by Max Brantley
The evening line is open. Finishing up:
* TEXARKANA ON FAA TOWER CLOSURE LIST: The FAA has published its list of 149 airport towers to be closed as a result of federal budget cuts. They include towers at Drake Field in Fayetteville and Texarkana. I expect a news release directly from Rep. Tom Cotton blaming this on President Obama. Cotton loves budget cuts of things he doesn't like, such as disaster aid. Homestate projects not so much. He and other Arkansas Republicans had already complained about the potential closings by saying the FAA could spread cost cutting more evenly, meaning somewhere else.
* VICTORY ON ETHICS LEGISLATION: Catching up on a happening while I was out of town. I wrote a column earlier about state Ethics Commission legislation to correct a drafting problem in state law that stymied my complaint about the failure of the Little Rock sales tax campaign committee to disclose the specifics of money spent on the campaign, led by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. The committee reported only checks to a consulting firm, not any of the individual expenses by the firm on the campaign. Republican Sen. Jane English promised to fix this shortcoming during her election campaign last year and she and Republicans David Sanders and Johnny Key sponsored of the bill. It is now law. Permit me an I-told-you-so to at least one media commentator who wrote that I was all wet on this issue.
* DATE GONE WRONG: ABC reports on a KAIT story about a Jonesboro man who arranged a fake assault during date with a woman at Crowley's Ridge State Park so as to impress her. Bad move. She ran. The story sounded fishy. He finally fessed up that he'd hoped to impress his date by fending off an attacker. Doesn't sound like he'll be getting a second date with the young woman.
* THE LATEST ON HEALTH CARE: Talk Business had the Times' David Ramsey on camera to talk about developments in the health care expansion debate. You can't beat David's summary of the action, which begins at the 7:20 point on the YouTube post.
* HOG FARMING IN THE BUFFALO WATERSHED: Following is a letter Audubon Arkansas has sent to the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission about a plan state regulators have approved to put a hog farm in Newton County in the watershed of the Buffalo River. Audubon apparently hasn't gotten the word about the new Republican majority at the legislature, which believes that stopping a hog farmer from imperiling a national river with pig shit is the sort of illegal taking the state has no business doing. The state agency is only doing what the new majority expects it to do, get out of the way of free enterprise.
As Joe Neal noted, Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission met this morning in Little Rock. Dan Scheiman, Director of Conservation for Audubon Arkansas, made public comments at the meeting based on the letter below.
Ellen Fennell, Little Rock
To the Commissioners: 22 March, 2013
I am writing to express Audubon Arkansas’s opinion regarding the action of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality to permit the discharges from the C&H Hog Farm in Newton County. Audubon Arkansas, state office of the National Audubon Society, is a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to conserving and restoring natural ecosystems for birds and other wildlife.
Audubon is not against development but there is a proper place for everything. The watershed of the Buffalo National River, our first National River and a designated Extraordinary Resource Water, is no place for a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO).
If the pits overflow due to flooding rains like Arkansas has experienced over the last several years, or seep into the region’s karst topography, the water quality of Dry Creek and the Buffalo National River could be significantly impacted, posing a threat to aquatic life, the bird life that depends on the river, and human use and enjoyment of the river.
Buffalo National River is an important home for birds and other wildlife. Louisiana Waterthrush, Rusty Blackbird, and Belted Kingfisher are some of the birds that eat aquatic animals and thus are sensitive to changes in water quality. Tourists come to enjoy the wildlife and clean water of the Buffalo. In 2011 alone, there were over one million visitors and an estimated $38 million spent by them, supporting 528 local jobs. The tourism industry is at risk from the ill-advised placement of this 6,500-hog farm.
Public participation in this decision was sorely lacking. Additionally, the Farm Service Agency’s Environmental Assessment of the placement of the hog farm in the watershed was severely deficient as stated by the National Park Service. Audubon supports the National Park Service’s findings.
Audubon requests that ADEQ revoke the permit for this hog farm and initiate the individual NPDES permit process to include a substantial public involvement process.
In addition, to prevent CAFOs being permitted without public input in the future, Audubon requests that the general permit for CAFOs be changed to exclude large farms and farms operating in sensitive locations like the Buffalo River Watershed. Individual permits should be required for those CAFOs.