The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality this week selected a contractor for a drilling project on a hog farm in Newton County, Chief Deputy Director Julie Chapman said Friday.
Harbor Environmental of Little Rock will conduct the study, which will drill to extract soil samples at C&H Hog Farms.
C&H is permitted to hold up to 2,503 sows and 4,000 piglets, but it has been criticized for the entirety of its three-year existence by environmental and recreation groups concerned about its potential to pollute the Buffalo National River. The facility sits on Big Creek, about 6 miles from where the creek enters the Buffalo.
Compensation for Harbor Environmental has not been determined, but department officials said last month that they had set aside $50,000 for the study and expected to spend between $20,000 and $30,000.
The department selected the company after briefing hog-farm opponents at the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance about the process that would be used to select the company and the preliminary plans for the drilling, Chapman said.
Harbor Environmental will study the integrity of the manure pond liners by extracting samples of the ground through drilling.
Earlier this year, a contractor doing electroresistivity imaging for the Big Creek Research and Extension Team found what he believed to be higher-than-expected moisture levels below one of the ponds, which could indicate a leak. He said the problem could be addressed by drilling to discover what was causing the higher moisture levels or by installing plastic liners under the hog manure.
C&H has received a permit to install plastic liners but has not installed them yet.
Members of the Big Creek Research and Extension Team, which operates out of the University of Arkansas System's Division of Agriculture and will monitor C&H's effect on the environment for five years for the state, have said the findings did not alarm them because no other research conducted on the site has shown any patterns of pollution.
Chapman also said Friday that the department would look further into what officials should regularly report to commissioners after a Pollution Control and Ecology commissioner, Wesley Stites, wondered why commissioners hadn't been given more immediate notice of a permit modification granted earlier this year to a relative of the C&H Hog Farms owners to apply manure from C&H on EC Farms property. The department issued the permit June 29 and listed it at the end of its agenda packet for Friday's commission meeting.
Stites said he felt "blindsided."
"I think the last thing the department can afford to do ... is give the appearance that we're attempting to ... avoid notice," Stites said, adding that part of what made C&H's original operational permit approval contentious was the feeling among members of the public that they were not properly notified of the permit application.
Chapman said the department can do a better job of trying to anticipate what commissioners would be interested in.
"We are open," she said. "We are trying to be transparent."
The Buffalo River, the first 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 visitors count of 1.55 million was set in 2009. That year, visitors spent an estimated $62.2 million at local businesses, directly supporting 750 jobs and secondarily supporting 219 jobs.
Metro on 07/23/2016