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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — The C&H Hog Farms complex, shown in 2017, is located on Big Creek 6.6 miles from where the creek flows into the Buffalo River. - Photo by Mitchell PE Masilun

An engineering firm has submitted a draft closure plan for C&H Hog Farms to state environmental regulators.

The plan would prevent farm owners from placing any remaining hog manure on the ground in the Buffalo National River's watershed. C&H opponents have expressed concern for years about the use of manure as fertilizer in the watershed.

The land there is already "oversaturated" with manure and phosphorus from it, said Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance. In high enough amounts, phosphorus can cause algae growth in surface waters.

Watkins said his group plans to submit comments on the closure plan but broadly feels comfortable with it.

"We'd like to see some efforts to continue monitoring around the storage ponds as well as Big Creek itself, to see if phosphorus could continue to leach out into Big Creek" or to spot evidence of ponds seeping," Watkins said.

C&H abuts on Big Creek about 6.6 miles from where the creek flows into the Buffalo. Owners did not respond to a request for comment, but research has not explicitly found that C&H has caused the algae increasingly found in the Buffalo River or to other pollution in waters near C&H.

The Big Creek Research and Extension Team at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture has been studying C&H, neighboring Big Creek and the Buffalo River for several years. That study ended in June, and the team is expected to release its final report soon.

[DOCUMENT: Read closure plan for hog farm »]

C&H Hog Farms, which was permitted to house 6,503 swine, took a $6.2 million buyout from the state this summer after years of concerns were raised about such a large farm's potential impact on the river, which is the country's first "national" river. The farm must close by early February. Farmers have begun removing the pigs.

Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment spokesman Jacob Harper said in an email to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the next steps are washing down the facilities and closing the manure storage ponds.

The department hired Harbor Environmental to write the closure plan, which was completed Sept. 27. It consists of four pages and diagrams of how the manure holding ponds will be deconstructed.

Interested people have until 4:30 p.m. Oct. 15 to submit comments on the plan. After that, the department will decide whether the alter and/or finalize it.

The plan calls for removing at least six inches of the manure pond liners, in addition to the manure. That follows department policy.

In other states, including Oklahoma, regulators specifically prohibit removal of the pond lining, Watkins said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Association recommends maintaining pond liners when removing sludge.

Watkins cited a white paper done by researchers at five different universities and published by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The researchers caution against trying to remove the liner because of the risk of seepage into the ground. Liners should only be removed if they are damaged, they wrote.

After the manure is removed, the plan calls for demolishing the ponds by filling and grading them. Workers will then plant vegetation on the land to minimize erosion.

Metro on 10/07/2019


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