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Marietta Township citizens discuss Roth Feeder Pig expansion plans
AV Roth
HOG CAFO OWNER AV Roth presented his case for construction of an expanison of his facility in the Town of Marietta Monday night. He currently operates Roth Feeder Pigs on his home farm in Wauzeka Township, where he farrows hogs to raise weanling pigs. The dog directly behind Roth is a service dog belonging to someone attending the meeting.

MARIETTA TOWNSHIP - A special of the Marietta Town Board called for the purpose of public input on a proposed expansion of the Roth Feeder Pig hog confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) on Monday, July 15, drew almost 60 concerned citizens.

The proposed expansion would be located on land previously owned by CAFO owner AV Roth’s uncle in Marietta Township. The property is accessed off of Harvest Lane.

Roth, the operator of the only CAFO in Crawford County, appeared to answer questions from those in attendance. Roth’s current operation is located in Wauzeka Township, and is a 3,000-head farrow-to-wean operation that also grows more than 800 acres of corn and soybeans.

“I’m a fifth generation Crawford County farmer, and my mother taught in the Boscobel Schools for 30 years,” Roth said in his introduction. “Currently, I am in the exploratory process, getting soil samples, and from there I will pursue acquiring the necessary permits from the town, the county and the DNR.”

Forest Jahnke of Crawford Stewardship Project (CSP) also made a presentation to the group and answered questions from meeting participants. He explained that CSP has spent the last 10 years advocating for local control and sustainable use of land and water.

“I am thankful that AV was willing to come here tonight and discuss his developing plans to build a 10,000 animal unit hog CAFO in Marietta Township,” Jahnke said. “He is under no obligation to do so.”

In his presentation, Jahnke reported on results from surface water quality monitoring of two creeks in southern Crawford County. Boydtown Creek is in the immediate area of Roth’s current operation. E.coli readings in the surface waters of Boydtown and Richland Creeks in Crawford County were measured by Crawford Stewardship Project (CSP) in the month of October 2018 at 82,000 and 19,000 colony-forming units respectively.

“To put that in perspective, the average E.coli reading for a body of surface water should not be over 126 colony forming units,” Forest Jahnke of the Crawford Stewardship Pro-jest told members of the Crawford County Land and Water Conservation Com-mite on Tuesday, Nov. 13. “E.coli readings in bodies of surface water should never go above 410 colony forming units more than 10 percent of the time, and in other parts of the state, if a reading reaches 750 they’ll issue an advisory, and if it goes above 1,000, measures such as closing of beaches are implemented.”

AV Roth asked Jahnke if CSP had done source testing of the E.coli in the water samples to determine what species the contamination had come from?

“We have not yet done that analysis,” Jahnke said. “But we plan to do so in the near future.”

Water quality

Many residents at the meeting expressed concerns about where the manure from the expanded operation would be spread, where the runoff from those fields would go, the sandy soils over fractured karst bedrock, and the possibility of further contamination of the Kickapoo River and nearby private wells.

“What about all the 100-year floods that we’ve been having, and all the runoff that has been coming down Kickapoo Valley Road?” one neighbor of the proposed facility asked. “The damage has been so bad that the county crews have been out on that road trying to make it passable. Where will all the runoff from the roof of your facility go?”

Roth responded that under the terms of his DNR permit he is required to check the forecast before spreading manure to ensure that no more than three-tenths of an inch of rain is in the forecast. He further explained that his permit requires land use around his facility such as grassed waterways and crops to ensure that the runoff from the roof of the facility will be contained.

The question was posed to Roth about how he can know enough about the forecast to make responsible manure-spreading decisions with the increasingly intense and unpredictable rainfalls the area has been receiving in recent years. The neighbor, a young man with a young family, studying sustainable management expressed concerns about health impacts for his young children.

“I have seven children, the youngest of which being just one year old,” Roth responded. “We drink the water from our farm, and I won’t do anything to your family that I won’t also do to mine.”

A neighbor pointed out, that all expressions of goodwill and personal responsibility aside, once the damage is done, it is done. “What will you do if there is contamination of the river and our wells?” he asked.

“If the contamination can be traced back to me, then it’s on me,” Roth said. “However, there are also other sources of fecal contamination in the Kickapoo River like when the Village of Gays Mills was legally allowed to dump raw sewage from their plant into the river during last August’s flooding.”

Numerous meeting participants expressed open skepticism about this statement, and one person stated that he believed that Roth’s insurance would never cover the costs of remediation and instead he would likely just file for bankruptcy.

Another neighbor asked if Roth was aware that there is a sinkhole on the property where he proposes to expand.

“Yes, I am aware of the sinkhole,” Roth said. “The DNR will require me to take that into account in the permitting and facility design process.”

In his comments Jahnke stated that he believes that agriculture and clean water can co-exist, but expressed concern about the size of the operation proposed on Harvest Lane.

“That ridge has a limestone cap with sinkholes, springs, a large cave, and steep slopes,” Jahnke said. “In recent surface water monitoring we have gotten bad results from the area near Harvest Lane and in Boydtown Creek. I encourage everyone in the area to test your well water before this facility is built in order to have a good baseline measurement of groundwater quality in its vicinity.”

Another neighbor asked if wells near the facility became contaminated, would Roth pay to have wells tested and new wells drilled if the contamination could be traced back to his operation?

Roth seemed taken aback by the question, but quickly responded.

“I’m not going to pay for everyone to get a new well drilled,” he said. “If contamination in a well can be clearly traced back to my operation, then I would pay for the testing and drilling.”

Water quantity issues were also raised as an issue. One resident explained that in a drought year, his well would at times go dry. Another participant asked Roth if he planned to operate a high capacity well for the new facility.

“It is not my plan at this time to open a high capacity well,” Roth said. “However, I can’t guarantee that I won’t decide to do so in the future.”

Property values

The possibility that proximity to the facility will cause neighboring landowners property values to plummet was a recurring concern.

“Our property is downhill from your proposed facility, and my wife is terrified that you’re going to do something to our property that we’ve spent the last 25 years building,” one neighbor told Roth. “Please just sell the land to some hunters – you’re going to ruin our property so you can increase your wealth.”

Another neighbor questioned Roth about what benefit Marietta Township would realize from Roth locating his expansion within its boundaries, and whether Roth was prepared to compensate landowners for losses in their property values?

“When I was expanding my operation in Wauzeka, residents in the area expressed all the same fears that you are bringing up now,” Roth said. “None of those fears were realized there and they won’t be here either.”

Roth stated that the Town of Marietta would benefit from his expansion to the tune of about $80,000 per year in increased property tax payments, along with creation of 20 family-supporting jobs. He further stated that when he heard from Wauzeka Township residents that they were going to have their properties reassessed to lower their property taxes based on the decrease in property values they anticipated, he asked the town to lower his property taxes as well, and was told “no.”

Roth cited a study from Minnesota, which he said documented that having property in proximity to a CAFO caused property values to increase.

One resident expressed the belief that Roth already had accumulated enough wealth, putting his neighbors at risk to serve his business interests.

“When is enough, enough?” the resident asked. 

“I do already make a good living, but I work with eight other families and have seven children,” Roth explained. “In 20 years, a 5,000-head operation may not be enough to support a family and you folks don’t understand what is happening. In 20 years a 5,000-head operation will seem tiny – we have to grow to feed the growing population of the planet.”

The Independent-Scout queried Roth if, by that logic, with seven children, the long range vision was to have seven times the number of hogs – 35,000 head.

“I like having my operation in Crawford County because there aren’t a lot of other hogs on the landscape and that reduces my chances of disease,” Roth said. “I would never put 35,000 head on this ridge, nor would I locate that many hogs in Crawford County.”

Another resident stated that the problem with Roth’s operation was the concentration of such a large number of hogs in one place.

“What we need is lots of small family farms, with the animals spread out over the landscape,” he said. “Let’s create jobs in our county by increasing the number of smaller farming operations.”

Roth queried meeting participants about how many hogs they thought he should have, and received answers like “200” or “none.”

“Would you rather I used my acres to grow pot,” Roth asked with a smile. “Maybe,” was the answer he received.

Manure handling

Roth received many questions about how the manure from the facility would be handled, where it would be spread, and how much increased traffic there would be on Harvest Lane. One resident brought up the recent manure spill in Vernon County at the Wild Rose Dairy – the second spill in less than two years. Others spoke of the ongoing situation in Kewaunee County.

“I am certain that the owners of Wild Rose Dairy never wanted to have even one, let alone two manure spills,” Roth said. “As far as Kewaunee County, I don’t want to get into that except to say that in that area the landscape is very flat with shallow depths of soil to bedrock – our area is different, and our main challenge is our steep hillsides which increase the likelihood of runoff.”

Roth pointed out that in the last 50 years, Wisconsin has lost 50 percent of its farm animals from the landscape.

“Back in the day, with little farm operations with dairy cattle and hogs spread all over the place, there were a lot less regulations and far worse problems with runoff and water quality than we have now,” Roth alleged. “Things have changed, and my system is designed not to pollute and I have to renew my permit every five years.”

Roth was queried about exactly where the manure from his proposed operation would be spread.

“I will decline to offer that information,” Roth said. “However, I am actively seeking land to spread on within three miles of the facility. I will continue to haul manure with trucks, go to a system of injection into the soil, and am also looking at employing hoses or ‘drag lines’ to transport the manure.”

There was much discussion of the system of having a manure lagoon with 180 days of storage capacity.

“I can’t spread in the winter, so I have to have storage – my permit will require me to have storage,” Roth said. “As far as going to a digester system, that would require a capital outlay that I would never recoup from its operation and digesters don’t remove the phosphorous from the end product anyhow.”

One resident expressed that having a large manure storage lagoon posed a risk to the community and water quality. “If you can’t afford to invest in safe handling of your manure, then you obviously don’t belong in the business you’re in.”

Roth also maintained adamantly that from the farmer’s perspective, manure was not a bad thing, but rather a valuable agricultural input containing nutrients, which promote soil health, and increased crop yields.

Odor and air quality

Many meeting participants were greatly concerned about the odors and decreases in air quality they believe will result from the facility.

“Your current operation is on the bottom lands,” one neighbor said. “Now when you’re up on top of the ridge, those odors are going to settle into the valley like the fog does, and hog manure smells vastly worse than dairy manure.”

Roth explained that he employs numerous measures to control odors, and that while there might be one or two days where neighbors and people driving by could smell his operation, most days there are no detectable odors. He said further, that going to a system of injecting the manure into the soil and using drag line hoses to transport the manure will greatly reduce the odors associated with spreading and keep heavy trucks off of town roads.

Roth explained that CSP had gotten the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to come to his farm and make an assessment of air quality impacts from his operation.

“They came out, and couldn’t even smell the facility from 200 yards away,” Roth explained. “They determined that my operation had no air quality violations.”

“AV won’t share with you who takes his manure, but I’m here to say that my three sons and I take a lot of the manure from his current facility,” Bob Mitchell said. “If you haven’t smelled it and don’t know where we’re spreading it, then I think that’s evidence that we’ve done a good job.”

One neighbor who lives across from Roth’s property on Harvest Lane voiced his concerns about air quality and his rural quality of life.

“I didn’t buy my land to farm it – I bought it for the quiet, because it is pristine, and for the beautiful view,” he said. “My kids want to build a home on the property, but one of my kids has asthma, so with your facility there, they probably won’t be able to do that.”

Another resident said that they had bought their land to live on after retirement.

“Now, with the stink of your farm, I probably won’t be able to do that, and I may not be able to sell my property for what I paid for it either.”

Roth estimated that traffic on Harvest Lane would be increased by about three-and-one-half trucks per week – two feed deliveries, and one gooseneck truck of piglets going out each week. He was not sure how many truckloads of manure would go out each week.

One neighbor asked for a ballpark estimate of how many acres Roth would require to spread the amount of manure from his proposed operation.

“Things are not totally firmed up yet,” Roth said. “But a ballpark estimate would be between 1,000 and 1,500 acres.”

Jahnke asked Roth if he would consider composting his manure, which he said would stabilize the nutrients and result in a valuable agricultural input for others to use.

“I’ve seen large operations that compost their manure, and it results in 10-acre rows of manure sitting on the surface,” Roth countered. “Composting will increase problems with odor, and the end product will have to be spread on the surface of the land, increasing the chance of runoff.”

Next steps

Citizens discussed what the town or the county could do to prevent Roth from building his operation. One member of the town board explained that the only real option they are aware of is for the town board to pass a moratorium on new CAFO construction in the township pending the outcome of a risks study.

CSP’s Jahnke further specified that this ordinance would have to be passed before Roth obtained his permit for the new operation. A moratorium would not affect current CAFO operations, but only limit permitting of new ones for the duration of the moratorium – typically 12 months.

Roth explained that for him the first step is the soil testing to determine where he could construct his facility, and how much manure could be applied to the acres available. After that, he would be seeking a Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit from the DNR, a permit from the county, and a permit from the town to construct his facility.

Residents asked how much the DNR was involved before construction of his facility in Wauzeka, and what kind of monitoring and enforcement there had been since.

“Before I expanded in Wauzeka Township, I had 17 visits from the DNR,” Roth said. “Since then, I have received only two visits and four letters of non-compliance. Three of the letters related to me filing my annual report late, and one related to a mistake in calculation of manure spreading using SNAP Plus software, which was quickly resolved.”

Another resident asked if the township could pass an ordinance to be able to locally monitor the facility and enforce the permit.

“When the State of Wisconsin passed the Livestock Facility Siting Law or ATCP 51, counties and towns were given the option to adopt the same standards,” Roth explained. “Crawford County adopted those standards, so the town can pass an ordinance, but it can’t be more restrictive than the state standards.”

Roth told the board that the results of his soil sample tests would be available in about a month. Therefore, the town board decided to put the matter on the agenda of their August town board meeting. That meeting is scheduled to take place at the Marietta Town Hall, 45550 Maple Ridge Road, on Monday, August 19, 7 p.m. It is open to the public.

Based on a suggestion from Jahnke, the board also agreed to place the topic of forming a citizen advisory group to assist the town board in moving forward with this issue, on the agenda of their Monday, July 22 town board meeting.

Marietta Town Supervisor Teddy Beinborn requested that AV Roth share the results of his soil testing with the town board. He also requested CSP’s Forest Jahnke to share his surface water quality testing results, sinkhole mapping results, and any other information about karst geology and water quality that he could provide to the board.

AV Roth also shared that before his permit is approved, there will be a public hearing about his WPDES permit. He said that if more than two citizens of the county made the request, there could also be a public hearing regarding his permit from the county.