State seeks more data before granting permit to hog farm in river's watershed

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality sent a letter this week to the owners of C&H Hog Farms asking for more documentation of their facility and plans as the department continues to evaluate the facility's permit application.

The documents are already in the public record, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance board member Brian Thompson told the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission on Friday. Thompson called the request, which allows C&H 90 days to respond, a delay tactic and an "affront to public trust."

"What's troubling is their giving C&H three months to provide documentation that's already in the public record," Thompson said. "This process could easily go on for another six months. The way it's going, maybe it could go on for another year."

C&H Hog Farms is located near Mount Judea in Newton County and sits on Big Creek about 6 miles from where the creek converges with the Buffalo National River.

The farm has drawn the ire of people concerned about the risk its hog manure poses to the Buffalo River. The facility is the only federally classified large hog farm in the river's watershed, which has been home to several small hog farms. C&H is currently permitted to house up to 6,000 piglets and 2,503 sows.

C&H applied for a new permit April 7, 2016, and has been operating under an extension of its old permit. The department held off making a preliminary decision on the new permit until February, after months of a Pollution Control and Ecology Commission appeal on another permit that sought to apply manure from C&H on land in the Buffalo River's watershed. The department accepted comments on the new permit application through early April of this year.

The department requested geological site investigations performed at the facility; construction plans for its waste management system; information, including which water bodies are located nearby, related to the facility's nutrient management plan; status of the facility's manure storage ponds and the operation and maintenance plan for the pond levee.

Thompson delivered his statements during the public comment portion of the commission's meeting Friday, and no commissioners asked questions of Thompson.

After the meeting, department officials said they had requested the documents so they could be a part of the public record in C&H's new permit application and in response to public comments on C&H's permit application.

Department Director Becky Keogh said her agency did not have a deadline for deciding whether to issue a new permit to C&H Hog Farms.

While the Arkansas Legislature passed a law earlier this year giving the department six months to decide on Regulation 5 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, C&H's permit is grandfathered into old law, according to Caleb Osborne, department associate director in charge of the office of water quality.

The department has explored ways to reduce the time it takes to issue new permits and permit modifications, but Keogh said C&H's permit was exceptional, given its controversy.

"This is a permit that is going to take time," she said.

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 it estimates that the two waste-holding ponds would contain up to 2,337,074 gallons of hog manure, similar to what is contained now. Additional waste and wastewater would be applied over certain sites as fertilizer.

Metro on 09/23/2017