ONALASKA - A total of just over 50 farmers and other concerned citizens from the Drifrless Region, ranging from Platteville to Buffalo County, testified at the two hearings held by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) on Wednesday, Sept. 4 in Onalaska. Of the 50 attending, 37 citizens testified.
The hearings were held to gather citizen input about proposed revisions to the state’s Livestock Facility Siting Law (ATCP51). The law has never been updated in the 12 years since it was first passed. Reviews are required every four years, and no revisions were made after reviews in 2010 and 2014.
Almost universally, farmers testifying opposed the proposed changes, citing lack of producer involvement in making the recommendations for changes, and the “chilling effect” the proposed changes would, according to them, have on growth and expansion in the state’s dairy industry.Other concerned citizens testifying supported the recommended changes, with some asking DATCP to go further in such areas as setbacks, odor management, manure storage inspections and rule enforcement, fee increases for permits, local bonding for storage facilities to protect local governments, well testing around the facility, mandatory monitoring wells, and more transparency about rental agreements for land where manure would be spread.
Chris Clayton, DATCP Program Manager for Livestock Facility Siting, made introductory comments at both hearings. He detailed the history of the law, the scope of the Technical Expert Committee’s (TEC) process for review and recommendations, the eight objectives for rulemaking specified in statute, the history of review of the law every four years since 2006, and the specific proposed changes that were up for public comment at the hearings held by DATCP across the state.
The standards adopted must be all of the following:
• Protective of public health or safety
• Practical and workable
• Based on available scientific evidence that has been subjected to peer review
• Designed to promote the growth and viability of animal agriculture in this state
• Designed to balance the economic viability of farm operations with protecting natural resources and other community interests
• Usable by officials of political subdivisions
The scope for the TEC review is as follows:
• Ensure consistent technical standards
• Modify standards in ATCP51 based on recommendations from the TEC
• Improve the process for local implementation
The proposed rule revisions are almost all aimed at bringing current standards into conformity with the most recent, state of the art, peer-reviewed standards on any given topic.
To learn more about the proposed rule revisions, go to www.livestocksiting.wi.gov
One interesting thing that was made clear in Clayton’s presentation is that only producers in counties that adopted ATCP51 as a county ordinance are required to secure a facility-siting permit. Producers in counties that did not adopt an ordinance are only required to secure a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit from the DNR.
Local ordinances were adopted in 27 counties, 98 towns, two cities and seven villages. Since 2006, a total of 186 local government permits have been issued. Most of these permits are located in the southeast corner of the state and up the east side of the state, with another cluster in LaCrosse, Jackson and Trempealeau counties.
Another interesting, and perhaps not widely known fact, is that the statute does allow local government to adopt standards more strict than the statewide standards if they are “necessary to protect public health and safety.”
Four producers and one concerned citizen spoke about the need for stakeholder input into the process.The producers felt that the proposed revisions should be sent back to the drawing board because of lack of producer input into the recommendations. They seemed to envision ‘stakeholder’ as equating to ‘farmer.’
Robert Nigh of Viroqua, and member of the State Farm Bureau Board, objected to the fact that there had been no producers on the TEC that had been appointed by former DATCP Secretary Sheila Harsdorf. Jack Herricks from Cashton, Chair of the Town of Jefferson Board, lodged the same objection, as did Justin Peterson of Bangor.
Margie Webster of LaCrosse made the point that farmers are not the only group of citizens who are affected by rules for livestock facility siting.
“It’s not just farmers that are stakeholders,” Webster said. “Citizens are stakeholders too.”
Growth in dairy
Another big objection to the proposed revisions to the law centered on the current depression in the dairy industry and the allegation that the proposed changes would put a ‘chilling effect upon growth and modernization in the dairy industry.’
Jon Zander of Compeer Financial pointed out that dairy has been in a depression, and the proposed changes would “limit farm growth.” Jim Mlsna of Occoch Mountain Dairy in Hillsboro agreed that the regulation would “stifle growth and modernization in the dairy industry.” He pointed out that a milk check he’d recently received was “the first time it came in above the cost of production in four years.”
“If farms can’t grow and expand, then they’ll leave,” Justin Peterson of Bangor said. “If the animal agriculture goes away, then the alfalfa will go away, and this will result in decreased protection for the streams.”
“The proposed changes could basically result in all farms being regulated like CAFOs,” said Joe Bragger who runs a 300-head dairy in Buffalo County.
Margie Webster of LaCrosse also expressed concern for the depressed dairy industry.
“The CAFOs are driving family dairy farmers out of business,” Webster said.
“The current regulations in place for CAFOs are based on a family farm model,” Dave Swanson of Platteville said. “CAFOs are not family farms – they are bottom-line driven, investor-owned corporations.”
Two enormous issues that concerned citizens brought up at the hearing were the impact of CAFOs on neighboring property values, and the corresponding impact on local tax revenues.
Dave Swanson of Platteville noted that he owns a home down the road from a 1,700-head confinement dairy operation.
“Recently, all the homes within one mile of the facility were assessed at a lower rate,” Swanson said. “Our home will be in the phase two of property value reassessments as we are located just outside of the one-mile radius.”
Infrastructure, fees, bonds
Many concerned citizens felt that local governments were being left holding the bag for town infrastructure that is being damaged by heavy agricultural vehicles associated with CAFOs. There was an often-repeated sentiment that local governments should be able to charge fees that would help them to offset these expenses. Others asked for the authority for local governments to require bonding for manure storage structures so that if a producer declares bankruptcy, the local government would not be burdened with the cost of reclamation of the structure.
“Towns and counties need to be able to require a bond for the cost of the reclamation of manure storage structures,” said Gaylord Olson, Jackson County Conservationist. “I also advocate for towns and counties to be able to charge greater permit fees than the $1,000 amount currently allowed. I recommend allowing up to $7,000.”
Connie Champnoise of the Richland Stewardship Project (RSP) and Forest Jahnke of the Crawford Stewardship Project (CSP) both spoke in favor of increased permit fees and bonding as well.
It seemed almost everyone brought up the topic of local control – either to ask for more or to celebrate the fact that ATCP51 had largely eliminated it.
Almost uniformly the producers and Farm Bureau representatives present felt that “the current law is working well” and that “going back” to more local control was a bad idea.
“Allowing local government to use a check list for inspections would lead to inconsistency in enforcement of the law,” Robert Nigh of Viroqua said.
Duane Chapman, Tomah fourth generation dairy farmer expressed that “the law is working very well,” as did Jim Mlsna of Ocooch Mountain Dairy, a 600-head dairy near Hillsboro.
Robert Kufolk of Norwalk in Monroe County has been fighting the expansion of the Hawk High Dairy CAFO in his township.
“The problem with local control is the good ole boy syndrome,” he said.
Among concerned citizens present at the meeting, the calls for increased local control were unanimous.
“The hydrogeology of our state is too varied for a one-size-fits-all livestock facility siting law,” Edie Ehlert, President of the CSP board said. “We need local control to be able to act to protect public health and safety in our local areas.”
Ken Cornish of Steuben, a close neighbor to the proposed expanded Roth Feeder Pig CAFO also objected to the one-size-fits-all approach.
“The current rule prohibits local control and basically assumes that the whole state has identical hydrogeology,” Cornish said. “This is bad conservation management.”
Cornish, like many other citizens present, said that the Driftless Region is hydrogeologically sensitive, and statewide water quality goals cannot be met here without special sensitive area revisions to rules governing agriculture.
Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, retired professor of earth and environmental sciences, has been studying the Driftless Region’s hydrogeology since 1972.
“Our area is underlain by a fractured limestone and dolomite geology with shallow soils overtop, and this makes our groundwater extremely vulnerable to contamination,” Rodolfo said. “Once our area’s groundwater is polluted, it is polluted forever, and fluid manure impoundments should not be allowed on top of geology like ours.”
Retired dairy farmer Robert Kufolk of Norwalk seemed to agree with Rodolfo.
“In a sensitive area like the Driftless, there may be some farm expansions that are just not possible,” Kufolk said.
Irv Balto of Chaseburg in Vernon County testified that he agreed with Dr. Rodolfo, and talked about the flooding in recent years in the Coon Creek Watershed.
“We’ve lived through two 500-year floods in the last two years along Coon Creek,” Balto said. “With the increasing severity and unpredictability of the rainfall in recent years, we simply can’t afford to have CAFOs in the Driftless Region.”
All of the producers present opposed increased inspections for manure storage facilities, and none called for more money for enforcement of the current rules.
Forest Jahnke of CSP spoke in support of inspections for manure structures being undertaken when the structures are emptied.
Robert Kufolk of Norwalk observed that the DNR enforcement of WPDES permit violations has been “eviscerated,” and stated that he is petitioning Governor Evers for a statewide CAFO moratorium.
Donna Swanson of Platteville said that manure structure inspections should be on the same schedule as inspections of Private Onsite Waste Treatment Systems (POWTS), also known as septic systems – every three years.
Setback distances from property lines for location of livestock facilities is a big change proposed in the rule revision. The proposal is to increase the setback from a property line for a facility with 2,500 or more animal units to 200-300 feet.
Farm Bureau’s Robert Nigh objected to the setback proposal because “DATCP hasn’t quantified the impact of this new rule on producers for existing facilities, or for expansions.”
Farmer Joe Bragger from Buffalo County expressed opposition to the proposed setback part of the rule.
“In the Driftless Region it is already very difficult to find an appropriate building site,” Bragger said.
CSP’s Forest Jahnke testified that he did not think the proposed setbacks are great enough, and would like to see even larger setbacks. RSPs Connie Champnoise, Platteville’s Donna Swanson and CSPs Edie Ehlert concurred.
Jon Zander of Compeer Financial described the setback proposals as a “massive shift.”
Jim Mlsna objected to the proposed setback changes, and posed this question, “Does a farmer have the right to require setbacks of structures on the land of non-farmer neighbors?”
Runoff, wells and odors
Robert Nigh of the Farm Bureau objected to the proposed update of the runoff standards in ATCP51 for feed storage structures and animal lots to the 2016 NRCS 635 and 2017 NRCS 629 technical standard except that use of vegetated treatment areas would be allowed for existing structures.
“The proposed rules are inconsistent with other standards such as the federal Clean Water Act and state DNR standards,” Nigh said.
Edie Ehlert of CSP stated that basically the law as it currently exists results in too much manure being spread on too little land.
Margie Webster of LaCrosse stated that a CAFO’s WPDES permit should have to show all the parcels where manure from the facility would be spread, and include a copy of the signed lease for the land.
Donna Swanson of Platteville noted that the byproducts of CAFOs – odors and runoff – don’t stop at the property lines, and therefore more regulations are needed.
Most agreed that runoff from livestock facilities and land where manure is spread is primarily a threat to groundwater and surface water.
RSPs Connie Champnoise, CSPs Forest Jahnke, and Chaseburg farmer Sarah Korte called for baseline testing of all wells on properties surrounding a CAFO prior to the facility beginning operations. In addition, the three called for regular, subsidized testing of the same wells periodically after operation has commenced, and for mandatory monitoring wells on the facility itself and on fields where the manure would be spread.
Basically all producers who testified opposed the proposed revisions to the odor standard, stating that “the current rule is working well.”
Other citizens present expressed support for the revisions, citing the potential negative health impacts from hydrogen sulfide and ammonia for children and people with asthma or other respiratory system problems.
Once the hearings are completed, then there will be several more steps in the process before any proposed revisions could be sent to the state legislature for approval:
• Written comments on the rule will be accepted until Friday, September 13, and can be submitted via e-mail to email@example.com, or by mail to DATCP, Attn: Chris Clayton, P.O. Box 8911, Madison, WI 53708
• In October 2019, DATCP will prepare the final draft of the rule based on comments received at the public hearings
• In November 2019, the draft rule will be presented to the DATCP Board for approval
• In December 2019, the rule, if approved by the DATCP board, will be sent to the Governor for approval• In January 2020, the rule if approved by the Governor, will go to the Wisconsin State Legislature for approval.