Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Thursday that the state reached an agreement with C&H Hog Farms Inc. to end its operation in the Buffalo River watershed.
Hutchinson announced the deal during an address to the Arkansas Municipal League, which is holding its summer conference in Little Rock.
“This has been the source of constant controversy and litigation since the beginning,” the governor said. “It has always been my highest priority to protect the Buffalo River to ensure it is a national treasure far into the future.”
The governor said that while operators of the hog farm did nothing wrong, the state never should have granted them a permit to operate in the area. He said farmers Jason Henson and Richard and Phillip Campbell obtained their permit fairly and “have operated the hog farm with the utmost care from the beginning.”
The deal provides the farmers $6.2 million that will pay off a “multimillion-dollar loan” and compensate them for the loss of their business. Hutchinson said the family will still own the land, which has been in their family for generations.
“The $6.2 million cost will be largely public dollars, but I’m grateful to the Nature Conservancy for its contribution that helped close the gap between what the state could pay and what the farmers believed was needed,” the governor said.
Hutchinson told media after his address that the agreement with the farmers was a quicker and easier resolution for the state than seeing legal proceedings to their conclusion.
Hutchinson said it’ll take several months to shutter the farm, as its pigs are sold and the property is cleaned up, and that the temporary moratorium on large-scale hog farms in the Buffalo River watershed will be made permanent.
J.R. Davis, director of communications for the governor’s office, said closing the hog farm will help tourism, because some have refused to visit the river amid allegations that the farm was polluting it.
The farm, with thousands of hogs, has been a source of controversy since it received a permit from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality in 2012, with some fearing waste runoff into the nearby Big Creek, which feeds into the Buffalo River. But C&H has had its supporters, including the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
The Farm Bureau released a statement Thursday afternoon. “This is a private, and personal, decision by the owners of C&H Hog Farm, which, no doubt, was based on what they felt is best for their future,” the organization said. “Arkansas Farm Bureau’s support for the owners of C&H has not wavered, and we wish them success in whatever endeavor they choose to pursue.”
The statement also stated that C&H had no environmental violations, underwent testing and evaluation by the ADEQ and EPA, and “there has been no credible scientific evidence that this farm caused harm to the Buffalo River.”
In November, the AEDQ issued a final decision denying the company a permit to operate in the area.
Hutchinson’s announcement came a day after the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and the Arkansas Canoe Club planned to sue C&H, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act.
The alliance claimed that C&H illegally discharged swine waste, applied for a permit by misrepresenting facts and operated without a valid permit. The groups said they would file suit in U.S. District Court if the violations were not corrected within 60 days.