by David Ramsey
Perhaps the biggest flaw in the no impact finding is the conclusion that the water quality of the Buffalo River will not be significantly affected. The federal agencies based this conclusion on inaccurate information and analysis that the swine facility site does not exhibit karst hydrogeology, turning a blind eye to the overwhelming scientific consensus and the comments of the National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to the contrary. In fact, the Coalition alerted the federal agencies that the authors of an Oklahoma State University study, which the agencies misinterpret as supporting their faulty determination, have in fact found a “major fracture and movement of waste” underneath the site. But the final no impact finding entirely overlooks this critical information.
The final FONSI rehashes the federal agencies’ long-standing and untenable denial of the facility’s potential impacts on water and air quality, public health and the health of the children who attend school next to C&H’s operations, endangered or threatened species, the general quality of life of local communities, and the almost certain pollution of the nearby Buffalo National River.
“The conclusion that C&H is not located on karst and that groundwater and surface water contamination is not imminent is absolutely based on flawed science,” said nationally recognized karst expert Dr. John Van Brahana. “The data collected over the past two years by my team and submitted to the agencies puts the likelihood of swine waste from C&H Hog Farms finding its way into the Buffalo National River at 95 percent. These data were completely ignored, as were similar comments from noted hydrologist Thomas Aley and the opinions of the National Park Service and U.S. Geological Survey. We have all concluded that the C&H swine operation may have significant adverse impacts, which requires that a full Environmental Impact Statement be prepared.”
The swine facility could devastate the tourism industry that is the lifeblood of Newton County and the surrounding area. The Buffalo National River relies on clear waters and a pristine environment to attract tourists to enjoy recreational activities such as swimming, kayaking, and blue-ribbon fishing. In fact, over 1.3 million people visited the Buffalo National River in 2014 and contributed $65 million to the local economy. By disputing that seepage of swine waste collected in C&H’s two waste storage ponds and sprayed onto fields will enter a karst system and ultimately flow into the Buffalo National River, the final FONSI erroneously downplays the potential impact of C&H on Arkansas’s tourism economy.
“People swim, fish, and paddle in the Buffalo River, and may be subject to contact with untreated swine waste. The well water that people drink may become affected,” said Dane Schumacher, Buffalo River Watershed Alliance Board member. “By denying the scientific evidence of karst beneath the C&H operations, SBA and FSA have opened the doors for a wide range of water quality issues likely to be ahead of us. Our coalition remains very concerned about the unprecedented number of pigs, and the amount of pig waste, that has entered the Buffalo River Watershed.”
“With this FONSI, the agencies have failed to meet their obligations under the law,” said Hannah Chang, attorney with Earthjustice, the public interest environmental law firm that represented the Coalition in court and on the comments. “The likelihood of significant environmental harm to America’s first national river mandates a full Environmental Impact Statement, not a finding of no impact that ignores clear data and hard science. With so much at risk, we are compelled to consider our next options for legal action.”