- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A federal judge wants regulators to take another look at the potential impact of a hog farm near the Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas.

Judge D. Price Marshall Jr. said Thursday a previous assessment was too brief. That review helped qualify the farm for $3.4 million in loan guarantees from the Small Business Administration. Marshall said he will file an injunction against the loan guarantees for C&H; Hog Farms.

The facility is a concentrated feeding operation near Mount Judea. It is allowed to have 2,000 full-grown sows and up to 4,000 piglets at a time.

Environmentalists fear farm waste could taint the Buffalo National River, but studies have shown that hasn’t happened.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs’ lawyers claim the Farm Service Agency ignored several federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, when it was doing its assessment and issued a “finding of no significant impact” for the hog farm.

Plaintiffs include the Ozark Society, the Arkansas Canoe Club and the National Parks Conservation Association. They also say the agency failed to consult other federal groups, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, when conducting the assessment.

“It’s clear to me that the (environmental assessment) and the (finding of no significant impact) are defective,” Marshall said. “They’re too brief, and there’s no chain of reasoning. There’s a ‘cursoriness’ about them.”

The bulk of the federal agency’s 2012 environmental assessment was about 600 pages of pre-existing documents, including a C&H; Hog Farms’ nutrient management plan and copies of other existing permits.

Arkansas Farm Bureau spokesman Steve Eddington told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (https://bit.ly/1wj9qac ) Thursday’s ruling will likely have a greater impact on future farms, not C&H; which already has its loans and is operating.

“My takeaway is, we didn’t do anything to change what’s happened with C&H; Hog Farms,” Eddington said. “We probably just made it a whole lot harder for the next guy who’s trying to get a farm loan, regardless of where they are.”

The judge gave attorneys for both sides 21 days to submit briefs over what should be included in his injunction order. Lawyers declined to comment after the judge’s ruling.

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