LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (BRWA) is asking a federal judge to allow the group’s designated scientist to be present during tests of the ground beneath manure ponds owned by C&H Hog Farms. The case was filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas-Western Division.
C&H’s hog operation, which has the capacity for about 6,500 swine, is near the Buffalo National River. The BRWA has expressed concerns about the possible release of swine waste into the Buffalo National River and its tributaries. In court documents, the BRWA said the group learned of research conducted in 2015 that indicated “…that a release of hog wastes from beneath the facility/ponds is probably occurring into the subsurface…”
That research was conducted in March 2015, but recommendations made by researchers and the findings from exploratory drilling were not reported to the Arkansas Dept. of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) by the Big Creek Research and Extension Team (BCRET), which was charged with monitoring the affected area for five years to determine whether hog manure that was spread on fields near the C&H hog facility and other activities were threatening the environment.
Court documents state that the research findings only came to light following a Freedom of Information Act request for documents associated with the investigation. BRWA presented the documents to ADEQ and its oversight agency, the Arkansas Pollution Control & Ecology Commission on April 29, 2016.
In June, court documents show, the ADEQ said additional drilling into the subsurface would be launched to determine the possible release of swine waste beneath the C&H hog operation. BRWA asked that its designated observer, geologist Bert Fisher, PhD, be allowed to attend the drilling to ensure “…that these activities be conducted in accordance with established scientific procedures to ensure that the area that appears from the ERI imaging to impacted by hog wastes be the area that is sample, and to protect the integrity of the samples while they are being obtained, split, transported and stored…”
However, ADEQ did not respond to BRWA’s request to allow Fisher to attend the drilling, although representatives of BCRET would be present during the drilling.
“BCRET is an interested party in that it knew of the ERI [electrical resistivity imaging] results in March 2015, but failed and refused to accept…” recommendations for further investigation. The BRWA argued that this and other circumstances “…compromise BCRET’s objectivity in determining whether there is a release occurring beneath the C&H facility, and, at a minimum, has the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
The Alliance is seeking a mandatory injunction requiring the defendants to permit Fisher to be on-site during the investigation and that he be permitted to observe all phases of the investigation without interference or obstruction.
The case is Buffalo River Watershed Alliance Inc v. C&H Hog Farm, Inc et al, US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, No. 4:16-cv-00607-JM.