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To The Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee: Resign!

You are doing more harm to the Buffalo National River by existing than you are by proposing watershed improvements. You are putting up a smokescreen that is hiding the factory hog farm problem.

I know the overall watershed has other issues, but there is one that overshadows all others, so huge that all your suggestions (and suggestions are all you can do) are immaterial if the hog farm continues to exist on the Boone karst limestone.

As an expert witness, I can tell you with certainty that, as I write this column and as you read it, the river is becoming more polluted. So if you really want to do something to save the Buffalo, you will resign en masse.

Consider the effect your committee will have on the river if the hog farm is not moved onto a suitable terrain. 1. The river will almost certainly be polluted. 2. Your suggestions on improving the watershed won't make a hill-of-beans' difference. 3. The amount of hog farm waste---as much as the city of El Dorado disposes of in a year---will eventually overwhelm the river, and all the watershed suggestions you might recommend (if they were put in place) would have such a minimal effect on the tons of hog manure residue that it would be impossible to discern you had done anything. (Nero fiddled while Rome burned, and the Beautiful Buffalo River Action Committee is fiddling while the river is becoming more and more polluted.)

On the other hand, if you resign after issuing a statement that the committee can't in good conscience function unless the hog farm is re-sited on suitable terrain, you will have made significant progress in making the governor and Department of Environmental Quality move the hog farm to a more suitable site. (The state should pay for the move; get out your checkbook, Governor.)

This is not a time to study or fiddle. It is a time to act, and every day of non-action puts more hog manure residue in the river. There are times when radical actions need to be taken to stop an ecological disaster from occurring. This potential pollution problem is not just a small trickle; potentially thousands of gallons of hog manure residue water will carry tremendous quantities of pollutants into Big Creek or into the subsurface, and that polluted water will work its way into the National Buffalo River. This threat can't be overstated.

When the National Park Service posts the river as "No Swimming" and forbids the eating of fish caught in it, will you have any remorse about fiddling while the river becomes polluted? Since you are just a cog in the process, the blame must be spread around, and there are a lot of folks who are responsible, including our governor and congressional representatives.

The hog farm is the third serious challenge our national river has had, and through a lot of hard work and tremendous activism by the people who love it, the first two challenges have been defeated. The first was the Corps of Engineers plan to dam the river and create another dinosaur lake. Dinosaur lakes can be compared to the fins on a 1968 Cadillac. These oversized lakes have very little purpose except to impound vast amounts of water. The river-killing Corps of Engineers proposed damming one of the last free-flowing rivers in the mid-South, but thanks to Dr. Neil Compton, who spearheaded the fight, it wasn't dammed.

The second challenge occurred in the summer of 1986 when a company applied for a landfill permit near the Buffalo River. Every conservation group in the state banded together to stop the permit from being issued. I was embroiled in a tough fight in El Dorado to stop a company called Ensco from receiving a permit to incinerate cancer-causing PCBs in a waste disposal incinerator. Although we didn't stop the company from receiving a permit, we managed to get a permit so stringent that the company eventually stopped the incineration. During that fight Gov. Bill Clinton appointed me to fill the environmental seat on the Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.

"An oilman to take the environmental seat on the Commission?" screamed several conservation groups. To say I wasn't well received by the rank and file environmental groups in the state is an understatement. However, I met with them, and all I basically said was to give me a chance. After a couple of years and some classic verbal fights during Commission meetings, I changed some environmental minds. I was awarded a Woody Award by the Sierra Club and named Conservationist of the Year by the Arkansas Wildlife Federation.

In 1986, as soon as I became a Commission member, I became embroiled in a fight to keep the Pindall Landfill from receiving a permit. The reason environmental groups were opposing the permit was because if the landfill leaked, the polluted water from the landfill would flow directly into the Buffalo River. It took a combined effort by dedicated conservationists to rally public opinion against the landfill and to come up with data from around the country from dozens of existing landfills to show that almost every landfill we examined eventually leaked.

When the Commission met in a packed hearing room, we had the hard evidence that if the Pindall Landfill was permitted there was an over 90 percent chance that it would someday leak and a 100 percent certainty that the polluted water would flow into the Buffalo. The Commission turned down the permit application.

Today we have an even more critical situation. While the Pindall Landfill leak would put several thousand gallons of polluting liquids into the Buffalo, the hog farm could put hundreds of thousands of gallons of hog manure residue into the river from runoff into Big Creek or by seeping into the subsurface of karst topography. The result could destroy the recreational use of the river.

I am not a left-wing environmental nut from Vermont telling you the sky is falling. I'm telling you this as a professional geologist with a master's degree from the University of Arkansas, six years as a PC&E commissioner, and as one who has walked the land, explored the caves, and spent hours on the river. If I'm not an expert witness, who is?

If you don't want the Buffalo National River polluted, you will do whatever you can to stop it. If we don't, the river will be lost.

Email Richard Mason at

Editorial on 02/24/2019

Print Headline: Take action to save the river


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Archived Comments

    February 24, 2019 at 8:35 a.m.

    Asa Hutchinson should be held accountable for the continued disgrace of the pollution of the Buffalo by a factory hog farm, now known to degrade the river. His is the bully pulpit and to date he has failed to use it. Disgraceful governor, in your political temerity you should be ashamed.

  • Jfish
    February 24, 2019 at 1:05 p.m.

    Bluewater, you do realize that Beebe was in office when the permit was approved, right? I do agree with you though, Asa has been painfully silent on the issue. Maybe because he is a card carrying member of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. My vote is to just buy out the hog factory and be done with it.