agriculture, Environment

Dead hogs being fished from swamps, workers rescued by kayak: We knew how many farms had flooded. Now we know where they are.

This map shows every Hurricane Florence-related incident — waste lagoons, wastewater treatment plant overflows, coal ash spills, petroleum leaks — that was reported or investigated by state environmental officials. (Map: DEQ)

 

Note: After this story was published, the NC Department of Environmental Quality removed the public database from the agency’s website “for maintenance,” such as correcting a few longitude and latitude figures. However, the database did contain phone numbers for some of the affected swine farms. A DEQ spokeswoman said the database would be reinstated soon, possibly by the end of the week.

Update: As of Thursday, Sept. 27, the database has been reposted online. 

Days after Hurricane Florence devastated eastern North Carolina, fourth-generation hog farmer Brandon Howard had to figure out how to remove “large numbers” of dead pigs from a nearby swamp.

Two of the hog houses at Howard’s 3,200-head farm in Onslow County had been engulfed by floodwaters; two others were half full. Howard “was working with the [Department of Agriculture] to get the hogs out of the swamp by air,” read notes from the state Department of Environmental Quality. “He has folks out trying to capture hogs that are roaming.”

At least 5,500 hogs died during Hurricane Florence. More than 100 swine waste lagoons have sustained damage, flooded, breached or nearly breached since the historic storm hit on Sept. 14, and now it’s known where some of them are.

A public but little-known DEQ map  and database lists every hurricane-related incident –wastewater treatment overflows, coal ash spills, petroleum and other hazardous material releases reported and/or investigated by the agency and its regional offices. (Policy Watch found the information via mappingsupport.com,which provides a full list of available state environmental databases.)

Although most of the hog farm incidents are simple entries, a few contain  anecdotes that can only hint at the anguish and panic of losing lives and property.

As the lagoon began to fill at Ronnie Jarman’s farm, the power went out. He had no more room in his dead box for drowned hogs. And while he has a refrigerated box, it couldn’t function without electricity. 

The hog houses at the Scott Farm, also in Onslow, lost their roofs, the notes read, “and it’s still raining. He needs help with fixing the roof so it will stop putting more water into the lagoons” — which flows from the houses that normally hold up to 3,800 pigs. “He’s unable to find somewhere to get a tarp.”

Farm workers were also in peril. At A&P South Farms, both lagoons overtopped. Employees had to be rescued by kayak.

Here is a partial list of lagoon breaches, discharges and flooding that were listed in the database, plus their counties. In the original table, Policy Watch incorrectly listed the wrong Strickland Farm in Wayne County. The table has been changed to reflect the correct Strickland Farm in Sampson County.

 

Permit NumberFacility NameCombined OwnerAllowable CountNumber Of LagoonsIncidentCounty NameLocation Lat NumLocation Long NumAddress 1City 
AWS670003Brandon Howard Farm #2Brandon Howard32711Lagoon Inundation Onslow34.8389-77.4967437 Rhodestown RdJacksonville
AWS670010Scott FarmGeorge Scott38401Damage to hog barn roofsOnslow34.8167-77.3856Jim Parker RdJacksonville
AWS520016White Oak River Farms (Forrest Nursery)White Oak River Farms LLC32001Lagoon overtopping/dischargeJones34.9181-77.3708203 Neuhoff LnMaysville
AWS520078Robert Cox Green FarmRobert Cox6001Lagoon overtopping/dischargeJones35.0686-77.445621 Stroud RdTrenton
AWS520036Clayhill Farms, Inc.Elijah Morton20001Lagoon inundation from creekJones34.9917-77.29171087 Davis Field RdPollocksville
AWS310318R & K Jarman Farms 4-7Ronnie Jarman24801Lagoon inundation/dischargeDuplin34.8972-77.8133305 Brown Rd NBeaulaville
AWS510020Sammy Britt Farm houses 1-6Sammy Britt37201Water from hog barn reached surface watersJohnston35.2878-78.32900 Langston RdNewton Grove
AWS310475Reeda Meadows Farms 1 & 2Rufus Rouse36982Lagoon Inundation and dischargeDuplin34.8531-77.85971672-A Pasture Branch RdBeulaville
AWS540111Morgan Farms, Inc.Michael Morgan9605Lagoon InundationLenoir35.1379-77.6668832519 Mark Smith RdDeep Run
AWS310128Triple D Farm, LLCJamie Dail61202Two lagoons inundated but no animals on farmDuplin34.7556-77.6833428 Bear Pond RdRichlands
AWS310166RL Pickett FarmRichard Pickett36721Lagoon inundationDuplin34.8564-77.86561593 Pasture Branch RdBeulaville
AWS820493A & P SouthA & P Farms LLC10643Lagoon overtoppedSampson34.668088-78.2533365527 Wildcat RdHarrells
AWS820698Allen Cannady Farm #1Robert Cannady52001Lagoon overtoppedSampson34.839658-78.3720162181 Wright Bridge RdClinton
AWS820557Strickland Farms Harold Strickland43502Large lagoon wall failure releasing all waste to streamSampson34.86617735.23-78.1722-78.297888Ozzie RoadClinton
AWS310273NH Herring FarmNicholas Herring26401Lagoon InundationDuplin35.0494-77.9878751 Veaches Mill RdWarsaw
AWS310445Terry Miller Farm sites 1&2Terry Miller32002Lagoon overtoppedDuplin34.875-77.86671816 Pasture Branch RdBeulaville
AWS310548Carl Baker FarmElijah Baker11961Lagoon overtoppedDuplin34.9869-77.80641278 N NC 111Beulaville
AWS310376Duplin 1 & 2Wbw Sow Farms LLC72002Lagoon overtoppedDuplin35.0022-77.85531604 N NC 11 903 HwyKenansville
AWS760003Applefield Farm-Lower & UpperPhilip Faucette124002Lagoon inundationRandolph35.6208-79.61534599 Riverside DrRamseur
AWS310131Hunter FarmsMichael Hunter24481Lagoon inundationDuplin34.8369-77.7056258 Authar Sloan RdChinquapin
AWS310419Henry D. Teachey FarmKenneth Brown18601Dike wall break/lagoon emptiedDuplin34.8619-77.9489421 Stocking Head RdRose Hill
AWS710033Coastal FarmsKenneth Lanier24481Lagoon Inundation and dischargePender34.475-77.8625Rocky Point
AWS520064W&P Farms IncW & P Farms Inc76802Lagoon 2 inundatedJones35.1064-77.41583 Wyse Fork RdTrenton
AWS820545Craig Collins FarmCraig Collins5161Inground lagoon inundated discharged onto fieldsSampson34.66978-78.2938442625 Wilber Pridgen RdHarrells
CATTLE/DAIRY: AWC760031 McCain DairyWilliam Frazier13013Waste flowing from spillway, traveled 100 feet toward woods. Sandbags keeping it from Lake Lucas, Asheboro's water supplyRandolph35.7456-79.86171904 Lake Lucas RdSophia
AWC990012Shady Grove DairyTim Smitherman148033/5 waste ponds are over; facility out of compliance since August rainfallYadkin36.2331-80.52584408 Shady Grove Church RdEast Bend
Duplin 1 and 2 lagoon overtopping
P1,2, 11, 17 previously overtopped AWS 820415, 412, 511 0900089 AWS 820349 previously overtopped 820511
agriculture, Environment

From the air, a view of hog farms improperly spraying waste on soaked fields; DEQ can’t access area to inspect

A hog farm in eastern North Carolina spraying waste from a lagoon on Monday, Sept. 17, 2018. This practice violates permit regulations stipulating that waste can’t be applied to fields that are saturated. The sprayer is shown above the upper lagoon; at the top left of the frame, water is standing in the field. (Aerial photos: Lisa Sorg)

The number of hog lagoons at risk was updated from 80 to 110 at 4:16 p.m.

Flood damage from Hurricane Florence is jeopardizing roughly 110 of the state’s 3,300 hog lagoons, but there is another route for waste to leave these farms: runoff from the sprayfields.

Farmers routinely pump waste from the lagoons onto the fields, which they use to grow hay and other crops to feed livestock. But spraying waste on saturated agricultural land violates both EPA regulations and the terms of the state general permits under which North Carolina’s hog farms operate. When waste-laden water runs off these fields, it can contaminate nearby rivers, streams, wetlands or adjacent properties.

During a flyover of eastern North Carolina on Monday, Policy Watch observed at least two farms that were spraying waste from their hog lagoons, ostensibly to keep them from overflowing — an even more severe environmental disaster in its own right. From the air, it was unclear whether the farms were contracted with Smithfield or Prestage Farms. Riverkeepers reported at least a dozen more incidents of spraying, but Policy Watch has not been able to independently verify those accounts.

A Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman said state inspectors couldn’t yet get to the farms to follow up on their operations. The Fayetteville Regional Office, located downtown near Cross Creek, was evacuated. Regional offices in Washington and Wilmington are not fully functioning because of power outages and flooding.

It is also illegal to spray within 48 hours of the issuance of a hurricane watch or severe thunderstorm warning.

One of the controversies about waste application is whether it is a “nutrient management strategy” — a way to fertilize cropfields — or merely an expedient way to get rid of the waste. The waste can be applied only at “agronomic rates,” which are calculated by crop, soil type and other factors; the amounts are detailed in each farm’s nutrient waste management plan. “Land application is for crops to take up fertilizer,” said Michelle Nowlin, supervising attorney at the Duke University Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. “If the land is saturated, there’s no way the crops can take up the nutrients.”

Hog farms and their lagoons in eastern North Carolina, Sept. 17, 2018. The bottom lagoon appears inundated, but it’s unclear whether a breach has occurred.

After Hurricane Floyd, Nowlin, then an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, successfully sued the state environmental agency over how it allowed farms to spray their waste. As part of a settlement agreement, the state agreed it would prohibit spraying in the aftermath of a storm, Nowlin said. “If the state turns a blind eye, it’s in violation of that agreement,” she added.

The Coastal Plain is less than optimal for industrialized animal operations. Hurricanes and inland flooding imperil the animals themselves, as well as the lagoon-and-sprayfield method of waste management.

“Once again, as if we needed a reminder, the hurricane exposes the insanity of even allowing this type of production and waste disposal in the Coastal Plain,” Nowlin said. “But it’s an opportunity to think about new technologies, mandated in accordance with the state’s authority and what the industry can afford. They [the industry] is putting their costs on society. Can we afford the industry’s imposition of these costs?”


What to do with 5,500 dead hogs and 3.4 million dead chickens

The storm killed 5,500 of the roughly 9.3 million hogs housed in industrialized farms in North Carolina, and that number will likely increase as flood waters recede and reveal the carcasses.

Smithfield tried to stem the number of fatalities by transferring hogs from farms that were flooded in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd to operations outside that vulnerable area. Floyd was a catastrophic turning point for the hog industry; it killed an estimated 30,000 hogs and unleashed a 500-year flood, meaning the chances of such an event occurring in a given year is 1 in 500, or 0.2 percent.

However, Hurricane Florence outdid Floyd, with eastern rivers rising at least 5 feet from record levels. “It was new territory for the industry,” said Kraig Westerbeek, senior director of Smithfield Renewables and Hog Production Division Environmental Affairs.

Prestage Farms couldn’t be reached for comment.

The poultry industry sustained even greater losses: at least 3.4 million birds.

The NC Department of Agriculture has issued protocols for the disposal of animal carcasses, including buffer zones between the composting area and waterways and property lines. In some cases, the bodies can be deposited in landfills.

“One of the disconnects here is dealing with the mortalities,” Nowlin said. The disposal falls under not DEQ but the NC Department of Agriculture’s veterinary division, which focuses on preventing disease. “Where the animals are disposed and how,” is important, Nowlin added. If they are improperly disposed of, the decaying bodies can contaminate groundwater.

It takes about 28 days for a chicken carcass to decompose, and six months or more for larger animals.

This hog waste lagoon appears to have been spared.

 

 

 

 

agriculture, Environment, News

After Florence, the “unequal distribution of catastrophe” in North Carolina

A flooded neighborhood in Jacksonville. (Photo: Lisa Sorg)

Since Hurricane Florence dropped more than 30 inches of rain on parts of North Carolina, Policy Watch’s Lisa Sorg has been dutifully tracking the environmental catastrophes — many of them, quite simply, predictable in nature.

But if you missed it, Duke University law professor Jedediah Purdy authored an illuminating take Tuesday in The New Yorker on the environmental injustices made apparent by the storm, and its deleterious effect on agricultural operations in the state.

From The New Yorker:

It is unsettling, and maybe emblematic of many American lives today, to perch safely but uneasily on the edge of catastrophe. Rainfall in eastern North Carolina passed thirty inches during Hurricane Florence, cutting off the coastal city of Wilmington from road access, and this week the state’s rivers are swelling as they return the water to the Atlantic. The Neuse River is menacing Goldsboro, home of the Reverend William Barber’s congregation, and the Cape Fear River is swamping Fayetteville, near Fort Bragg. The storm has killed at least thirty-two people. It left my neighborhood in Durham, a hundred and forty miles inland, damp and ruffled by breezes. Warm humidity streaked the outside of air-conditioned windows with condensed water, and people stayed indoors watching weather updates.

But we prepared here—overprepared, even. The city of Durham shuttered its non-emergency offices last Thursday afternoon, and public schools closed throughout the Research Triangle. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke, where I teach, shut down classes for nearly a week and urged students to evacuate. Big-box stores were stripped of water, batteries, and other emergency supplies, and gas stations were empty. At home, we stockpiled jugs of water, dried fruit and canned beans, candles.

Disaster planning requires an accounting of everyday dependencies. How far can we drive if there is no gas for sale? Without electricity, how many hours of light do we have? If the stores aren’t restocked, when will we run out of food? Once our phones aren’t working, how many phone numbers do we actually know? How many of the people we know live within walking distance? As we pull the plug on one vital system after another, tasks that seemed straightforward—making a cup of coffee, or washing clothes—turn out to be a note in a technological symphony.

A recent study by the geologist Jan Zalasiewicz and twenty-four co-authors estimated the total weight of human infrastructure—buildings, roads, vehicles, intensely cultivated cropland—at thirty trillion tons, roughly three thousand tons for every human being. In 2013, Peter Haff, a Duke University earth scientist, reckoned that without this infrastructure, which he calls “the technosphere,” human population “would quickly decline toward its Stone Age base of no more than ten million.” You can relax that pessimism by an order of magnitude and still conclude that most of us would not survive outside our artificial habitat. We would be what Shakespeare’s King Lear calls “unaccommodated man”: a “poor, bare, forked animal.”

A “natural disaster,” then, is at least half non-natural, the product of a natural event and the infrastructure that it floods, shakes, or ignites. In North Carolina, much of that infrastructure is agricultural: over the past thirty years, the eastern part of the state has become the slaughterhouse of the East Coast. At least nine million pigs live here, mostly in “confined animal feeding operations” that contain thousands of animals apiece. Read more

agriculture

Smithfield says expansion of Tar Heel facility behind closure of company’s Clayton plant

Smithfield ham (Photo: Amazon)

More than 100 Smithfield workers will lose their jobs at the company’s distribution center in Clayton, but an expansion of the Tar Heel plant, not ongoing nuisance lawsuits, are behind the facility’s closure.

Dennis Organ, senior vice president of supply chain and direct store delivery, issued a statement yesterday noting that the company has invested $100 million to expand the plant in Tar Heel, and 250 positions will be added as a result of the expansion.

Clayton employees will be offered positions at the Tar Heel operation and elsewhere, according to a company statement.

It’s unclear how many workers will transfer to Tar Heel, which is 80 miles south of Clayton.

Smithfield’s packaged meats division increased its profit this year — nearly 11 percent. But according to an August report to investors, WH Group, Smithfield’s China-based parent corporation noted that President Trump’s tariffs had dented profits in the US fresh pork segment. “Profits declined significantly due to an overabundant supply of meat in the market and trade tensions,” the report read.

Operating profit decreased by 3.8 percent in the US to $867 million, which the company attributed to inflation in wages and logistical costs.

 

 

 

 

agriculture, Courts & the Law, Environment

Appellate court ruling could funnel Smithfield agreement funds away from environmental protection

L-R Appellate Court Judges John Tyson, Phil Berger Jr, and Wanda Bryant (Photos: NC Court of Appeals)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smithfield's payments weren't penalties, but voluntary contributions to burnish its image by working toward better waste management solutions Click To TweetFrancis X. De Luca can’t sue the state of North Carolina over an 18-year-old Smithfield agreement, the NC Court of Appeals ruled yesterday, but the former head of the conservative think tank nonetheless might have achieved his goal: To use the state constitution to siphon future settlement money away from environmental projects and toward public schools.

In a 2-1 decision, the appellate court ruled that there are legitimate questions about whether Smithfield’s annual payments constitute penalties for past bad behavior or voluntary contributions to help the environment.

Penalties go to a fund that then is disbursed to public schools. Voluntary payments can fund other projects.

De Luca and the New Hanover County Board of Education were the plaintiffs, but the court ruled De Luca does not have legal standing to sue. The decision, though, also sends the case and its core constitutional questions back to Wake County Superior Court for a new trial.

Judges John Tyson and Phil Berger Jr., were in the majority; Judge Wanda Bryant dissented.

The Smithfield agreement was a deal brokered in 2000 among then-attorney general Mike Easley, the pork producer, and its subsidiaries to compensate for the environmental damage caused by industrialized hog farms. From 1995 to 2000 waste lagoons, not all of them Smithfield’s, “had spilled millions of gallons of waste into North Carolina waterways,” according to court documents, “contaminating surface waters and killing aquatic life, while seepage from waste lagoons impacted groundwater supplies.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Smithfield pays $1 per hog it owns in North Carolina each year, up to $2 million annually. The agreement is valid through 2025. The payments, testified several officials in affidavits, were not intended as penalties for wrongdoing, but rather “voluntary contributions” that the corporation paid in order to burnish its image by “working toward better waste management solutions.” (Smithfield has not made any meaningful progress toward those solutions. That issue is central to the hog nuisance lawsuits being heard in federal district court.)

Read more