The Newton County Quorum Court opened the floor Monday night for citizens to comment on an Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality permitted hog farm that is under construction in the Buffalo National River watershed. The conversation lasted for an hour in the packed Newton County Courthouse. Opponents of the hog farm came prepared with facts on the potential pollution that occurs in connection with large corporate swine farms, as well as the potential economic impact that pollution would create.
In just one case of health concerns voiced, Buffalo River Chamber of Commerce President Michael Dougherty cited studies that link a 20% increase in children developing asthma when spending a significant amount of time within a one mile radius of hog farms. The Mt. Judea School’s buildings are located less than one-half mile of the proposed hog farm.
The over-whelming consensus of the opponents of the hog farm was they felt the hog farm’s permit was slipped through the approval process without appropriate public notification process, and they were denied public comment.
Buffalo National River Park Superintendent, Kevin Cheri spoke to the frustration felt by the crowd:
Supporters of the hog farm could not provide specific facts on the safety, except the plans conclude the hog farm can withstand a 25 year flood event without failure of waste lagoons. The only problem with that logic is that the Buffalo River has seen three of the four highest peak river stages within the last 21 years, with two of those recorded maximums in 2004 and 2008. These levels of flooding could cause potential failure of waste lagoons.
The majority of the crowd called for the ADEQ to revisit the permit’s approval process to allow the public to review the environmental impact studies and to comment on the hog farm.
One of the last comments was from a life-long Newton County resident in favor of the hog farm operation. He stated, “it is a fact that the mere existence of humans inevitability creates a footprint on the environment.” There was no concrete decision on the next step regarding the hog farm, but by the end of the meeting, it was clear that people wanted their questions answered: How big should that footprint be and what are the consequences of too large of an environmental footprint?