Preservation groups suing in hopes of moving hog farm away from Buffalo River

NEWTON COUNTY (KATV)--It's one of the last free-flowing rivers in the United States and it's right here in Arkansas.

The Buffalo National River is 135 miles long and attracts one million visitors per year, but one preservation group created to protect the river is saying this natural state is in trouble.

It's been nearly one year since C & H Hog Farms opened in Mt. Judea, but The Ozark Society, along with other organizations filed a suit in hopes of shutting the controversial hog farm down for fear of contaminating the Buffalo River.

The Ozark Society is willing to take all steps necessary to move this farm; they say they aren't against the family running it. However, they are against how the farm is being ran, where it's located and how this natural watershed could soon suffer.

"It's the pride of the country, pride of Arkansas," said Ozark Society President, Bob Cross.

This pride as we know it could one day be a thing of the past said Cross. The society is one of several organizations concerned for the natural state.

"To have the Buffalo contaminated would just be a crime," added Cross.

Created to preserve the wild and scenic rivers, wilderness and unique natural areas, The Ozark Society has been fighting to keep it clean since 1962.

However, just last spring a generational hog farming family opened a new confined animal feeding operation alarming preservation groups.

"This facility has 6,500 pigs, a hog or a pig will produce fecal matter or manure, urine four to eight times as much as a human," said Cross.

C & H Hog Farms in Mt. Judea is located less than 6 miles from the Buffalo and just half a mile from Big Creek, a stream that flows right to the Buffalo. The property holds two big warehouse sheds and lagoons. It's in these ponds, where up to 9 months worth of animal waste sits until it is spread across 17 fields adjacent to Big Creek.

"This untreated waste each year are spread on the fields, and can run off into the river, stream of Big Creek and eventually end up into the Buffalo," said Cross.

"That application is going to be done according to their nutrient management plan, which is based on the Arkansas Phosphorus Index, I know a lot of the concerns are the flooding of the fields," said Arkansas Farm Bureau Environmental Specialist, Evan Teague.

Teague points out that the phosphorus index has a frequency of flooding built in to the system. "That index controls how much you can land apply based on the frequency or the probability that flooding will be experienced in those fields," added Teague.

Another one of Ozark Society's concerns is the lagoons and the possibility of waste seeping through the bottom contaminating the soil and waters.

"They went above and beyond what the regulations required, the CAFO permit in Arkansas only requires a 12-inch thick compacted clay liner, they took it upon themselves voluntarily to make that liner 50 percent thicker, it's 18-inches thick," said Teague.

In August 2013, The Ozark Society, The Arkansas Canoe Club, The National Park Conservation Association and The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance filed a lawsuit against the Farm Service Agency, and the Small Business Administration, claiming there were serious flaws in the environmental assessment that didn't met the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.

"There is supposed to be a complete examination of the environmental issues, and all they said was a simple statement that no environmental problems existed," said Cross.

Cross hopes they can block the nearly $3.5 Million in loan guarantees for the farm using the environmental violations as their argument.

"They all seem to focus on Farm Bureau as a big entity involved in the issue, or Cargill that's involved in the issue, what they forget is this farm family has everything they own mortgaged and sacrificed to put this farm in place," said Teague.

While these preservation groups have nothing against the family running this, their bottom line won't be changing anytime soon.

"The best situation would be that the hog farm is moved, it's moved out of the Buffalo River Watershed, and that there are regulations put into effect that facilities of this type cannot come into the Buffalo River Watershed," said Cross.

"If they're successful in their lawsuit and they shut this farm down, Cargill will be fine, they'll still be here, Farm Bureau will be fine, we'll still be here, but this farm family is going to be devastated," added Teague.

Cargill owns the hogs, but pays C & H to run daily operations. Teague said, more precautions are being put in place such as leak sensors are the bottom of the lagoons. However, The Ozark Society doesn't plan on backing down even if they do not win this lawsuit.