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Roth Feeder Pig hearing sparks discussion of plan
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A public hearing to consider the five-year renewal of a WPDES (Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems) permit for the Roth Feeder Pig operation was held by the DNR in Wauzeka last Friday.

Roth is required to operate with a WPDES permit, addressing manure runoff and water quality, because the size of the operation defines it legally as a CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation).

The meeting held in the Wauzeka Village Hall was attended by about 40 people, including AV Roth and his family. Also in attendance were dozens of local residents, three officials of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and a nutrient management specialist hired by Roth.

Although there was cordiality at the meeting on behalf of everyone involved, there were definitely some differences of opinion on the past performance of the Roth operation, its proposed Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) and the possibilities of expanding the operation.

An introduction to the hearing made by one of the DNR officials noted its purpose was to reissue the WPDES permit to Roth Feeder Pig. Testimony at the hearing was limited to five minutes and the first to comment was AV Roth.

Roth began by saying the operation is “my family farm built with blood and sweat.”

“Whatever you have to say, I’m listening,” Roth told those in the audience. “My ears are open and my number is in the book.”

The DNR officials explained that the WPDES permit was necessary because Roth’s operation exceed 1,000 animal units (each animal unit is equivalent to a 1,000-pounds). So neither the hogs nor the feeder pigs are considered animal units, but rather some part of animal unit. In all, Roth has 1,679 animal units, including the sows and weanling feeder pigs, as well as 70 beef cows and 70 calves.

Roth has told the DNR there are no plans to expand the operation.

Roth Feeder Pig had 395 days of manure storage space available and was only required to have 180 days worth of storage, according to the DNR. The Nutrient Management Plan indicated there would be 3.1 million gallons of liquid manure and 264 tons of solid manure produced annually. A DNR official explained there were six sample points on the farm testing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous in the manure.

Of the 573 spreadable acres available to Roth, 360 are owned and 185 are rented and 56 acres are prohibited from spreading manure because of high phosphorus levels, according to the DNR. Only 386 acres would be required to spread the manure that the NMP stated would be produced.

During the statement of 11 citizens in the audience, all but one urged further caution should be taken in reissuing a WPDES permit.

One of the first to testify was Wauzeka resident Ethel Drengberg, who acknowledged AV Roth and his family are “valued members of the community.” However, she went on to voice her environmental concern for the lower Wisconsin River and its importance to tourism as a place of beauty.

Drengberg said the manure was too much and neighbors of the operation were forced to live without opening their windows.

“The area is not known for its beauty, it's known for its stench,” she said.

In her testimony, Edie Ehlert, the President of the Crawford Stewardship Project, noted the particularly high phosphorous levels on some fields. She said there are 53 acres of fields with over 200-ppm (parts per million) that cannot receive more manure and 112 acres between 100 and 200-ppm.

It takes 50 to 100 years commonly to draw down phosphorous, Ehlert stated in quoting a soil expert. She asked for closer scrutiny by the DNR and the county conservation department.

Ellen Brooks, the secretary of the CSP board and a water quality monitor, testified about issues with surface water quality in streams near the Roth operation.

“CSP and the experts we hire and consult with have maintained for quite some time now that Roth Feeder Pig concentrates too many animals, producing too much manure, on too few acres,” Brooks testified.

Several speakers questioned why the most recent Roth NMP increased animal units by 35 percent and more than doubled the amount of liquid manure expected annually from 1,387,000 gallons in the previous NMP to 3,098,152 gallons in this one. They wondered whether this signaled an expansion in the size of the operation, despite statements from the DNR and Roth that there were no plans for an expansion.

CSP Coordinator Forest Jahnke discussed the changed environment the group was finding in working with the DNR on the issue of regulation of the Roth Feeder Pig operation.

The CSP Coordinator indicated the DNR did not work with the group to answer questions about the new Roth NMP as they had in the past.

“After the DNR found this year’s original Nutrient Management Plan to be incomplete, it took three requests, two supporting letters from attorneys with Midwest Environmental Advocates, and a full eleven weeks before the DNR finally provided CSP with the revised version of the NMP this past weekend,” Jahnke said.

AV Roth was recognized to make a final comment.

 “I appreciate every one of you for coming here,” Roth told those at the hearing. “You don’t think I care about this community and this river. I care about everyone here. I don’t want you to have issues with your groundwater or the water in the Wisconsin River.

“You guys are welcome anytime to come and talk to me,” Roth said. “I know some of you guys don’t agree with me, but I appreciate you came.”