LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Thursday afternoon that the state has entered into an agreement with C&H Hog Farm to shut down the concentrated animal feeding operation in the Buffalo National River watershed.
The farm is near Mt. Judea not far from Big Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo. It was designed to house about 6,500 hogs.
Manure produced by the hogs is collected in ponds before being spread on approved pasture land. And environmentalists fear that waste stored could eventually pollute the Buffalo.
C&H had applied for renewal of its permit to operate the liquid animal waste management system, but the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality denied the permit in January 2018.
C&H appealed that decision to state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission because there had been no public notice of the denial as is required by law.
The PCE remanded the denial back to ADEQ because there had been no public notice. In September, C&H appealed PCE’s decision that just remanded the permit back to ADEQ instead of reversing and remanding the decision for denial.
C&H then appealed the decision to Newton County Circuit Court.
Newton County Circuit Judge Putman issued a stay of ADEQ Jan. 10 denial, saying his court gained jurisdiction when C&H appealed. The order said there could be no further action in the case until he issued further rulings.
The case has been in the works, but the governor’s announcement Wednesday could bring all those legal actions to a close.
Hutchinson addressed the 85th Annual Arkansas Municipal League Convention in Little Rock on Thursday afternoon.
He offered a brief history of the issuance of the permit originally granted, which was before his administration.
“This has been the source of constant controversy and litigation from the beginning,” the governor said.
Hutchinson said the issue has been on his mind for a long time. He said he believes in farming, but also wants to protect the treasure that is the country’s first national river.
Hutchinson said the state worked with C&H and the farmers agreed to shut down the operation for compensation of $6.2 million, which will be used to pay off the farm’s substantial loan and compensate the farmers for their loss. The compensation is due to C&H’s agreement to grant the state an easement on the property that would make the CAFO impossible.
Hutchinson said the majority of that sum will be public money, but some will come from the Arkansas Nature Conservancy, which made up the difference between what the state could pay and the price the farmers felt was necessary.
He said C&H’s owners — Jason Henson, Richard Campbell and Phillip Campbell —families had done nothing wrong in the operation of the farm. They followed all regulations set forth by state and federal law.
“But the state should have never granted that permit for a large-scale hog operation in the Buffalo River watershed,” the governor said.
So, Hutchinson said he has directed that the temporary moratorium on CAFOs in the Buffalo National River watershed be made permanent.
His announcement was met with applause.
“This will be a process over the next few months,” Hutchinson said. Large businesses don’t just shut down at the drop of a hat and it will take some time to sell off swine currently at the farm.
The hog farm originally opened in 2012. At a public hearing in Jasper in October 2018 regarding renewal of C&H’s permit, Jerry Masters, executive vice president of the Arkansas Pork Producers Association, spoke on behalf of C&H.
He said “something political” happened in November 2017. ADEQ began to ask for more information for the permit. The owners were notified that the application was complete and then they were denied the permit. The reason, he said, was that ADEQ raised the standard. There was a change in attitude where C&H was concerned.