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Lawsuit: Should Tax Money Pay to Put Buffalo River at Risk?

PHOTO: A lawsuit over government subsidies for a huge confined pig operation next to this tributary of the Buffalo River says hog waste run-off could damage the pristine water of a national park that draws a million visitors annually.
PHOTO: A lawsuit over government subsidies for a huge confined pig operation next to this tributary of the Buffalo River says hog waste run-off could damage the pristine water of a national park that draws a million visitors annually.
August 12, 2013

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - A lawsuit against government subsidies for a factory hog farm near a pristine Arkansas river argues that taxpayer money is being put at risk in a way that endangers a national treasure. A coalition of conservation and citizen groups is suing over federal loan guarantees to C&H Hog Farms. That's an industrial confined-pig operation expected to produce two million gallons of hog waste a year at a site next to a major tributary of the Buffalo National River.

According to Debbie Doss, conservation chair for the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Buffalo is one of the finest waterways in the country.

"It's a hidden jewel. This is beautiful, clear water," she said. "And the thought of that turning green and soupy with hog waste run-off - not to mention the smells ..."

The Arkansas Canoe Club, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association and The Ozark Society filed the complaint. It charges that the Small Business Administration and USDA Farm Service Agency didn't seriously consider the damage leaking hog waste could do to a river that draws $35 million worth of recreation and tourism annually.

According to Hannah Chang, an attorney with Earthjustice, the agencies didn't even inform the Park Service superintendent for the Buffalo National River, until construction had already started.

"He wrote to the Farm Service Agency saying, 'What is this?' It is pretty incredible," Chang declared. "As a result of their failure to follow these procedures and do the review and notify the public and notify the Park Service, taxpayers' dollars are at risk."

C&H has a contract to buy supplies and provide hogs for the huge corporation Cargill. Defenders argue that there are already small hog farms in the area, and the new operation will bring more economic activity.

Chang said C&H would be ten to twenty times the size of the largest present farm. However, she said, in spite of its size the C&H operation would only create a handful of jobs.

"It's a disaster waiting to happen," she said. "To the extent that it brings any number of jobs it's putting at risk a much larger amount of money that's sustaining the local economy there."

According to the Park Service, more than a million people visit the Buffalo each year.


Dan Heyman, Public News Service - AR