CRAWFORD COUNTY - How much difference can a year can make? In December 2019, the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee voted to recommend to the Crawford County Board of Supervisors that they vote to enact a one-year CAFO moratorium. The moratorium would include a provision that it could be extended by the board for up to one more year.
In September of 2020, despite the fact the COVID-19 pandemic, delayed the Driftless Area Water Study, and prevented the Crawford County CAFO Study Group from meeting, the Land Conservation Committee voted not to recommend a one-year extension.
What is the difference? The most obvious difference is in the leadership of the committee. In 2019, the committee chairman was Buzz Esser, who has since retired. Another difference is that the current committee chairman Don Olson voted for the moratorium in 2019, and against its extension in 2020. Yet another difference is that Supervisor Wade Dull was absent for the 2019 vote, and present to vote for an extension in 2020.
When asked at the September 2020 meeting of the CAFO Study Group why he had voted against extension of the moratorium, chairman Don Olson had this to say:
“My vote was based on the one-year time limit, and we don’t have to have a reason,” Olson said. “But if you want to know my reason, it is because I don’t think we should stand in his [AV Roth’s] way if his operation is okay with state and federal laws.”
Land Conservation Committee member Kim Moret’s vote against enactment or an extension was the same in 2019 and 2020. When asked what her reason was, she had this to say:
“I voted the way I did to avoid a lawsuit that will cost the county taxpayers money we don’t have,” Moret said. “Do we want everyone to move out of our county because they can’t build a business here?”
But by far, the biggest difference in the two meetings is that County Board Chair Tom Cornford, who never or rarely attends Land Conservation Committee meetings, was not present at the December 2019 meeting, but was present at the September 2020 meeting to cast the vote that prevented a 2-e2 tie.
What was the same at both meetings was that the motions to create a CAFO Moratorium, and to extend the moratorium for another 12 months, were both made by the Farm Services Agency (FSA) member of the Land Conservation Committee. In 2019 it was Don Dudenbostel, and in 2020 it was Bob Standorf.
Legality of mortorium
In December of 2019, the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee voted 3-1 to recommend passage of a one-year moratorium on permitting of livestock facilities with more than 1,000 animal units in the county at their December 2019 meeting.
Voting for the moratorium were Buzz Esser, Don Dudenbostel and Dave Olson; voting against the moratorium was Kim Moret. Wade Dull left that meeting before the vote was taken.
Committee Chair Buzz Esser had queried county corporate counsel Mark Peterson about whether a CAFO moratorium enacted by the county would be legal.
“If Crawford County were to enact a CAFO moratorium, they would be exercising a legitimate home rule authority,” Peterson said.
At the December 2019 meeting, Midwest Environmental Advocates attorney Adam Voskuil explained to the board why Crawford County Corporate Counsel Mark Peterson was correct about the legality of the moratorium, and signed off on the version that allowed for up to a 12-month extension:
“I’d like to point out that the county is acting within its authority by passing a moratorium which gives time for Crawford County to create local regulations in accordance with ATCP 51,” Voskuil said. “A moratorium is not a permanent ban, but instead an opportunity to fully review scientific studies and create more stringent standards that protect public health, safety, and welfare.”
Moret’s legal advice
At every meeting of the CAFO Study Group, Crawford County dairy farmer Kim Moret has reminded the group that, in her opinion, Roth Feeder Pigs will sue the county if the CAFO Moratorium causes delay of approval of the County Livestock Facility Siting Permit.
“If AV sues the county, and the county loses, then the county will have to pay their legal bills and AV’s,” Moret has said repeatedly. “And now, a news article has come out that says that Polk County’s CAFO Moratorium is not legal, and that if the Polk County Board of Supervisors does not follow the law, they could be charged with felonies.”
Well, Moret was definitely appointed to the Study Group to ensure that farmer’s voices were heard in the process. She was likely not appointed to provide the Study Group with legal advice. Crawford County Corporate Counsel Mark Peterson has never participated in a CAFO Study Group Meeting, despite repeated acknowledgements that the group “needed legal advice.”
So, the county’s corporate counsel, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), and an attorney from Midwest Environmental Advocates all agree that the moratorium, and a one-year extension are completely legal. And, a local dairy farmer says it is not. What’s the significance of that?
Polk County situation
The article that Moret referred to involving Polk County’s CAFO Moratorium, was reporting only that Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce had recently sent the Polk County Board of Supervisors a letter which encouraged them not to vote for a one-year extension of their CAFO moratorium. It also made an implied threat that by enacting or extending a CAFO Moratorium, the supervisors were failing to follow the law, and could be charged with “felony ethics violations.”
According to an article by Danielle Kaeding of Wisconsin Public Radio, this is what happened in Polk County:
“One northern Wisconsin county's attempts to regulate large-scale hog farms has prompted agriculture and business groups to issue a letter warning board members they may face criminal charges.
“Environmental groups have condemned the move, calling it an act of intimidation.
“On Tuesday, Sept. 22, the Polk County Board weighed a pair of resolutions on whether to extend a moratorium on swine concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, and pass an amended land use ordinance that aims to require a conditional use permit for large-scale hog farms. The board voted down an extension of the moratorium, but it passed the amended ordinance.
“The county has been studying local regulation of swine CAFOs to protect the environment and public health in response to a proposed large-scale hog farm in nearby Burnett County.
“The proposals prompted groups like the state's powerful business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance and Venture Dairy Cooperative, to send a warning letter prior to the board's meeting. They argued approving the measures could be seen as misconduct in public office, which they noted is a felony offense under state law.”
"’We're really just asking them to follow the law,’ said Kim Bremmer, the cooperative's executive director.
“The groups contend the law does not allow a county to pass a moratorium on livestock siting with limited exceptions, and that a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision has ruled local regulation of livestock siting is preempted by state law.
Kaeding’s article continues:
“Midwest Environmental Advocates spokesperson Peg Sheaffer said the groups' letter was outrageous and represented the ‘epitome of bullying.’
"’For supervisors to re-ceive this kind of a threaten-ing letter hours before they are to vote on an issue, you know, a letter that implies that somehow they are go-ing to be behaving in an unlawful way and possibly even according to the letter committing a felony — it's just absurd,’ said Sheaffer.
“Sheaffer noted the law allows local officials to enact provisions that seek to protect the health and safety of the community.
Midwest Environmental Advocates Attorney Adam Voskuil responded to WMC’s letter. On September 15, he communicated the following to the chairman of the Polk County Board of Supervisors:
“MEA disputes recent threats of criminal, felony liability flowing from County Board members’ CAFO regulation votes. This allegation is outrageous and is best viewed as an attempt to bully local representatives who are seeking to serve their communities. The legality of a local ordinance is not decided by a criminal trial. The fact is the authors of the September 14 letter to Chairman Nelson do not and cannot point to any precedent for a local official being charged in a similar situation because their mention of criminal statutes is a hollow gesture meant to intimidate you. In truth, it is within your authority and responsibility as a local government official to consider whether existing state and county regulations adequately protect your constituents in light of the unique environmental, topographic, and related conditions in Polk County.”
The WPR story continued, with a discussion of WMC’s point of view on the topic:
“Cory Fish, general coun-sel for WMC, argued the letter was meant to be in-formative, and added that the state informed the county that conditions within the ordinance must be based on science and show standards are needed to protect health and safety.
“When asked whether the groups would pursue a legal challenge, WMC's Fish said they're keeping all options open.
“Polk County Board Chair Chris Nelson wasn't concerned about the letter. He said various outside groups, whether they're seeking to protect the environment or producers' right to farm, have been trying to influence the local process.”
"’I'm very comfortable that our board is operating within the legal bounds and state statutes, and following our oath of office,’ said Nelson.
“Nelson said the county experienced challenges creating local regulations in line with what residents wanted because they were at odds with state law.
“The board passed an amended land use ordinance on September 22, directing the county's environmental services committee to continue work to refine it. The board also directed its Health and Human Services Board to continue work on a CAFO operations ordinance.”
The Crawford County CAFO Study Group’s September 24 meeting started with a presentation of the results of the ‘Community CAFO Dialogue’ heard earlier in the month. Those results have already been reported on in the Independent-Scout, and the final version is available online at: https://crawford.extension.wisc.edu/files/2020/09/CAFO-Moratorium-Study-Committee-COMMUNITY-DIALOGUE-Report-1.pdf
Crawford County UW-Extension Community Development Educator Jessica Jane Spayde, who had facilitated the dialogue shared the results with the study group.
“I am going to need help responding to all the concerns in this dialogue report from you,” Spayde told the other members of the study group. “We’re going to need the study group to state its opinion on the issues raised.”
Study Group chair Don Olson said “if we were to address all the issues raised in your report, we would be meeting forever.”
Study Group member, farmer, Janet Widder disagreed with Olson.
“This report should have gone to the Land Conservation Committee before the vote on whether or not to extend the CAFO Moratorium,” Widder said. “I would be happy to help respond to the public.”
Dairy farmer and study group member Kim Moret had this to say about the dialogue:
“The day it was held was bad for farmers because it was sunny out,” Moret said. “Farmers are sick of being bullied.”
“We can’t change the county or state requirements regarding livestock facility siting,” chairman Olson said. “And we can’t change the legal issues.”
What legal issues? Perhaps members of the Study Group, Land Conservation Committee or County Board have received legal counsel that they are not reporting, but are acting on? It’s all a little unclear.
“Roth has high-powered attorneys, and the county can’t afford a lawsuit,” Moret said. “If the Town of Marietta won’t enact zoning, then Roth can do what he likes.”
Janet Widder responded to Kim Moret:
“Kim, your fear-mongering at every meeting, trying to make us scared of a lawsuit, is annoying,” Widder said. “We do need legal advice, but the county’s corporate counsel is not present, nor is legal counsel on our agenda.”
Spayde asked Moret and Olson if they were going to read the report, or if their mind was made up.
“At the last Land Conservation Committee meeting we voted not to recommend extension of the CAFO Moratorium,” Olson said. “It will not be put back on the committee’s agenda for another vote.”
At their September 16 meeting, the Crawford County Health Board took up a ‘Health Board Discussion on CAFO Moratorium’ agenda item. County Public Health Director Cindy Riniker also sits on the Crawford County CAFO Study Group.
According to the unapproved draft of the meeting minutes, the health board’s discussion went as follows:
Public Health supported an extension of the [CAFO] Moratorium due to delay of groundwater study and meetings due to COVID.
[The] Land Conservation Committee did vote [down recommending an extension].
[The CAFO Study Group] will be providing a report to the [Crawford County] Board in October. Public Health will be providing input to that report.
Question about Public Health Committee taking this to the entire County Board. Discussion around this. No action taken.
Jessica Jane Spayde, CAFO Study Group member, indicated that she plans to report at the next Crawford County Agriculture and Extension Education Committee meeting as follows:
“I plan to inform the committee that the Community CAFO Dialogue was among the many things that I have accomplished in two months since the committee last met,” Spayde said. “At that time, I will ask them if they want to respond to the results of the dialogue, or take any action about them.”
The Crawford County Agriculture and Extension Education Committee meeting will take place on Thursday, Oct. 1, at 10 a.m. or immediately following the Fair Committee Meeting. County board supervisors who sit on the committee include: Wade Dull (chair), Mary Kuhn, Dave Olson, Don Stirling and Wayne Jerrett.
To join the meeting:
• Join by phone +1 312 626 6799 (Chicago)
• Join Zoom Meeting electronically: https://uwmadison.zoom.us/j/95814565686?pwd=OGNRemNzelM0a1AwalZnb05GbDlSUT09
• Meeting ID: 958 1456 5686
• Password: crawford
After hearing Olson’s refusal to consider the results of the dialogue, or to consider a re-vote at the next Land Conservation Committee meeting, the Study Group’s attention turned to how they would generate and approve their report to the Crawford County Board. The report is due to the board at their October meeting.
The following timeline was agreed upon:
• October 8: all submissions for report compiled
• October 9: meeting of Study Group to consider the draft report at 9 a.m.• October 13: present final draft of report to Land Conservation Committee