C&H's owners propose new hog operation near Arkansas River
by Emily Walkenhorst
The owners of the Buffalo River watershed's only large-scale hog farm are proposing to build a 10,374-hog operation near the Arkansas River and Cedar Creek in Franklin County, according to an application submitted to environmental regulators.
The farm is at least the second proposed by the owners of C&H Hog Farms within the past year for the state's northwest corner near Arkansas River bottoms. Both have met opposition from people concerned about smell and the potential effect on recreational activities, and both have been proposed in flood-risk zones.
C&H's owners previously discussed starting a large hog farm in Hartman Bottoms near the Arkansas River but have not submitted an application.
The proposal for Coon Tree Farm, which would sit along Coon Tree Road, would have three barns, three indoor concrete-lined holding ponds for manure that would be spread on 1,923.4 acres of row crop land owned by dozens of other people in Franklin and Johnson counties.
Philip Campbell, who is listed as president of the proposed operation on the application submitted to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, did not return a phone message seeking comment Thursday.
The application is for a Regulation 5 permit, which sets parameters for operations based on the individual site and proposed activity. The permit never expires.
Officials with the Arkansas Farm Bureau said Thursday that they were aware of discussions to open a hog farm in Franklin County but had not been involved in them. They said a farm with more than 10,000 hogs would be "pretty big" but said they did not know how it compared in size with other hog farms in the state.
The Department of Environmental Quality declined to comment on whether the farmers needed to submit any more materials for their proposed operation but said the permit is being reviewed. Typically the department has 120 days from the application date to reach a preliminary decision to approve or deny the permit. That decision then goes out for a 30-day public comment period, after which the department is supposed to review and consider the comments before reaching a final decision. The farm's application was submitted July 23.
The farmers are renting the Franklin County land from Rick and Susan Hurst, according to a document submitted to the department.
The storage capacity for the hog manure pits is for 365 days, according to the application. The department's minimum requirement is 180 days.
Campbell expects that 292,851 cubic feet of manure would be produced in 180 days. It's unclear how many pounds of manure that would be.
The bottoms of the manure holding pits likely would be about 12 feet above groundwater, according to the application.
The soil in the area is Caspiana silt loam and Bruno loamy fine sand, Campbell said in the application.
That area of Franklin County is a special flood-hazard area, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps. The lowest barn floor will be built 3.5 feet above the flood plain's flood elevation, according to the application.
The farm is about 3,000 feet northwest of the nearest residence, business, church or school and about 388 feet north of an unnamed tributary of Cedar Creek, according to the application.
Altus Mayor Veronica Post said she has heard concerns from several dozen people in the past few months as word spread that the area could become home to a large-scale hog farm. People stopped her in the grocery store and at church or called her at work, she said.
"With respect to those citizens, I do believe it would have a negative or detrimental effect on the environment," Post said.
The concerns often have to do with odor or the possibility that during regular rainfall manure could run off the property and into the Arkansas River, where people swim, boat and fish. Post said one neighboring farmer called and was staunchly opposed because of environmental concerns.
"It's a beautiful resource, it's a beautiful area," Post said.
Post said she hadn't heard from supporters of the farm but noted that those who oppose plans are often the most vocal.
Franklin County Justice of the Peace Brian Lachowsky of Altus said he expected to be able to smell the farm from his home on Arkansas 186, about 4 miles from where the farm is proposed.
The farm would be about 5.6 miles southeast of central Altus.
Lachowsky is worried that a strong odor or manure runoff could harm tourism at wineries or activities near the farm.
Other farms in Alix Bottoms -- the area just south of Alix and just above the Arkansas River -- are row crop farms, Lachowsky said. He didn't know what types of fertilizer those farmers use, whether it's commercial fertilizer or animal waste.
He said he was concerned about the potential for a manure leak.
"The unknown is often very scary, and obviously they have a valid concern," Post said, referring to people who have contacted her about the farm.
Post and Lachowsky said they had not seen the farm's application so they couldn't comment on specifics in the proposal.
In a review of Department of Environmental Quality data and records last year, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette found that hog farms spilled manure into Arkansas waterways at least 16 times between 1996 and 2017, according to state inspections. More than 50 fish were killed in a Pope County pond as the result of a spill in 1998, but the spills were not as large as some that have occurred in other states.
Records don't always detail follow-up inspections, but in some cases the causes of the leaks were addressed right away.
Spills, leaks, overflows and unauthorized discharges were noted 339 times in the 1,332 inspection violation records analyzed by the newspaper. That figure does not count multiple spills listed in a single report, because multiple spills often were not recorded as separate spills.
In the past 10 years, records indicate that leaks have occurred less frequently as the number of hog farms has diminished.