The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission has approved a five-year ban on new medium and large hog farms in the Buffalo National River watershed.
The temporary ban approved Friday is a compromise among environmentalists, the Arkansas governor's office and some state lawmakers. Opponents previously tried unsuccessfully to kill the regulation that they've said infringes on property owners' rights.
Banning medium and large hog farms means no new facility could have more than 750 swine of 55 pounds, or more than 3,000 swine less than 55 pounds.
Environmentalists supported a permanent ban, contending the farms would harm the watershed of the Buffalo National River, the country's first national river and a popular tourist spot with more than 1.3 million visitors in 2014. Those visitors spent about $56.5 million at area businesses, according to the National Park Service.
"It's a victory. It's not the final victory," Alan Nye, president of the Ozark Society, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The Ozark Society along with the Arkansas Public Policy Panel petitioned the commission for the permanent ban.
The ban will go into effect 10 days after the commission secretary files it with the Arkansas secretary of state's office. It requires the state Department of Environmental Quality director to initiate a rule-making process to either delete it or make it permanent five years after it goes into effect, based on research into the impact on the watershed of C&H Hog Farms in Mount Judea.
It does not affect C&H, although that facility was the inspiration for the efforts. C&H received a permit from the Department of Environmental Quality in 2012 and opened in 2013, then drew failed attempts by environmental groups to revoke the permit.
Small hog farms have existed in the watershed for years, but C&H is the first large-scale facility, permitted to hold up to 2,500 sows and 4,000 piglets at a time.
Pollution Control and Ecology Commissioner Chris Gardner questioned whether the ban prevents the Environmental Quality director from a choice other than ending the ban or making it permanent.
"That seems like two extremes," Gardner said. "What discretion is left to the director to do something different?"
Sam Ledbetter, an attorney for the Ozark Society and Arkansas Public Policy Panel, said the final decision is up to the commission.
"Ultimately, the director just brings a rule to you guys, and you decide," Ledbetter said.