proposed — and technically existing — operation of a pig farming facility whose existence has spurred push-back leading to changes to department regulations, dozens of hours of public hearings, hundreds of public comments and hundreds of thousands of dollars in state-funded research on the facility’s impact on its surroundings in the Buffalo River watershed.
Opponents of C&H complained in 2013 the department’s public notice process when the farm’s owners applied to operate in 2012 prevented people from commenting on it. The department
approved the farm’s first permit after receiving no public comments in 2012.
“The reason this is an important opportunity is because we were denied the opportunity in the first place,” said Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which was formed in 2013 to oppose C&H’s operations.
Watkins said his group had “numerous pages of comments.”
“Believe me, we’re going to have lots to say,” he said.
For example, Watkins said his group plans to comment for the first time on the facility’s nutrient management plan, which they believe is flawed.
C&H officials didn’t return messages left Thursday. In the past, co-owner Jason Henson noted the lack of findings of any pollution emitted from his facility and expressed exasperation at the opposition to the business.
Watkins and others have been able to comment on permit modifications C&H has applied for, such as an application to install synthetic liners under the farm’s clay hog manure ponds. But no public comment period on
the farm’s entire operations has been opened since the summer of 2012.
Only people who submit public comments can appeal a final permitting decision. In 2012, public notice of C&H’s application was published only on the Department of Environmental Quality’s website and not in a local newspaper as most permits. Regulations surrounding public notice were later modified to include publication in a local newspaper and notification of certain local officials.
C&H Hog Farms’ operating permit expired Oct. 31, but the owners applied for a new one under a different state regulation in April. C& H Hog Farms then modified that request in June based on the department’s approval of a permit modification at EC Farms to receive hog manure from C&H to spread on the ground as fertilizer.
That approval was appealed, and the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission closed the appeal in January when it voted to adopt department Administrative Law Judge Charles Moulton’s determination EC Farms needed a separate permit for spreading hog manure.
People have 30 days from Wednesday to submit public comments. The comment period ends at 4:30 p.m. March 17. The department will hold a public hearing at 6 p. m. March 7 at the Jasper School District auditorium in Jasper.
C& H Hog Farms near Mount Judea in Newton County, sits on Big Creek about 6 miles from where it converges with the Buffalo National River. It’s the only federally classified large hog farm in the river’s watershed and is permitted to house up to 6,000 piglets and 2,503 sows.
The new permit indicates the facility would house up to six boars of about 450 pounds, 2,672 sows of at least 400 pounds and 750 piglets of about 14 pounds and estimates the two waste-holding ponds would contain up to 2,337,074 gallons of hog manure. Additional waste and wastewater will be applied over certain sites as fertilizer.
The Buffalo National River had 1.46 million visitors last year, the third-largest total since it became a national river and the most since a record count of 1.55 million in 2009.