Newton County hog farm operator requests stay of ADEQ permit denial

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 1,167 views 

Two days after the director of the state Department of Environment Quality (ADEQ) denied C&H Hog Farms a permit to operate in the Buffalo River watershed, attorneys for the Newton County sow grower filed a request to stay the decision, a ADEQ spokeswoman told Talk Business & Politics on Friday.

ADEQ spokeswoman Donnally Davis would not speak in detail about the request to lift Wednesday’s order by ADEQ Director Becky Keogh, but said the process for the department’s review of C&H’s request would be carried out under the agency’s so-called Regulation 8 rules.

Under ADEQ’s Reg. 8.612, Keogh’s denial of the operating permit earlier in the week will remain in place unless the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission modifies or terminates the stay “under appropriate circumstances to avoid substantial prejudice to any party.” The 13-person APC&E commission, which includes six members from six state agencies and seven appointed by the governor, serves as the environmental policy-making body for the state.

If the stay remains in place, C&H can file a request for hearing before the Commission within 30 calendar days after Keogh’s Jan. 10 decision. The Commission chairperson can then place the hearing request on the agenda for the next regularly scheduled meeting, or call a special meeting to reconsider the request.

In August 2015, the Commission ordered a five-year ban on new permits for large swine factory farms in the watershed. Those affected by the hold on permits include farms with at least 750 swine weighing over 55 pounds or 3,000 swine weighing less than 55 pounds.

A few months later, C&H Farm’s Reg. 5 permit expired, but the hog operator was allowed to remain in operation while its application for a new permit was reviewed. Then in December 2016,  Harbor Environmental and Safety of Little Rock presented a highly-anticipated report that said a review of a drilling study of the C&H Farm on the pristine watershed showed no sign of pollution from waste storage ponds at the Newton County farm.

In early 2017, ADEQ began hosting hearings to discuss C&H’s new permit, allowing the swine farm to apply liquid waste on “numerous farm fields in Newton County” in accord with Commission’s Reg. 5. ADEQ received C&H Hog Farm’s application for a new permit in April 2016. The draft permit shows that 630 acres are available on which to apply the waste and could receive about 13 million gallons of waste. Total waste the farm is expected to generate is 2.62 million gallons annually, which includes animal waste, wash water, rainwater and storm events.

The application sites are about 4.7 miles or more from the Buffalo River. The waste would come from the swine farms’ two storage ponds, which can hold a combined amount of more than 2.33 million gallons. The farm has two houses that confine six boars, 2,252 gestating sows, 420 lactating sows and 750 nursery pigs. The pits beneath, where the animals are kept, hold up to 768,145 gallons of manure temporarily before draining into the holding ponds.

On Thursday, the Arkansas Farm Bureau express disappointed at ADEQ’s decision to deny the application.

“The decision by (ADEQ) to deny C&H Hog Farm’s Reg. 5 application for insufficient information is decidedly unfair,” AFB said in the statement. “This is an ominous sign, in fact, and an example of how government can function to the detriment of a citizen, private property owner and small business.”

The AFB said it believes C&H and all property owners should be able to use their land in compliance with the law.

“If this farm can’t be permitted, it’s likely no farm in Arkansas can meet Reg. 5 requirements. This farm has been through more environmental scrutiny than any other property in our state – without a single citation for violation. Yet, their permit is apparently being denied on a technicality, for what are apparently politically expedient, non-merits-based reasons and not on matters of science.”