CRAWFORD COUNTY - A public hearing was held by Crawford County Land Conservation Department (LCD), and Land Conservation Committee (LCC), on Tuesday, July 12, to consider whether the county should issue a Livestock Facility Siting Permit to the Roth Feeder Pigs II hog CAFO. The proposed facility would be sited in Marietta Township, on Harvest Lane, on Niland Ridge, overlooking the confluence of the Kickapoo and Wisconsin Rivers.
One person, the owner/operator of the proposed CAFO operation, Howard ‘AV’ Roth, spoke in favor of the county granting him a permit. More than 70 individuals submitted public input either in-person, virtually via Zoom, in writing or via e-mail.
Of those who testified or provided written comments, 45 live in Crawford County, 51 live in adjacent Driftless Region counties like Grant, Vernon, Richland, four were from Madison/Milwaukee, four indicated they recreate in Crawford County, one was from Iowa, and seven reside in other parts of Wisconsin. Note – comments continue to be received by the LCC, and these numbers reflect comments received as of Friday, July 15.
This citizen input resulted in a huge volume of information, with two hours of video taped testimony of citizens each given three minutes to speak, and over 150 pages of written or e-mailed testimony.
LCC Chairman David Olson chaired the meeting, with vice chair Mary Kuhn, committee members Gary Koch and Kim Moret, and county board chairman Tom Cornford present. Olson started the meeting by explaining the current state of the permit application, the timlines for the county’s decision-making process, and when the period for submitting comments would close at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, August 4.
All documents related to Roth Feeder Pigs II Livestock Facility Siting permit can be found here:
To mail written feedback, mail your written comments to: Crawford County Land Conservation Department, Suite 230, Crawford County Administration Building, 225 N Beaumont, Prairie du Chien, WI, 58321. To e-mail written comments, send to:
“Crawford County received notification that the livestock facility-siting permit application from Howard AV Roth for the Roth Feeder Pigs II operation was complete from Wisconsin DNR (WDNR) on June 7, 2022,” Olson stated. “This means that the county has 90 days or until September 5 to approve or deny the permit.”
County Conservation Director Dave Troester provided background about how the county had taken responsibility for approving livestock facility-siting permits.
“On August 15, 2006, Crawford County adopted a Livestock Facility Siting Ordinance requiring operations with more than 500 animal units to obtain a permit from the county,” Troester explained. “Since receiving notice from WDNR that the Roth Feeder Pigs II application is complete, we have mailed notices to adjacent landowners, and published a public notice for this hearing in local newspapers.”
Troester said it is likely the LCC will make a decision at their regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, August 9. The agenda for that meeting will be available on the Crawford County website, and persons requesting a Zoom link in advance may be able to attend that meeting virtually. He said that it is possible the LCC might choose to postpone the decision to a special meeting, which must take place before the September 5 deadline.
First up in public input was Howard AV Roth. He told meeting participants that he was bred and born in Crawford County, and is from a fifth generation farm family in the county. He said he has been a hog producer his whole life.
“My current operation involves 3,000 sows, who farrow, and 21 days later we sell the piglets to operators in Iowa who finish them and send them to slaughter,” Roth explained. “My new operation will have the same process, only with 5,000 sows. The other pigs on the farm will be ‘gilts,’ or replacement sows.”
Roth says that his family, his wife Christine and their seven children, all live and work on the farm.
“People are worried about my operation polluting the water, and I want you to know that no one cares more about the water than we do,” Roth said. “Farmers have made a lot of innovations in our operations to better protect the water. I worry just as much as all of you about our community and our water.”
Roth addressed the contention that his operation would produce too much manure, which he said would be used to feed crops. He said that if producers don’t fertilize their crops with manure, then they will use commercial fertilizer, replacing an organic source with a chemical source. He said that the nitrogen and phosphorous generation by both sources of fertilizer are the same.
“With the current prices of commercial fertilizer, access to my manure is of great benefit to local crop farmers, and it is a better source of fertility for their crops,” Roth said.
Regarding agreements with neighboring landowners for spreading the manure, Roth said “if they want out, then they can get out.” He said that he currently has producers with a total 450 acres that want to begin taking his manure. He pointed out that he is required to monitor and record every aspect of when and where the manure is spread, in what quanity, and what the ambient condtions are at the time of spreading. He pointed out that the manure is injected to reduce the odor.
“My current operation employs nine people and my family,” Roth said. “My new operation will employ 22 people, and this will help the community.”
He said that if anyone wants to discuss his plans, they can contact him at email@example.com, or 608-485-1125.
Concern for community/ quality of life
Concern for community and quality of life issues were brought up explicitly by 18 of the citizens who provided input, and implied in all of the testimony.
Marietta Township resident William Shaw lives within eyesight of the proposed CAFO operation when the trees “are void of leaves.” He has a farming background, participated in FFA as a youth, and says he loves farming and the environment, and wants to protect both.
“The farmers and residents of Crawford County and Marietta Township were living peacefully together until Roth II CAFO was proposed,” Shaw wrote. “Now we have great contention and anger. Is this what Mr. Roth wants in order to achieve his goal of being the #1 hog producer in Wisconsin? As one person said in a previous public hearing, when is enough enough?”
Shaw went on to observe the impacts of CAFOs on the communities where they are located.
“I and others resent the possibility of having to replace our wells at our own cost if the CAFO contaminates our private wells. This is ludicrous when we seniors and others can’t afford to do so while the CAFO owner lives in luxury and prosperity, causing others to lose their farms and livelihoods ” Shaw wrote. “Why should we that live next to the proposed Roth II CAFO be forced to have our wells tested yearly at our own expense? That is a hardship placed upon us. And when farmers are run out of business, and move elsewhere, then the population of the schools go down, and our real estate taxes go up because of referendums, etc. It’s a lose-lose situation, and a community upheaval. Is it worth it? All lose except one person. I respect Mr. Roth as a person, and his right to be prosperous within reason, and now he needs to reconsider and respect our rights and the rights of nature, and the environment, so that we can live peacefully together again, and heal.”
Jim Shepherd, a Wauzeka Township resident whose property is near Roth’s current CAFO, had this to say.
“CAFOs are an abomination on the land, and my mom has been awakened at night from the smell of your operation. AV, you soft peddle the odor, but it’s real,” Shepherd said. “It’s not personal for me with Howard, Karen or AV. My family is divided on this issue. We have to solve our problems locally because the state and the industry are in cahoots, and profit trumps good stewardship.”
William Holtz, who owns property on Kickapoo Valley Lane, just below the proposed site of Roth Feeder Pigs II had this to say.
“The Land Conservation Committee and the County Board represent all the citizens of the county, and many feel very strongly about this. People are losing sleep over what will come,” Holtz said. “It’s time for the Board of Supervisors to represent the people.”
Jude Hartwick is also a landowner on Kickapoo Valley Lane.
“I found my dream property, and looked forward to building my business there. I want to prosper, just like AV Roth, but our dreams conflict. The CAFO will disrupt my dreams with noise, pollution and smell,” Hartwick said. “My kids won’t visit me with a CAFO next door, the value of my property will go down. I’m asking the LCC to protect me, my investment, and our community by requiring testing of water and data collection, and adopting an ordinance addressing noise and smell.”
Connie Weedman recently chose to retire to Crawford County, and bought a property in the Buck Creek Watershed.
“I retired eight weeks ago and have come to live in Crawford County. I looked at a property in Iowa, but didn’t choose it because of the smell of a neighboring CAFO operation, but with approval of this CAFO moving forward, I no longer feel safe in Crawford County,” Weedman said. “It’s a values problem when one persons needs outweigh the needs of the many. You say you care for the community and want to make a life so your children can stay here, but AV Roth, I question your values.”
Groundwater and surface water quality, the role of steep terrain and increasingly heavy rainfall events, karst geology’s propensity for allowing leaching into groundwater, and water quantity were top topics of those who testified. Of those providing comments, 36 addressed water quality, 28 addressed terrain/runoff/rainfall/surface water, 25 addressed karst geology and leaching, and 11 addressed water quantitty.
“The Kickapoo River Watershed is central in the Driftless Bioregion, the drift-free region that glaciers went around for a half-billion years, encircling a highly functioning ecosystem that has been sustaining life for 500-million years,” Dr. Kathleen Tigerman of rural Steuben wrote. “This land contains the most precious resource on earth – fresh water. The demand for fresh water increases daily, while the actual volume of water decreases. Mr. Roth’s proposal to pump millions of gallons of clean water out of an aquifer shared by hundreds of his neighbors and pollute the water with 9.4 million gallons of porcine excrement every year defies common sense.”
Local Rolling Ground farmer Harriet Behar, who previously sat on the LCC, was honored as the 2021 Crawford County Conservation Farmer of the Year, served as chair of the National Organic Standards Board, and more, weighed in on the topic.
“We need to treat the story of what has happened to ground and surface water in the State of Iowa as the result of pollution from agriculture as a cautionary tale,” Behar said. “In Iowa, they now have rural water towers because the water is so polluted, citizens can no longer drink water out of their private wells. That rural water supply cost billions in taxpayer dollars to install, and comes highly chlorinated. At this point, only seven percent of rural Iowans drink water from their private wells. This water is very expensive, both for homeowners and for farmers.”
Attorney Adam Voskuil of the law firm Midwest Environmental Advocates, a nonprofit environmental law center that provides legal and technical assistance to individuals, community groups, and other organizations that are working to protect the environment, weighed in on the topic. In his comments, Voskuil advised the LCC of facts about the site of the proposed facility and its probable impacts on ground and surface water quality.
Importantly, Roth II’s proposed facilities are located adjacent to or on top of steep slopes, shallow soil, and limestone bedrock, all of which make pollution of the ground and surface waters highly likely, especially in the case of manure leaks and spills. The site and nearby landspreading fields drain into the Kickapoo River watershed, a waterbody DNR listed as impaired for phosphorus in 2018. Pollution from Roth II would compound this problem. The unique geology and topography of Crawford County contribute to concerns about Roth II. Specifically, the ‘Driftless’ area of Wisconsin is known for extremely shallow soils above carbonate limestone bedrock. Roth II’s fields exemplify these features. Soil tests show areas with distance to bedrock as low as 20 inches. The bedrock below spreading fields exhibit typical cracked limestone features that can easily transmit pollutants to groundwater.”
Tim Lawhern, a retired WDNR Warden and division administrator for enforcement and scientific research weighed in on the topic of water. Lawhern recently purchased property in Boydtown area in Wauzeka Township.
“There has been a profusion of alarming numbers of birth defects due to contamination of groundwater, with Wisconsin ranked number one,” Lawhern said. “Best management practices are not always followed, and in my work in enforcement for WDNR, runoff was the number one problem, especially in the spring. If the Roth family has one member dedicated to ensuring compliance with the rules, it might work, but otherwise, it’s just a matter of time.”
Economy, habitat, property values, infrastructure
Opponents of the CAFO contend that the pristine natural beauty, and cold, clean, spring-fed trout streams are a major economic driver. They say that allowing the Roth Feeder Pigs II CAFO means its likely more CAFOs will follow, fleeing overcrowding, polluted groundwater, and a turning tide of public sentiment in Iowa.
They contend an increase in CAFOs will hurt the eco-tourism and trout fishing industries in the county. They point to a study that in the entire Driftless Region, in Wisconsin, northeast Iowa, and southeast Minnesota, the trout fishing industry is worth $1.6 billion annually.
Of those providing input, 33 cited concerns about the economy/tourism/taxes, 15 about healthy habitat for fish and wildlife, 13 about property values, and 11 about infrastructure such as roads and drinking water.
Annie Coleman is the owner of a small eco-tourism business in the county.
“I just spent my life savings building an event center here in Crawford County. My business will bring a half million dollars into the county each year, and will have a major economic impact, but that is threatened by this CAFO,” Coleman said. “Tourism is a major economic driver in the Driftless Region, and I am concerned about the water, tourism and the economy – no one wants more CAFOs here.”
Matt Wagner is the owner of the Driftless Angler business in Viroqua. Submitted with his written testimony were submissions from people with fishing and outdoor guide businesses throughout the State of Wisconsin.
“My livelihood and my customer base relies on clean water,” Wagner said. “Many of my customers tell me that if the CAFO is approved, they will boycott Crawford County. AV Roth offers you one business, I offer you thousands.”
Ellen Voss, and her husband, a fly-fishing guide, have made their home near Gays Mills. Voss holds a graduate degree in environmental science.
“Both of our professional lives and livelihoods depend on clean water,” Voss said. “Karst geology provides direct conduits to groundwater, liquid manure is more likely to leach or to run off into surface waters. The ground and surface waters belong to everyone, and its not right that one person can be allowed to damage what belongs to all of us.”
Florence Sandok raises beef on a farm in Crawford County.
“It’s a matter of fairness – one business should not be given priority over the many businesses in the county,” Sandok said. “CAFOs should not be built on top of karst geology, and its not if, but when, something bad will happen. Once our water is polluted, it can’t be cleaned up.”
Forest Jahnke of Crawford Stewardship Project commented on several aspects of CAFO hog production that could produce increased threats to the county in future years.
“This one additional feeder pig CAFO will produce enough piglets to supply 20-50 additional hog grower CAFOs or operations just under the CAFO threshold of 500 animal units,” Jahnke explained. “Economics dictate that the closer these facilities are to Roth Feeder Pig II, the better for them. How many of these will be sited in the area, and how many more of these facilities can our community and watersheds support? At the moment, there is nothing stopping dozens more CAFOs from operating in Crawford County, or setting standards for them to protect our sensitive watersheds and hydrogeology.”
Jahnke also contended that the CAFO business model is inherently risky.
“Much is said about ‘economies of scale’ that large industrial farms benefit from, but the flip side is rarely discussed,” Jahnke said. “Especially on our rugged landscape, the cost of hauling and spreading millions of gallons of manure to distant fields is expensive and often leads to overspreading on fields closest to the facility. The cost of catastrophic spills of the size only a CAFO can generate, and resulting fines, has caused farms to go into bankruptcy. CAFOs tend not to buy or sell locally, and so do not benefit the local economy as much as smaller family farms, and CAFOs are linked with rural economic decline.”
Wlliam Shaw of Marietta Township weighed on the economic and road infrastructure issues.
“It was published that the CAFO would be producing 140,000 pigs per year,” Shaw wrote. “It would be better, in all aspects, to bring back the small farms, and population that we desperately need to repopulate our schools to stabilize the local economy, than to put our food supply in the hands of one person.”
About the issue of roads in the vicinity of the CAFO, Shaw had this to say:
“The Roth II CAFO, if permitted, will have access to Harvest Lane from State Highway 131, right in the middle of a sharp blind curve, with visibility limited in both directions,” Shaw explained. “I’ve witnessed an LP delivery truck drive right through the stop sign on Harvest Lane so as not to have to stop and then possibly be hit entering Highway 131. To have hogs shipped into and out of the CAFO by longer hauling units on a sharp blind curve adds a greater danger to everyone travelling Highway 131 and Harvest Lane.
A CAFO operation is required to document that they have adequate acres available for the spreading of the manure generated by the facility. In fields where spreading has resulted in phosphorous levels over 300 parts-per-million (ppm), future spreading is prohibited.
In public input, 23 citizens addressed deficiencies in Roth’s nutrient management plan relating to the quantity of acres for spreading, and 15 addressed the issue of high phosphorous levels in fields close to the current facility in Wauzeka.
Midwest Environmental Advocates Attorney Adam Voskuil summed up the issues succinctly.
“There is not sufficient information to demonstrate the application is complete and credible. Specifically, the nutrient management plan (NMP) submitted to the County is from 2020, and no updates have been made to account for changes in ownership of spreading fields or manure management practices. Additionally, as highlighted by diligent community members, MEA is concerned about the accuracy of landspreading field acreage in the NMP. We highlight some recently discovered issues below:
• The former Ducharme property, identified as having more than 300 acres available for spreading under the Roth II NMP, is no longer available. Following a land purchase in June by Mycelium LLC, the land is now being restored to become part of the Hogback Prairie State Natural Area.
• Elain Adams, a property owner of fields identified in the NMP, has passed away since the NMP’s creation. To MEA’s knowledge, the executor of the estate has not been contacted by AV Roth, and no written or oral agreement has occurred since Ms. Adams’ passing. As such, the 106.7 acres currently listed in the NMP are likely improperly included.
• There are property ownership and acreage discrepancies regarding Wayne Aspenson and Phyllis Sander fields. Wayne Aspenson is listed as having 142.1 spreadable acres, but property records indicate that only 5.31 acres are owned. Phyllis Sander is not listed as a property owner in the relevant areas that are listed in the NMP.”
Forest Jahnke embellishes on this information, and speaks to the issue of excessive manure spreading on fields closest to Roth’s original facility near Wauzeka.
“More monitoring and oversight, and signed contracts for fields for spreading are required if this facility is to move forward,” Jahnke said. “If we could trust the operator to do things right, we wouldn’t see fields closest to his Wauzeka facility with phosphorous levels over 300 ppm.”
Crisse Reynolds of Eastman Township had this to say on the topic.
“Our pristine land in Crawford County can handle modest, responsible and reasonable farming practices. Those practices in some cases enhance the land,” Reynolds wrote. “The volume of animals that will be raised at the second Roth Feeder Pig facility is in no way reasonable. When fields show high phosophorous levels as we’ve seen with Roth Feeder Pigs I, the waste being spread as ‘fertilizer’ has exceeded the point where it serves as fertilizer – it is now contamination that can result in stream and well water contamination. Given the much larger size of this proposed new facility, I have grave concerns for our water – monitoring near the original Roth facility in Wauzeka Township has show increasing water contamination.”
Numerous citizens spoke about their concerns for human health if the CAFO is permitted. A total of 18 citizens spoke explicitly about the issue, and almost every citizen’s testimony addressed the issue implicitly.
“In a professional capacity, I once talked with a woman in her twenties whose family farmed in Iowa,” Harriet Behar remembered. “They were unable to drink their well water because of nitrate levels of 40 milligrams-per-liter, and the young woman told me she had had three miscarriages.”
John Rosenheim is a 93-year-old resident of Steuben.
“As a 93-year-old landowner overlooking the Kickapoo River, I am writing to express my concern over the healthcare risks associated with the contamination of well waters and surface waters,” Rosenheim wrote. “Many of the toxins released will cause serious illness such as hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can be fatal. Nitrate poisoning from drinking water can lead to blue baby syndrome and death for infants, as well as birth defects and cancer. The airborne toxins can result in respiratory disease in infants and the elderly.”
Mary Helgren works as an environmental toxicologist, and recently bought property in Eastman Township.
“What I’ve learned in my work is that the dose makes the poison, and there are already problems with nitrate levels in well water in the county,” Helgren said. “Concentration of animals leads to diseases, which in turn leads to use of veterinary pharmaceuticals. According to data from U.S. Geological Survey, these substances and related pathogens are prevalent in groundwater near CAFOs.”
There was an overwhelming demand from citizens that the county do its due diligence in making a decision about this permit, thinking “as if you are considering permitting 20 CAFOs and not just one” because more CAFOs are likely to be sited in the county in the future. Citizens demanded that the county ensure additional oversight, demand groundwater monitoring, ensure that the nutrient management plan is complete, and more. In all, 33 citizens called on the county to do their due diligence in making this decision.
“If this project proceeds, it illustrates that business takes precedence over health, the preservation of natural resources and community preference,” Ron Byers of Soldiers Grove said. “I ask that you personally imagine that a mega-project of this proportion is going into your neighborhood, right next door to where you live. It is better to preserve and conserve for the greater good rather than gamble quality of life issues to insure one person’s living. I hope that the administrators who looked the other way to allow this project to advance will be held accountable.”
Carl Schlecht whose property on Kickapoo Valley Road lies just downhill from the proposed site for the new facility had this to say:
“The LCC’s power and actions have recently encouraged a healthier and wealthier Crawford County. From bringing septic systems into a regulated framework to its sweeping 2018 resolution protecting water – my thanks for your hard work,” Schlecht said. “In regards to final permitting for Roth Feeder Pig II, please look deep. You have power over the county’s future condition based on the kind of decision you make. If approved, the facility will remain in a dense fog beyond adequate oversight, and the fall out for county landowners could be devastation.”
Another neighbor on Kickapoo Valley Road, Jill Hurwitz, had this to say:
“Please act like you care for the people in your county – the ones you were elected to represent. Don’t foist contaminated water on us. Don’t condemn us to breathe the horrid stench of 9.4 million gallons of hog manure. Don’t leave us to deal with the added truck traffic on our lovely country roads. Don’t abandon your constituents in favor of big agri-business!’
Midwest Environmental Advocates Adam Voskuil provided this advice to the LCC and Crawford County:
“Given the deficiencies in the application, Crawford County has been provided clear and convincing information to support outright denial of the application. As highlighted above, much of the NMP information is stale and no longer represents land spreading realities in the region. Though we specifically highlight nutrient management planning, MEA still has concerns regarding odor emissions and runoff management, and a thorough review of the application could certainly identify additional deficiencies or discrepancies. As such, application denial would be justified here.”
“If the County opts not to deny the application, it should extend the deadline to issue a decision and require the additional information necessary to act on the application. Currently, no entity has substantially reviewed the spreading acreage available to Roth II in 2022 and beyond. Therefore, the county cannot exclusively rely on Roth II’s WPDES (Wisconsin Discharge and Elimination System permit issued by WDNR) permit and does not have the necessary information to rule on the application. This is an opportunity, provided by Wisconsin Livestock Facility Siting regulations, to extend the decision time and request the necessary information to review for accuracy.”
If the county opts to approve the application, the county retains authority to include compliance monitoring terms in the approval to ensure that Roth is meeting local, state, and federal spreading requirements. These terms may include more robust spreading logs, manure hauling audits, or some other form of monitoring to ensure nutrient management compliance.”Finally, if the county opts to approve the application without additional supplemental information or terms, MEA believes that the record may not support the decision of the County. Pursuant to Livestock Facility Siting regulations, a local government must issue a written decision that provides findings of fact that are supported by the record created during the application and review process. MEA, Crawford County residents, and many others have raised significant concerns, and we have outlined several ways to address those concerns. The County has an obligation to its constituents to ensure transparency and compliance with the law, and ignoring the deficiencies in the Roth II application cannot be its response.”