By Rob Moritz
Arkansas News Bureau
A legislative panel last week approved a request to use $340,510 in state "rainy day" funds to pay for startup costs and the first year of a five-year environmental study on the impact of a hog farm located on a tributary to the Buffalo River.
C&H Hog Farms is in Searcy County along Big Creek, about six miles from its confluence with the Buffalo National River. The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in 2012 issued an operational permit to the farm, which has about 6,500 hogs.
Environmental activist groups and others oppose the farm because of its proximity to the waterway and the potential for contamination. A lawsuit was filed recently in federal court in Little Rock against two federal agencies over the issuance of about $3.3 million in loan guarantees to the company.
During last Thursday’s meeting of the Subcommittee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, Mark Cochran, vice president for agriculture and head of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said all information from the study conducted by his department will be turned over to ADEQ.
He said the governor’s office approached him about conducting the study.
The panel approved the fund transfer after lawmakers were told they would have to approve about $100,000 annually for each of the remaining for years to cover the cost of the study.
Cochran said the study will not only look at the environmental impact of any runoff from the hog farm into the Buffalo River and surrounding creeks and tributaries, but it also will study the alternative manure management techniques being used on the farm.
Owners of C&H Hog Farms plan to spread hog waste as fertilizer on some of their fields. Cochran said the process would be studied to determine the manure could be sold and transported to farms in other regions of the state.
ADEQ Director Teresa Marks said her agency will receive monitoring data every three months during the study and that, based on that information, changes would be recommended, if necessary, to the owners of the hog farm.
If environmental problems are discovered, the owners of the hog farm would only be penalized or lose their permit if they are in violation of the permit.
"Should this data indicate that there needs to be some changes made to the general permit, we can do that when the general permit comes up for renewal," she said.
Marks and Cochran also told lawmakers that data and other information gained by the study could be used when considering other similar operations across the state.