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State agency gets hog-farm drilling results

Neither contractor nor environmental officials draw conclusions from research by Emily Walkenhorst | December 2, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.

A contractor has turned over to the state the results of its tests to determine whether a hog farm in Mount Judea is leaking manure into the ground, but the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality said it is not ready to interpret the results, agency officials said Thursday.

Harbor Environmental presented its findings Thursday at the department's North Little Rock headquarters, with project manager Thomas Huetter explaining how the research was conducted and whether the soil and water samples showed normal levels of certain nutrients. Many samples showed normal levels, and some samples taken at neutral sites showed lower levels of some nutrients than samples taken underneath the manure ponds at C&H Hog Farms. The research also detected some fractures in the ground at C&H.

Huetter ended his presentation without drawing a conclusion on the findings, and department officials did not allow any questions.

Department Director Becky Keogh said afterward that the department did not ask Harbor Environmental to draw any conclusions from the results of its tests.

"We wanted to be able to review [the data]," Keogh said.

Thursday's presentation was the first time anyone at the department had seen the results, Keogh said. She said it was too early to say whether anything stood out to her from the presentation.

The department will accept questions from the public until noon Dec. 9, and the department and Harbor will post their answers online, department officials said. The department does not have a timeline for when it will release its conclusion on the research.

Thursday also was the first time Jason Henson, co-owner of C&H, had seen the results. After allowing the department to conduct the testing on his property, Henson said he would like to have seen the research before others.

But, he said, "I'm glad they came out with the results a little early."

He and others will review the research before commenting on the presentation, he said.

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Members of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance had requested the research results through the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, but they had obtained the results from only one laboratory before Thursday's presentation. Those results were received Wednesday.

Gordon Watkins, president of the alliance, said he was disappointed that the department did not allow questions.

Watkins said the group would enlist the help of hydrogeologists to review and assess the test results.

Even if the research indicates no leaking at manure ponds or only small leaks, he said the alliance would remain concerned about the 3 million gallons of hog manure spread as fertilizer on the hog farms' property in the Buffalo National River's watershed.

"Pond leakage is a concern, but a greater issue is [the 3 million gallons]," Watkins said.

The department hired Harbor Environmental of Little Rock to conduct the drilling at C&H to detect whether one of the manure ponds had been leaking. The drilling project came about after the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance raised concerns about electroresistivity imaging research done at C&H Hog Farms in early 2015, which the group obtained through a Freedom of Information request early this year.

The department paid Harbor Environmental $75,000 for the project, which involved drilling at C&H and taking samples at certain depths to determine what was there. Harbor hired Cascade Drilling of Memphis to do the drilling, while Harbor and independent geologist Tai Hubbard supervised the work.

Drilling samples were sent to Arkansas Analytical, the University of Arkansas Agriculture Division's Soils Testing and Research Laboratory, and the Ouachita Baptist University laboratory directed by Joe Nix.

Nix, who provided his data to the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance on Wednesday, was requested by the alliance to participate in the project.

The testing, conducted Sept. 21-26, involved drilling 120.5 feet into the ground, where researchers took several soil, water and soil leachate samples at different levels and compared the results with samples taken in other parts of Newton County and with U.S. Geological Survey data taken in 2004.

The samples were tested for 18 nutrients and minerals, although not every sample was tested for all 18. The results mostly fit the parameters set by the U.S. Geological Survey except where the Geological Survey did not have comparable data, according to Huetter's presentation. Soil leachate samples showed higher concentrations of the nutrients and elements below the ponds but they still fit Geological Survey parameters when applicable. The Geological Survey did not always have comparable data for nitrogen, phosphorus or total organic carbon. No soil samples detected E. coli, and ammonia was found above Geological Survey levels in one of five water samples.

The drilling samples also gave a picture of the makeup of the ground at C&H. Researchers found what they believed to be mostly clay down to 13.5 feet, limestone and clay from 13.5 feet to 28 feet, and limestone from 28 feet to 120.5 feet. Water loss during drilling suggested fractures in the ground from 25 feet to 38 feet. A drop in neutron counts suggested a porous zone from 100 feet to 120 feet.

Research documents can be found at www.adeq.state.ar.us/water/bbri/c-and-h/drilling.aspx. Questions on the project can be sent to the department by email to drillingstudyquestions@adeq.state.ar.us.

Keogh encouraged people to evaluate the information online, but she cautioned that data should be taken as a whole and not be cherry-picked.

C&H Hog Farms Inc., near Mount Judea in Newton County, sits on Big Creek about 6 miles from where it converges with the Buffalo National River. It is 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 Buffalo National River had 1.46 million visitors last year, the third-highest total since it became a national river and the highest since a record count of 1.55 million in 2009.

C&H has been accused of posing a pollution risk to the river because of its federally classified "large" size. State-funded researchers separate from Harbor Environmental continue to monitor the farm to see whether it is affecting the river and have so far released no definite finding.

A Section on 12/02/2016

Print Headline: State agency gets hog-farm drilling results

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