MASTERSON ONLINE: Not hog-wild on the river

Owners of C&H Hog Farms with the Brazilian meat processor JBS are hoping our state’s Department of Environmental Quality (wheeze) will approve their request for yet another factory permit.

Their proposed meat-growing plant would allow up to 7,200 swine whose raw waste would be regularly spread across 1,427 acres in the flood-prone Arkansas River bottomlands southwest of Clarksville.

Oh, relax, folks. What could possibly go wrong, especially in the floodplain of Arkansas’ largest river? Well, OK, I suppose you might could check with those living along the once magnificent Neuse River in North Carolina. They have a horror story waiting. But, hey, that’s way over in North Carolina.

Besides, resistance may be futile. Who expects our Department of Environmental Quality to be anything but receptive to issuing the C&H owners and the Brazilians a second permit? Remember how hurriedly and quietly these politicized guardians of environmental quality basically gift-wrapped the first one for these same folks to operate in the middle of our karst-riddled Buffalo National River watershed?

Certainly not me after seeing how obliging the department has been to quietly and quickly clear any potential obstacles from the smooth path they cleared. Golly gee, I wish they liked me that much.

The only difference I see is this time around involves initial transparency and public input. Just announcing the plans for this latest factory has drawn statewide headlines, along with considerable ire from many folks around the small Northwest Arkansas community of Hartman.

Seems many area folks aren’t hog-wild about the idea of living with what they fear is the likelihood of the overpowering stench continually wafting across their property and into their homes and businesses that only a massive hog factory can provide.

Plus, there is that side matter of JBS, the world’s largest meat-packing corporation, being under a continuing criminal probe stemming from alleged corruption. Seems there are those in Brazil and other countries who are most concerned with the corporation’s business practices.

I’ve written for four years (feels more like eight) about how my sincere concerns with the factory in our national river’s watershed lie solely with its grossly inappropriate location, rather than with the acknowledged experience, competence or abilities of the owners.

Needlessly risking the contamination of our precious and prized Buffalo to ensure the business enterprise of one Newton County family and a multinational corporation is a disgraceful, ghastly mistake.

Nonetheless, a JBS mouthpiece for its pork products showed up for a town-hall-type meeting the other day to face deeply concerned citizens about this proposal for a sister factory. Vigilant reporter Emily Walkenhorst wrote that the South American corporation plans to raise the Hartman factory and its waste lagoons by a whole four feet to avoid possible floodwaters from the Arkansas River.

Besides, JBS doesn’t believe the site where its farm would set up shop will flood since a levee was built along the Arkansas River (shades of New Orleans). A spokesperson said in an email that neither the corporation nor local owners Jason Henson and Phillip and Richard Campbell “desire to build a farm where flooding is likely.”

Notice the term “likely” in place of “possible.”

Hartman Mayor Rita Griffin didn’t seem overly impressed. She said she just couldn’t see allowing an enormous hog factory (it’s not a farm in any traditional sense, rather a meat-producing factory, so let’s agree to call it exactly what it is) on the Arkansas River near Hartman.

“I can’t visualize doing that to your waterways,” she said. Apparently Her Honor hasn’t followed what’s been happening with the country’s first national waterway in the Ozarks of Newton county, also thanks to the Department of Environmental Quality. It’s enough to have prompted our former governor to call that wrongheaded decision his biggest regret in office.

The mayor expressed concerns of many in Johnson County that these bottomlands, which regularly flood, as they did even this summer, could wash million of gallons of that raw waste into the river, as well as nearby Horsehead Creek. But JBS added it likes the property because of the proximity to related facilities. FEMA says the acreage in question represents a “flood hazard zone” with some specific areas at reduced risk because of the levee.

But wouldn’t you know, our diligent Department of Environmental Quality doesn’t even have requirements about placing a large hog factory in a floodplain. Say what now?

Lots of folks love bacon, ham, pork chops, Boston butts and pork rinds. And I know they come from swine that have to be raised somewhere. The only problem I have, along with so many other Arkansans, is where they are raised by meat factories in our state. Common sense tells us the worst possible places are far from the best choices, which would include a popular national river’s watershed that attracts millions of recreational dollars annually to the state, or a known flood hazard plain along the state’s largest river.

And for those who might have considered squealing with delight at the thought that this latest plan in Johnson County might portend the existing factory relocating from the Buffalo watershed: Forget about it. The owners made it clear their intentions at Hartman do not mean they are moving their controversial Buffalo enterprise. In short, Hartman would become their hog heaven number two.

For our vets

Happy Veterans Day to those serving our nation in uniform and the honorable men and women who have invested their life blood in military service. We owe you appreciation and gratitude for nothing less than the treasured freedoms we enjoy.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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