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Marietta town board tables agenda items relating to moratorium
Meeting in Marietta Town Hall
THE MOST RECENT Marietta Town Board meeting drew quite a crowd on Monday, Nov. 18. The reason citizens showed up in such numbers was an agenda item that called for consideration of whether to rescind the town’s CAFO moratorium.

MARIETTA TOWNSHIP - Over 50 citizens packed into the tiny Marietta Town Hall on Monday, Nov. 18 to offer public input on two items on the board’s agenda relating to the CAFO moratorium passed in August. Ultimately, the town board voted unanimously to table consideration of and a decision on both agenda items.

Those two agenda items were:

• discuss/vote on whether to adopt livestock siting licensing on the town level

• discuss/vote on future of Ordinance 201901 Moratorium on Livestock Facilities

The board attempted to consider each of the two agenda items separately. However, public input at the meeting was primarily focused on the second item relating to whether the board would vote to rescind their moratorium.

AV Roth did speak to the question of whether the town board should take on responsibility for livestock facility siting at the township level.

“The county is already conducting livestock facility siting for Marietta Township,” AV Roth said. “The only money the town could collect to fund their siting efforts would be the $1,000 permit application fee an operator would pay. This would never be enough to pay for all the professionals that would have to be involved in administering the ordinance in the town – livestock facility siting is a very complicated program.”

Moratorium legality

The discussion about whether the township’s CAFO moratorium is legal, and whether the board should rescind it was the major focus of citizen input at the meeting. Most citizens present were there to speak in favor of the board upholding the moratorium.

Christine Roth stated that the information provided by DATCP at the study group’s last meeting had made it clear that the moratorium is not legal.

“At the first meeting held about this, Forest Jahnke told us that the town board could enact a moratorium because of language in ATCP 51 and because of village powers,” Christine Roth said. “Now the DATCP has told us that the board can only do this if they either enact an ordinance or zoning.”

Ken Cornish disagreed with Christine Roth, and contended that Wisconsin Statutes allow a municipality to adopt a moratorium ‘for planning purposes.’ This step can be taken, according to Cornish, before adopting zoning or other ordinances. The moratorium, according to Cornish, is allowed by DATCP to stand for up to two years.

Marietta Town Clerk Clifford Monroe stated that based on the opinion from the town’s attorney, Eileen Brownlee, “the moratorium as it stands holds no weight. Yes, the town has the authority to enact it, but if it was challenged in court, we would likely lose.”

Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) staff attorney Adam Voskuil, was in attendance at the meeting.

“The moratorium’s legal standing is not nothing,” Voskuil stated. “Legally it exists in an intermediate zone, and it is not clear that it would be struck down if it were to wind up in court.”

Marietta Town Board chairman Teddy Beinborn stated “the moratorium is in a legal grey area. We can keep it going for the purpose of fact finding, but for us it is kind of a ‘Catch 22’ situation.”

Monroe said that he had been in communication with Crawford County Conservationist David Troester. In that conversation, he stated, he had learned that the county “basically has no say for an operation of greater than 1,000 animal units as long as they have obtained a WPDES permit from the DNR.”

“The town or county’s authority to regulate an operation of greater than 1,000 animal units is only limited as relates to Livestock Facility Siting or ATCP 51,” MEA’s Voskuil said. “What is at issue for people in the township who oppose allowing AV Roth’s proposed facility to operate here is that they believe that more stringent standards are needed. If such standards were put in place, they would affect operators with more than 1,000 animal units as well.”

Father Simeon Gitlis from the St. Isaac of Skete monastery in rural Marietta Township was a new voice at the meeting. 

“We need to be talking about the manure containment structure for the proposed facility, and about its potential to leak,” Gitlis said. “With our area’s geology, if the groundwater becomes contaminated it would be permanently contaminated.”

Gitlis pointed out that most people in the township get their water from private wells. The monastery, he said, relies on well water to drink and for their animals. He stated that “it is wise for the town to spend the time to explore what the deeper ramifications of permitting such a facility would be for town residents.”

“What is the danger of keeping the moratorium in place and completing the study that is in progress?” Gitlis asked. “I think it is in the town’s interest to continue the study and gain the best understanding possible of the situation they are facing.”

Marietta Town resident Eric Porter offered his opinion.

“The county has a livestock facility siting ordinance, but no moratorium,” Porter said. “Abandoning the moratorium is basically giving up the town’s power to decide whether having a CAFO sited here is consistent with the health, safety and welfare of town residents.”

Crawford Stewardship Project’s Forest Jahnke asked the town board, “What is the danger of having the moratorium in place?”

Supervisor Reggie Lomas responded, “I’m not sure, but even with it in place, the county could still issue him a permit.” Lomas queried Jahnke about what was going on with the county adopting a moratorium.

“The Crawford County Land Conservation Committee will discuss a CAFO moratorium at their next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 3,” Jahnke said. “If the committee votes to recommend a moratorium, then it could go in front of the county board at their meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 17.”

“You would be sending the wrong message to the county board if you vote to rescind your moratorium,” Ken Cornish stated.

Supervisor Eric Sime moved that the board table both agenda items, with Supervisor Reggie Lomas seconding the motion.

“Lets wait and let the county have their meetings before we take these matters up again,” chairman Teddy Beinborn said.

After voting unanimously to table the agenda items the board confirmed that this decision means that the study group will continue to meet as planned. The next meeting of the study group will take place on Monday, Dec. 16, from 5-6:30 p.m., at the Marietta Town Hall.