CRAWFORD COUNTY - At their meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 17, the Crawford County Board of Supervisors voted 10-7 to enact a one-year moratorium on permitting of new or expanded livestock facilities with greater than 1,000 animal units. Almost 80 citizens attended the meeting to provide input to the board prior to the vote.
The roll call vote on the moratorium was as follows:
Voting aye: Wade Dull, Henry (Buzz) Esser, Wayne Jerrett, Larry Kelley, Geri Kozelka, David Olson, Carl Orr, Kersten Rocksvold, Brad Steiner and Don Stiring
Voting nay: Tom Cornford, Derek Flansburgh, Gerald Krachey, Mary Kuhn, Gari Lorenz, Duane Rogers and Greg Russell.
On the table in front of each supervisor was a copy of a letter from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) expressing their opposition to passage of the moratorium. The letter provided specific legal citations for why such a moratorium would be illegal and vulnerable to a legal challenge.
According to Supervisor Don Stirling, no other information had been provided to the supervisors regarding the proposed moratorium by the county. County Clerk Janet Geisler said she had received “only a few” written comments from citizens regarding the moratorium, as well as a thick packet of information from Marietta Township citizen Dave Collins. Geisler said she was unaware whether that information was in the hands of the supervisors prior to the meeting.
County Conservationist Dave Troester kicked off the input regarding the proposed moratorium. Troester told the board that the county had adopted livestock facility siting authority over a decade ago, and was one of the first counties to do so.
“The Governor has declared 2019 the ‘Year of Clean Drinking Water’ and it seems every other thing you see in the news these days is about water,” Troester said. “Three other counties in Wisconsin have passed moratoriums in the last few years – Burnett, Pepin and Eau Claire.”
Troester explained to the board that discussions about the rumors of a Roth Feeder Pig expansion had begun in Land Conservation Committee meetings about six months prior.
“As yet, our committee has not received any applications from Roth,” Troester said. “The moratorium would put a pause on our committee’s approval of any new or expanding livestock facilities with greater than 1,000 animal units for one year.”
Supervisor Gerald Krachey asked Troester how much of the agricultural land in the county is operating under a nutrient management plan.
“I’m more concerned about the impact grain farmers have on our water quality, and in runoff of phosphorous in particular,” Krachey said. “The erosion off those fields is carrying phosphorous into the water, and I’ve seen them out there spreading manure on frozen ground too. Now, the Village of Wauzeka is being forced to build a new sewer plant to get to zero phosphorous, and I want to know who is enforcing nutrient management plans.”
Krachey stated that he wanted answers from Wisconsin State Senator Jennifer Shilling and State Representative Loren Oldenburg about why the Department of Natural Resources is not doing anything about runoff of phosphorous off grain fields.
“Currently about 10-12 percent of the acres in the county are covered under NMPs, but it is trending upward,” Troester said. “The county enforces NMPs in the Farmland Preservation Program. As far as conservation practices, any farmer that is receiving funds through NRCS or FSA is required to follow a NMP, and part of that is prevention of gully erosion.”
Troester said that in order to get more acres enrolled in Nutrient Management Plans he would need cost share for farmers and more employees.
Supervisor Larry Kelley told Troester that it was his understanding that before his ouster by the legislature, DATCP Secretary-Designee Brad Pfaff had withdrawn proposed changes in the Livestock Facility Siting Rule from a vote.
“My understanding is that if those changes are not made to the rule before February, then it will be another two-to-three years before they can be made,” Kelley said. “I understand that the DNR is also working on sensitive area revisions to the runoff rule, and that that will also take another two-to-three years.”
Troester agreed with what Kelley said, responding, “the changes were opposed by a lot of the major farm groups, and at this point the process for changing the rule seems to be in limbo.”
“I’m afraid if we don’t do something our drinking water isn’t going to be drinkable,” Kelley said. “I’m torn on this issue, but it really bothers me that my grandchildren might not be able to drink our water.”
Kelley said that he believes that Crawford County’s problem is less leachate and more a problem with runoff.
“And then there’s the most recent results from that SWIGG Study that showed that 41 percent of the contamination in the water is from humans – that would mean septic systems, right?” Kelly said.
Marietta Township resident and organic producer Roger Hanson pointed out that that meant that 59 percent was coming from animals.
Supervisor Mary Kuhn told Troester that she disagreed with the resolution because the proposed composition of the study committee did not include any members of the agricultural community. Troester responded that he would be happy to include a producer on the study group.
“In Utica Township, we have zoning. Marietta Township is not zoned and I read recently that the town chairman Teddy Beinborn is opposed to enacting zoning because it is too expensive and would take too much time,” Kuhn said. “Instead, they just want the county to take care of the problem – why isn’t Marietta Township doing anything to solve this problem?”
Kuhn also stated that she had heard that big dairy farmers are receiving harassing letters from the Crawford Stewardship Project.
“Crawford Stewardship Project (CSP) has not sent any letters harassing producers,” CSP board president Edie Ehlert said. “We would never do such a thing – we’re trying to get everyone to work together.”
Prairie du Chien native Cindy Robertson told the board, “we have to take the time to do this study, no matter what the source of the problems with our drinking water is. This issue is not just about Marietta Township – we have to do this for the good of the entire county.”
Edie Ehlert listed the reasons she believes the board should enact the moratorium.
“The results of the upcoming well water quality study will be very helpful to the county in understanding what kind of problems we have with drinking water,” Ehlert stated. “And the torrential rains our area has been receiving are affecting everyone – CSP has been monitoring surface water quality in the county for 12 years, and in recent years, the readings for E.coli and phosphorous have gone off the charts.”
Ehlert continued that the SWIGG Study in Grant, Iowa and Lafayette counties has brought to light problems with groundwater in those counties who have a similar hydrogeology to Crawford County. She said that “once an aquifer in karst geology is polluted, it is polluted forever.”
Ehlert was quick to congratulate Troester on all the work his team has done to bring county septic systems into compliance with the code. She also pointed out that in the 2009 survey for development of Crawford County’s Comprehensive Plan, groundwater was selected as the respondent’s number one priority.
“Further, last week the Natural Resources Board voted to allow the DNR to move forward with drafting of revisions to the State’s runoff rule, NR 151, for areas of the state with shallow layers of soil overlaying fractured karst geology,” Ehlert pointed out. “These rules, similar to those enacted in Kewaunee County, will likely apply to Crawford County.”
Then, there is the call by the American Public Health Association (APHA) for federal, state, and local governments and public health agencies to impose a moratorium on all new and expanding concentrated feeding animal operations (CAFOs), Ehlert pointed out.
Legality of moratorium
Midwest Environmental Advocates Staff Attorney Adam Voskuil attended the meeting, and spoke in favor of passage of the moratorium.
“Passage of the moratorium and taking the time to study the situation will give Crawford County the time to better understand the substantive qualities of the land you live in,” Voskuil said. “As far as the legality of the moratorium, a number of counties have enacted them under their home rule authority.”
Voskuil emphasized that this is not a permanent ban on or punishment for CAFO operations in the county, but rather a pause so that the study can move forward.
“Enacting a moratorium is a reasonable and appropriate approach that provides a short-term opportunity to review your landscape and applicable science,” Voskuil said.
Voskuil cited a recent poll by Selzer & Company conducted with 601 registered voters in five southwestern counties in Wisconsin: Crawford, Grant, Iowa, Lafayette, and Richland.
“That poll shows that the majority of voters in southwest Wisconsin support stricter standards for agriculture to protect drinking water,” Voskuil said.
Mary Kuhn pointed out to Voskuil the letter each supervisor had received from the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC). The letter included Wisconsin Dairy Alliance and Wisconsin Pork Association on its letterhead.
“It says in this letter from WMC that the Wisconsin Supreme Court interpreted Wis. Stat. § 93.90 finding that the Legislature expressly withdrew the authority political subdivisions previously had to disapprove livestock facility siting permits. Adams v. Wis. Livestock Facilities Siting Review Bd., 2012 WI 85 ,46, 342 Wis. 2d 444, 820 N.W.2d 404. That is, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that any authority counties have under Wis. Stat. § 59.69 is rendered inoperative as it relates to regulating the siting or expansion of a large livestock facility. Therefore, the county's authority to impose a moratorium on the creation or expansion of livestock facilities, including the moratorium proposed in ‘Moratorium on Livestock Facilities Siting’ has been preempted by state law,” Kuhn said. She asked Voskuil what he had to say about that. “The last thing the county board wants to do is to have to pay to defend a moratorium in court,” Kuhn said.
Voskuil responded that the letter the board received is basically sent to every county that is considering enacting a moratorium as a threat of legal action. He said he had not come prepared to present to the board on that decision, but off the top of his head, believes that it is a legal citation being used out of context.
“I believe that decision related to zoning and not moratoriums,” Voskuil told the board. “DATCP says that the counties have the authority to enact a moratorium.”
Runoff is serious
Jack Knight, from Allamakee County, Iowa, spoke to agree with Gerald Krachey that phosphorous in the waterways is a serious issue about which something needs to be done.
“The runoff we’re seeing from gullies is a crisis,” Knight stated. “But allowing more hog manure to be added to an already bad situation is not the answer.”
Roger Olson stated that he is an organic farmer from Marietta Township, and that he is not opposed to farming.
“But we live in a karstic area with a fractured bedrock beneath us,” Olson observed. “I can’t understand why we are working so hard to find reasons not to pass this moratorium. We need to be thinking about our legacy in this decision.”
Marietta Township grassfed beef producer Jeff Robinson pointed out that he has 600 acres in grass on his farm, and has zero erosion except on his driveway.
“I make my money from grass, and the ponds on my farm are crucial to my business,” Robinson said. “Without clean water what I have is zero. I’m not worried so much just about one CAFO, but I am worried that there are more coming.”
AV Roth was the last person to speak before the board voted. He pointed out that he is the fifth generation of his family on their farm, and his current operation has 3,000 sows.
The points Roth made are as follows:
• nine years ago Crawford Stewardship Project got the EPA to conduct an air quality study at my facility which showed that there is no air pollution from my facility
• because we don’t finish the hogs on our farm, antibiotic use at our facility is very low
• my expanded facility will provide an additional 20 good paying jobs
• my expanded facility would provide an additional $80,000 in property taxes
• the state lost 491 dairies in 2019, and is on pace to lose nine percent in 2020
• CAFOs are family farmers
• every farmer cares about water – the last thing I want to do is to hurt the water
• only 12-15 percent of ag land in the county operates under a nutrient management plan, and he recommended that instead of passing a CAFO moratorium the board should concentrate on getting more people using NMPs
• in response to reports of surface water contamination below his Harvest Lane property, he said, “I have never spread manure on Harvest Lane”
• my expansion would mean conversion of use of chemical fertilizers to organic fertilizers in Marietta Township, and in addition, we use no-till and contour strips.
• despite the rumors, there are not more CAFOs coming that I’m aware of. Roth said–however, “I wish it was true because I would like to see agriculture grow in the county.”• as far as the legality of the moratorium, Roth had this to say, “The national organizations that I’m in contact with tell me that they are waiting to sue a county for a moratorium until a producer is denied a permit because a moratorium is in effect – then they’ll sue.”