MOUNT JUDEA, Ark. (AP) — Four environmental groups claim in a federal lawsuit that the government improperly approved loan guarantees for the construction of a hog farm near Mount Judea.
The New York-based litigation group Earthjustice filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Little Rock. It claims the government didn't fully explore the impact that C&H Hog Farms might have on the Buffalo National River in rural northern Arkansas.
Earthjustice, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Ozark Society, said the U.S. Department of the Agriculture's Farm Service Agency and the Small Business Administration were obligated to fully consider environmental impacts, endangered species and other factors before agreeing to $3.4 million worth of loan guarantees.
The environmental groups claim the FSA and SBA reviews were inadequate.
"FSA and SBA failed to provide the public notice and undertake the environmental review and consultations required by law, so we're asking the court to set aside the loan guarantees and instruct the agencies to comply," Emily Jones of the National Parks Conservation Association told the Baxter Bulletin newspaper of Mountain Home. "We have asked FSA and SBA to do the right thing without litigation, but they have not, and today we find ourselves in court to protect the Buffalo River, a national treasure of immeasurable worth."
Hannah Chang, a lawyer for Earthjustice, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newspaper of Little Rock that winning the lawsuit would likely result only in additional steps being taken to reduce the potential for pollution, not shutting the hog farm down.
"I don't think we're talking about time travel," Chang told the newspaper. "There are certain mitigation measures that can be taken. It's (the Farm Service Agency's) responsibility to consider what conditions can be attached to loan guarantees. Our suit is based on the fact that they didn't follow procedures. It was the agencies' job to do this work, and they did not."
The SBA declined comment; an FSA official couldn't be reached.
Last year, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality granted a permit in August 2012 to C&H partners Philip Campbell and Jason Henson concentrated feeding operation supporting up to 2,500 sows and up to 4,000 piglets. The site would include storage of more than 2 million gallons of of manure, litter and wastewater. A mix would be diluted and dispersed by liquid spray applicators over a 630-acre area, according to a 260-page permit application posted at ADEQ's website.
The Buffalo was the first to be designated a national river. The coalition of environmental groups estimated the river attracts more than a million visitors per year.
"Siting an industrial hog facility so close to the river threatens to desecrate this national treasure, known to so many for its peaceful meanderings and the scent of wild azaleas in bloom," said Jack Stewart of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance.