Hog farm per­mit ad­vances

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - EMILY WALKENHORST

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.

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