- SARATOGA, NC - Don Webb takes
us to a
tiny creek winding its way through the farm fields here in North
Carolina. "This is the second time," he says, "this has
had raw feces and urine in it."
- Hog feces, that is, runoff from a nearby hog operation.
hog-waste lagoon is filled to the brim, the legacy of record flooding
from Hurricane Floyd. Right now, nearly a thousand hog-waste lagoons are
in similar shape, and state regulators are worried some of them could
from the pressure, sending millions of gallons of hog waste
lot of hog lagoons, you,re looking at 5 million
Dean Hunkle, an inspector with the state's Division
- He points out that hog
operators are sending more waste
into the lagoons every day, as their
operations continue. Worried about
the chances for catastrophic
failure, the state is allowing hog operators
to pump waste out and
spray it onto fields and into forests through the
- "If it means we have to release some
pressure on the lagoon," Hunkle says, "we
- In places, the
light-brown waste streams 40 feet into
the air and can be seen pooling
on top of many sodden fields. State officials
concede that could mean a
steady stream of hog waste seeping into waters
here for months.
- Battle of the
Holman, who heads North Carolina's Department
of Environment and
Natural Resources, calls it "an awful situation".
But he says
he feels he is left with no choice.
- "My dilemma is it's a steady stream or run the risk
lagoons breaking, full of winter rains," Holman says.
- Webb, founder of the Alliance for a
Industry, has little sympathy for the state or for
hog operators. A former
hog farmer, Webb has been battling the hog
industry for years to clean
up its act. He has warned repeatedly that
hog operations in flood plains
were vulnerable to floods and
- "These people
knew this could happen," Webb
says, pointing to yet another lagoon
brimming with hog waste. "We
told them they shouldn,t ever build
in the wetlands and flood plains. We
knew it. They knew it. But it was
cheap land. It was a cheap way to do
anything, without any regard for
the safety of the people that were already
living in the
what the hog industry should do, considering the
fact that lagoons are
at unsafe levels, Webb pushes the concept that a
number of state
environmental groups have proposed. "Move the hogs
out. If they
think the cesspool's going to burst, get rid of the hogs.
waste in that cesspool."
- But the industry claims it is an impractical idea, logistically
and economically. Instead, the industry has its own proposal, which it
has already sent to Congress.
- Draft legislation submitted by the North Carolina Pork
would give the hog industry an exemption from the federal Clean
Act " for up to a year".
- It also proposes making $1 billion in aide available
producers and other farmers to allow them to rebuild their operations
in the flood plain.
- Beth Anne
Mumford, spokeswoman for the pork council,
- "It's no
different from anybody else who has gotten
flooded out," Mumford
says. "You know, we wanted our producers
to be able to recover and
have the opportunity to recover and rebuild just
like everybody else in
the state who has experienced this horrible catastrophe."
- As for the billion dollars the industry
got to ask for what you think, what you think
might be needed to get people
back up and running again."
- But many are
unsympathetic. The hog industry is one of
North Carolina's most
powerful. It sent one of its own to the state legislature.
millions lobbying for regulations easing environmental restrictions,
allowing hog operators to set up in flood zones.
- Derb Carter, of the Southern Environmental Law Center,
says he believes there is no justification for using federal money to
hog operations in the flood plain.
- "In many ways they have made their own bed and they
should be required to sleep in it, as we see it," Carter says.
is an industry that lobbied for these lax regulations. And
the use of public
money to bail them out of a situation that they
created is entirely inappropriate."
- In fact, Carter takes exception to the characterization
of hog operators as "farmers".
- "Five out of six of the hogs are owned by
that control them either on company farms or by contracts
- And the
industry hopes to keep growing hogs right where
they've been growing
them, if they can get their legislation passed. State
however, are opposed and are furious that the pork council
- Instead, the state is
trying to work with federal officials
to come up with a limited offer
for hog operators: payment to move them
out of the flood plains. So
far, the industry is still lobbying to stay.
- Will they win? North Carolina's congressional delegation
has been piecing together Flood Relief legislation, which will include
money and assistance for agriculture.
- Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), an ally to the hog industry,
expected to take it to the Senate. The details, his staff says, are
still being worked out and for now are not being made public.
- Webb says he believes public sentiment has
the industry, and he says he thinks lawmakers will get
an earful if they
bail out hog operators.
- "Don,t make the hardworking taxpayer of the United
States pay for the mistakes that the corporate hog people have made,"
Webb says. "They brought this on themselves. They should pay for it.