Federal agencies that approved a loan to a hog farm operating upstream of Buffalo National River in Arkansas are being sued for not adequately reviewing the project.
A coalition of groups -- the Arkansas Canoe Club, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, and The Ozark Society -- are hoping to halt the 6,500-pig operation run by C&H Hog Farms on a tributary of the Buffalo River.
The groups back in June had indicated they would sue over the project, which they argue could produce more than 2 million gallons of manure and wastewater annually over porous karst geology.
Karst geology is composed of easily dissolved rocks, such as limestone and dolomite. Via sinkholes and underground caves in the geology, groundwater can flow miles very quickly. In the National Park System, karst geology is perhaps mostly visibly connected to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, but it can also be found along the Buffalo National River and at Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri.
The coalition contends the loan guarantee to the hog facility hinges on a flawed environmental review process that violates the law and does not follow USDA’s own regulations.
“(U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency and the Small Business Association) failed to provide the public notice and undertake the environmental review and consultations required by law, so we’re asking the court to set aside the loan guarantees and instruct the agencies to comply,” said Emily Jones of the National Parks Conservation Association. “We have asked FSA and SBA to do the right thing without litigation, but they have not, and today we find ourselves in court to protect the Buffalo River, a national treasure of immeasurable worth.”
The Buffalo River travels through the heart of the Ozark Mountains in northwestern Arkansas, and runs beneath magnificent cliffs which at times extend nearly 700 feet above the river's clear, quiet pools and rushing rapids. One hundred thirty-five miles of the Buffalo comprise the national river, which attracts more than one million visitors each year who float the crystal waters, camp on the gravel bars, and hike the trails – generating $38 million toward the local economy.
“The Buffalo is an astonishingly beautiful natural resource, Arkansas’ crown jewel,” said Jack Stewart of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance. “Siting an industrial hog facility so close to the river threatens to desecrate this national treasure, known to so many for its peaceful meanderings and the scent of wild azaleas in bloom.”
The C&H facility is located on the banks of Big Creek in Mount Judea, Arkansas. Under a contract with Cargill, Inc., an international agricultural and food conglomerate, C&H will confine 6,500 pigs at a time making the operation the first of its size and scale in the Buffalo River watershed, the coalition said in a release.
The pigs' manure and the farm's wastewater will be collected in open-air storage ponds on site and spread onto approximately 630 acres of land surrounding the farm and adjacent to the banks of Big Creek, they said. These manure application fields are less than six miles upstream from Big Creek’s confluence with the Buffalo National River, and several are located directly adjacent to Mount Judea School.
“Local residents will suffer the most from this absurdly located factory farm,” said Debbie Doss of the Arkansas Canoe Club. “Residents of Mount Judea will be exposed, downwind, to the smell and adverse health effects of methane and hydrogen sulfide. A swine facility this large will put children at the Mount Judea School at high risk of health impacts including asthma and other respiratory conditions.”
According to the coalition, the C&H facility received more than $3.4 million in loan guarantee assistance from the federal government. FSA approved a loan guarantee for 90 percent of a $1,302,000 loan to C&H. SBA approved a loan guarantee for a $2,318,136 loan.
In providing this federal assistance, SBA undertook no environmental review whatsoever, while FSA prepared a deeply flawed and insufficient environmental assessment that fails to comply with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Among multiple errors and omissions, FSA’s environmental assessment incorrectly defines the acreage of the C&H facility, does not take into account nearby sensitive areas such as the Mount Judea School, and ignores the consequences of manure draining through the porous karst geology of the Buffalo River region.
“In the '60s and '70s, the Ozark Society worked with Congress to have the Buffalo protected for posterity as the nation’s first national river,” said Robert Cross of the Ozark Society. “We have countered threats to the river before, but now face the biggest threat to date. Despite the assurances of C&H that they have the highest level of technology to prevent accidents, the siting of this facility in karst terrain and directly adjacent to a tributary of the Buffalo River will not require an accident to cause tremendous damage to the river and the surrounding environment. SBA and FSA should have, but did not, consider these factors in its review of the proposed project.”