Tuesday, February 13, 2018
The predictable campaign aimed at frightening the good folks in and around Newton County into believing their farms and ranches are somehow in danger of closing remains in full swing politically. Unjustified fear, rather than scientifically justifiable concerns over serious risk, is an easy tactic.
Two candidates from Marshall vying in today's special election to replace GOP District 83 Rep. David Branscum say they favor C&H Hog Farms being left just where our state's Department of Environmental Quality (cough) in 2012 wrongheadedly allowed it to begin operating six miles upstream from the Buffalo National River.
Donald Ragland and Timmy Reid both say they favor leaving the factory in this precarious location along Big Creek. Their reasoning sounds to me like a joint promotional flier from the Farm Bureau and Pork Producers, who have been aggressively promoting this divisive location for a large animal factory.
Both candidates cite fear of the regulations that all domestic animal factories in sensitive ecological areas who emit liquid waste must follow.
In a news account, Reid, a cattle farmer, sounded as if C&H losing its permit for failing to complete necessary subsurface water flow testing was a precursor to Chicken Little's sky falling: "If we don't get behind this hog farm, we're going to lose everything," he told a reporter. "We've going to lose it all. Our rights are at stake."
Reid and Ragland, a former sheriff, cited other causes of pollution such as kayaking and feral hogs roaming in the watershed creating problems, perhaps equal to a factory spraying millions of gallons of potent raw swine waste--roughly equivalent to a city of 30,000--regularly onto karst-riddled land.
I can't tell if either grown man truly believes that. Count me as a no. Brian Thompson of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance had this to say about misusing fear for calculated political sway: "We strongly encourage these candidates to carefully consider the economic implications of their platforms. We also encourage voters to ask the hard questions regarding their special-interest backers and if those backers are funded from outside of Arkansas. Incidentally, one candidate blames feral hogs for polluting the river. Damaging though they are, feral hogs eat what is in the watershed (acorns mostly) and do not add nutrients such as phosphates or nitrates to the water, unlike a large industrial feedlot. We hope these candidates stick to the facts."
Nor do I believe anyone's right to farm is in any way connected with a right to pollute. And it's a very real risk this factory's location presents, according to facts, because spray-field runoff and subsurface waters invariably flow downstream through karst terrain.
It's no surprise the Farm Bureau and other politicized special interests have amplified their campaign since the Department of Environmental Quality last month denied the factory's application for a revised permit.
I haven't seen the agency taking any undue action or enforcement against any other true farmers or ranchers in the region, nor do I expect that. Have you?
This is rare and specific mayhem created solely by the state. It is based on a factory that should never have been maneuvered into this location to pose a genuine threat to the state's top-rated attraction.
The opposition to this location is not an attack on farms or farmers in any way. To make it seem so is obviously cynical and disingenuous.
It can be painted to even remotely appear that way only because the Department of Environmental Quality originally failed to enforce the specific details and requirements plainly spelled out in the handbook it uses to permit meat factories into such fragile locations.
The most pertinent question I have is who within this agency's water department and administrative hierarchy chose to ignore the rules back in 2012? Who inside the department bypassed effective public notice and bent its own requirements into pretzels to get this factory approved? That is who created the situation and who should be identified by name and held accountable under oath, regardless of if those people remain within the agency, or have since been invited into more lucrative jobs.
You know how bad it was when the director at the time said even she didn't know her own agency had issued the permit until after it had been. The department's local inspection staff based in Jasper said they didn't know about it. The National Park Service didn't know. And even the former governor was kept in the dark, adding later that the approval of this factory where it's located was the biggest regret of his years in office.
Meanwhile, I do agree with candidate Ragland that, because of its shameful role in this gawd-awful mess, the state should make the factory owners financially whole in rightfully closing the factory for the benefit of all in our state and nation who revere the country's first national river.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editorial on 02/13/2018
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