My Feb. 16 column described how C&H Hog Farms wrongly claimed in its Regulation 6 nutrient management plan that 80 percent of its phosphorus-laden hog waste would not be spread across the Buffalo National River and Big Creek watersheds.
That naturally begged the questions of who, why and when this pig-in-a-poke percentage came to be included in the factory's claim about removing all that contaminating phosphorus.
At least one person involved in securing the permit must have arrived at this number to fit requirements. Remember the adage: "If you find a turtle upside down on a fence post you can bet it had help getting there"?
I believe the "who" involved logically could include one or more of the following: The nutrient management plan was prepared by Nathan Pesta and his firm DeHaan, Grabs & Associates (DGA) of North Dakota and signed off by C&H owner Jason Henson. Others likely included the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Arkansas Pork Producers, Cargill Inc. and/or the University Of Arkansas Division Of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service.
The answer to "why" the erroneous loss factor was included, and how so much waste supposedly would be removed, was described in the May 25, 2018, deposition of Andrew Sharpley, Ph.D., distinguished professor at the University of Arkansas and team leader of the state tax-funded Big Creek Research and Extension Team.
Our state retained the team in 2013 under a memorandum of understanding with three objectives involving the factory. One stated the group was to "determine the effectiveness and sustainability of alternative manure management techniques including solid separation that may enhance transport and export of nutrients out of the watershed." In other words, how to profitably remove the environmentally damaging phosphorus from the site.
Pages 65-72 of Sharpley's deposition described the Big Creek team's attempts to develop a profitable method for removing those tons of waste and thereby avoid spraying it widely. Sharpley later in his deposition colorfully said they had been actively seeking a way of "turning s**t into black gold." Were preparers of the factory's nutrient plan told to allow for such an 80 percent storage loss because of this imagined "black gold" idea?
Regardless, in 2014, with C&H spraying full bore for over a year, the Big Creek team determined the unrealistic haul-away plan wasn't profitably feasible. Sharpley explained in the deposition: "It was not going to work. It was not going to provide a mechanism for that farm operation to remove nutrients from the watershed ... ."
So what happened to all that apparently unplanned phosphorus? Answer: It's continued to be applied on approximately 550 to 600 acres of watershed fields. But wait, what about that nutrient management plan for the original permit being based on the assumption--aka, unsound science--which assured 80 percent would never be applied in the watershed? Oops, our bad!
As I've written previously, the amount of such waste sprayed on fields in the Big Creek and Buffalo National River watersheds exceeds 2.5 million gallons each year, or about 4,400 gallons per acre, according to C&H annual reports. Obviously, all this waste contains significantly higher amounts of phosphorus than claimed in the original nutrient management plan.
Asked to describe specific amounts of phosphorus in the soil samples taken by the Big Creek team in the fields receiving waste, Sharpley testified that 32 of the 36 fields showed "above optimum" levels of phosphorus.
Perhaps there's another explanation for the bogus 80 percent claim? I mean, aren't those involved in planning this misplaced factory (and who provided input for C&H's initial stated plan) unquestionably among the smartest in agriculture, as well as knowing all requirements for proper waste disposal for hog factories?
But, as usual, I remain befuddled by the questions that so much seeming expertise raise. For instance, did this group know, or should they have known from the outset, that the factory at Mount Judea didn't have enough acreage to annually absorb 2.5 million gallons of untreated liquid hog waste? That amount times six years of constant application to these fields amounts to ... sorry, I can't count that high.
Shouldn't they also have known the karst topography that permeates this region wouldn't absorb nearly that amount of waste, leaving the over-application to end up flowing through groundwater to pollute the subsurface flow in all directions, logically including the adjoining major Buffalo tributary Big Creek and ultimately the Buffalo National River?
Wonder if their nutrient management plan approval and decisions were based on collective bad judgment, or on knowledge together with the willingness to risk the future of the state's greatest attraction (our precious Buffalo) for one factory's bacon and/or black gold? Finally, did they know, or should they have known, that this "black gold" plan to help gain the permit was never destined to work profitably?
All this raises still another "you've got to be kidding me" issue. C&H is now suing the Department of Environmental Quality and the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, claiming department erred by denying it a Regulation 5 permit last year. Meanwhile, our tax funds are being used to defend the agency for this permit denial that I believe (based on the factory's erroneous nutrient management plan loss factor) likely should have come initially in 2012.
If our Arkansas attorney general's office is going to use taxpayer funds in such litigation, it should include funds to investigate who was responsible for supplying the misinformation to secure the factory's original permit. It's called accountability up here in the Ozarks.
We deserve to know whether taxpayers have been duped into paying for either a big mistake and unsound science, supposedly to produce "black gold," or a deliberate misstatement of material information in the 2012 permit application at the expense of our national river, aka genuine Arkansas gold.
Arkansans will wait right here patiently for some honest answers.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Web only on 03/02/2019
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