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Organic egg facility proposed for Timber Coulee Creek valley
Egg Facility_Building Site
THE BUILDING SITE for the 18,000-bird organic egg facility being built in the Timber Coulee Creek valley, although not in the shoreland zoning area, is visibly very close to the creek and only narrowly out of areas regulated by zoning.

VERNON COUNTY - Shockwaves rippled through the trout fishing and conservation communities late last week when news of a planned 18,000-bird organic egg facility in the Timber Coulee Creek valley came to light. 

Egg Facility_Site Prep
FARMER LES REIMER has already begun site preparation for his family’s organic egg facility on Olstad Lane, in Vernon County’s Town of Coon.

Landowner Les Reimer has already begun site preparation for the barn, at the intersections of Olstad Road and Dogwood Lane in the Vernon County Town of Coon. Approval of a building permit was on the Town of Coon Board meeting agenda for Tuesday, July 21.

Egg Facility_Olstad Bridge
THE OLSTAD BRIDGE can be clearly seen in the lower left hand part of this picture, taken just above the site being prepared for Les Reimer’s organic egg facility.

A Facebook post from Mat Wagner Driftless Angler, reposted by Coulee Region Trout Unlimited, summed up what some of the concerns about the facility are:

“Anyone ever fished on the Olstad Bridge on the Timber Coulee? Well, the Town of Coon has approved the first steps to put a large confined chicken operation (curiously just below the threshold for regulation as a CAFO) in the valley. Yes we need farms, and yes we need food, BUT we also need intelligent choices on where any kind of facility is placed. Watching the disaster of the Coon Creek floods in 2018 and knowing it could happen again, putting in a large livestock facility in the path of high water is a terrible idea! Chicken manure is higher in phosphorus, nitrogen, and potassium than other livestock. A major pollutant to trout streams! Add to that the contamination of wells with the high levels of E. coli and Samonella (and potentially arsenic and copper) that these facilities leach, and you have a multi-layered recipe for disaster! Not to mention the stench that will devastate property values and ruin the appeal of the valley.

“Please write to the Town of Coon supervisor Orlan Bakkum and tell him how important the fishing is, and the negative impact a large facility will have in the area. Please keep your letters and notes polite. Chairman: Orlan Bakkum, 608-452-3370, e-mail:"

Egg Facility_Biggie
TIMBER COULEE CREEK is classified as an ‘Outstanding’ trout stream, and feeds into Coon Creek, which is classified as ‘Exceptional.

Timber Coulee Creek is classified by the Wisconsin DNR as an outstanding resource water, and feeds into Coon Creek, which is classified as exceptional. Coon Creek also has a storied history as the location of the nation’s first watershed project.

Egg Facility_Monument
THIS MONUMENT sits in the park in Coon Valley that was destroyed in the 2018 floods when three Monroe County flood control dams breached. The commemorative plaque, mounted on granite, survived the tsunami of water though many other things did not.

Since the 1970s, the creek has been the focus of numerous stream restoration efforts by the Wisconsin DNR, and private groups like Trout Unlimited.

Egg Facility_Rulland Coulee damage
RULLAND COULEE was heavily impacted when dams uphill breached after the 2018 rain event which caused catastrophic flooding in the Coon Creek wa-tershed. This image is captured uphill of the devastation, not far away from the egg facility being built on Olstad Lane.

Last, but not least, the area was inundated with catastrophic flooding in August of 2018 when three flood control dams in Monroe County breached after a catastrophic rainfall event. The breached dams sent a tsunami of water cascading into the watershed. For all these reasons, there is concern about the choice to locate an animal livestock operation in the valley.

Egg Facility_property
LES REIMER’S property, formerly owned by Martina Chamberlain, is in both Vernon and LaCrosse counties.

Landowners story

Les and Susie Reimer, and their three children moved from Manitoba, Canada to Vernon County with dreams of starting a family farming business that would allow Les to spend more time with his young family. In Canada, he had farmed beef cattle and grain, and worked construction on the side.

The Reimers purchased their property in the Timber Coulee Creek valley from organic dairy operator Martina Chamberlain. The property extends on both sides of the creek, in both Vernon and LaCrosse counties. Working with the Reimers in development of the facility are Ernie Peterson of Cashton Farm Supply and Eric Nottestad of the Genoa State Bank.

“We are peace-loving, Christian people,” Les Reimer said of his family. “Farmers are here to protect the environment, and it is farmers that allow anglers to have access to the trout streams. We want to be good neighbors and good community members.”

Egg Facility_DATCP worksheet

Facility specifics

The number of layers to be housed in the facility is 18,000. According to a DATCP worksheet for calculation of animal units, laying hens equal 0.01 animal units. This means that the facility will contain 180 animal units, below the threshold of 500 animal units, which would require a Livestock Facility Siting Permit from the county. It is also below the 1,000 animal unit threshold that would require a WPDES permit from the Wisconsin DNR.

Les Reimer says that he and Ernie Peterson are pursuing organic certification through MOSA, and that the eggs generated would be organic brown eggs. He said that the facility would generate 85 tons of dry litter per year, which would be moved out of the facility daily on a conveyor belt, and stored on a roofed concrete pad. 

The manure will be distributed to organic producers, of which he says he currently has five interested. One of the producers alone has indicated that they will take up to 200 tons. He says that there is between 300-400 acres of land available for spreading of the manure.

When asked about the expected mortality rate of birds in the facility, Reimer responded that it` would be “low.” These dead birds will also be part of the facility’s waste stream.

According to the Open Philanthropy website, the 60-week mortality rate for an egg-producing facility caged or cage-free is about five percent. So, by this calculation, the expected mortality rate of the facility would be 900-1,000 chickens per year, or 5,000 pounds at five pounds per bird, or two-and-one-half tons of dead poultry. 

Egg Facility_breached dam
A BREACHED DAM in the Monroe County headwaters of Coon Creek.
Egg Facility_Auxiliary Spillway
FRACTURED KARST ROCK where the dams join the hillsides were the source of the dam failures after the catastrophic rain event that impacted the Coon Creek watershed. The breached dams, the topic of a USDA-NRCS Wa-tershed Study, are still standing wide open.

Conservation concerns

As far as his conservation concerns with the siting of his facility, Reimer emphasized that the facility site was not inundated with flood waters in the August 2018 flood event as it sits 17 feet above the floodplain. He said the site is distant from Timber Coulee Creek, and in between is dense vegetative cover. He said they plan to plant trees around the facility to screen it from public view.

Regarding any air quality issues, Reimer said that the facility will be a dry barn, and will not generate a liquid slurry manure. He said that extra insulation is planned to help with odor control, and that the manure will not be sitting around for long.

Egg Facility_spawning area
THE ORANGE STAKE at the end of the site being prepped for Les Reimer’s organic egg facility sits just above the Dogwood Feeder, a trout spawning stream.

When questioned about the perennial flow feeder creek that runs just below the facility before joining with Timber Coulee Creek, Reimer responded that his children play in that creek and “have found no fish in it.” Some trout fishing enthusiasts say that the feeder is a trout spawning area, where trout are present in the autumn to lay their eggs.

“Farmers are here to grow the environment,” Reimer said. “Our facility will have a berm around the stream, and the manure will be contained.”

The Reimers said that they are very aware of the flooding history of the area, and had talked with their neighbors about the flood of August 2018.

“That was a 1,000-year flood,” Reimer said. “It’s very unlikely that any event of that magnitude will happen again in my lifetime.”


Questions have been raised about the facility, and whether its location makes it subject to either floodplain or shoreland zoning regulations. Others are concerned that it could be located in the hydraulic shadow of flood control dams in Monroe County, which would mean that floodplain zoning would apply. Another question is whether the size of the facility would mean that Reimer would be required to obtain a stormwater construction permit from the Wisconsin DNR. There is also concern about the facility’s proximity to a possible trout spawning waters, and questions have been asked about whether the Dogwood feeder is of concern to WDNR fisheries biologists as “trout water.”

Egg Facility_zoning map
VERNON COUNTY ZONING DEPARTMENT generated this map in their investigation which shows that the site of Les Reimer’s organic egg facility lies outside of the shoreland zoning area that they regulate.

The Vernon County Zoning Department provides the following information regarding development in areas governed by shoreland zoning:

1. A Land Use Permit is required for all development (remodeling, additions, excavating, filling, riprap, etc)

2. There are shoreland setback rules of 35’ feet and 75 feet from the Ordinary High Water Mark.

3. Expansion of a non-conforming use is allowed as follows: Horizontal (landward) or Vertical Expansion–only if principal structure equal to or greater than 35 feet from the Ordinary High-Water Mark. The expanded area must be beyond the 75-foot setback from the Ordinary High-Water Mark. Expansion is Limited to 200 square feet over the life of the structure.

4. Vertical expansion is limited to a height of 35 feet from the adjacent ground elevation.

5. Expansion requires the installation of a code complying septic system/holding tank.

6. Total impervious surface on a lot within the shoreland protection area is limited to 15 percent.

7. Floodplain/Shoreland Affidavit required to be filed with the Register of Deeds.

Because the facility is more than 75 feet from the ordinary high water mark, none of these rules apply.

“I have spent considerable time looking into this, and based on my findings the building site was not flooded in 2018, nor is it within the hydraulic shadow of any Vernon County flood control dams,” Vernon County Conservationist Ben Wojahn said. “I have been told that the site is small enough to not require a DNR construction stormwater permit, and it is not in the floodplain. Because of the number of animal units, it also doesn't require a livestock facility-siting permit. Last, our county zoning department doesn't believe that the facility will require an impervious surface analysis.”

Egg Facility_map of PL-566 dams
MAP OF PL-566 structures in the location of the breached dams with the highest rainfall totals during the August 28, 2018 rain event. The five breached dams are shown on the map. The upland areas draining to the sites are in the Oneota Dolomite (red). It has been estimated that 86 of the 89 PL-566 structures in Wisconsin are in the Jordan, St. Lawrence or Tunnel City formations (brown areas).
Egg Facility_Skogdalen Church
SKOGDALEN LUTHERAN CHURCH near the confluence of Rulland Coulee Creek and Timber Coulee Creek was heavily impacted when Monroe County flood control dams breached in the 2018 flooding. The church is located just up the valley from the site of Les Reimer’s organic egg facility.

Monroe County Conservationist Bob Micheel stated that he does not believe the hydraulic shadow of any of his county’s flood control dams “extends that far down into the valley.”

Brad Johnson, WDNR wastewater specialist said that only if the footprint of the facility were greater than one acre would a construction stormwater permit be required.

“If the site were one acre or more, then a construction stormwater permit would be required before construction could begin,” Johnson said. “In this process, we would conduct a review of the wetlands and would review the facility’s erosion control plan before issuing a permit.”

Johnson also said that another WDNR department would handle issues specifically related to trout water in the state. He said that he believed that there are special regulations that govern trout streams that are considered ‘outstanding’ or ‘exceptional.’

Egg Facility_Kirk Olson
KIRK OLSON, DNR Fisheries Biologist, is known by many for his fish shocking demonstrations such as this event put on by the Tainter Creek Watershed Council. He is joined at the event by retired DNR employee Dave Vetrano.

Since the Independent-Scoutwent to press with this story, Kirk Olson, WDNR Fisheries Biologist with the LaCrosse office had this to report about the ‘Dogwood Feeder’ tributary that runs just below the chicken facility site:

“I surveyed the stream last week, since it currently is not classified as trout water and has never been sampled. Our survey indicates that, similar to the many other small Timber Coulee tributaries, it is an important site for juvenile rearing and may also be used for spawning,” Olson reported. “We captured 75 young of the year trout and one adult trout in 100 meters of stream using electrofishing equipment. In addition, the stream is an important source of cold water to Timber Coulee. It was running at 56 degrees farenheit when we sampled it last week, and 1.6 cubic feet per second (i.e. 718 gallons per minute).”

Egg Facility_Curry's damage pic
A NEIGHBOR of the facility who has been vocal in his opposition captured this photo of the extent of the area in the Timber Coulee Creek bottom impacted by the 2018 floods shortly after the flood event.

A neighbor’s concerns

A neighbor of the facility, just to the west on Olstad Road, has been quite vocal in his opposition to the siting of the facility.

“Les Reimer is being played by Ernie Peterson,” the neighbor said. “All the locals know that property was under water in the August 2018 flood. Since the last floodplain survey in 1996, there have been three 100-year floods in the valley.”

The neighbor expressed that he believes the Reimers are “seeking the facility at the expense of their neighbors.” He said they have been attempting a public relations campaign, writing letters to their neighbors. He said he had received one such communication himself.

“Aside from my concerns about surface water quality, I am also concerned about odors, air quality issues from the ammonia, and the noise that will come from the constant running of the facility’s fans,” he said. “The manure will be picked up three times per week, which will mean lots of truck traffic on a town road that is not up to that level of traffic. Nor are the required setbacks from the town road being observed.”

The neighbor questioned why the Reimers had chosen to locate the facility in the Vernon County versus the LaCrosse County portion of their property.

“On the Vernon County side, it is all low land along the creek, and there are lots of neighbors,” he said. “On the LaCrosse County side there is higher ground, and no neighbors. I speculate that the decision was made based on the regulations they would face in attempting to locate the facility in LaCrosse County.”

The neighbor is concerned about the increasingly large and frequent rainfalls the area has experienced in the last decade.

“With all these large rains, there is no way that there is not going to be runoff, and the Reimers weren’t here in 2018 to see what happened,” he said. “In every business venture there is risk and reward – in this case the reward is all for one family, and the risk is that if there is a failure, a whole ecosystem could be destroyed. Further, neighbors of the facility face a decrease in their property values, and the township faces overuse of their road.”

The neighbor said that in the 2018 flood, his driveway was completely washed out, and the first floor of the Reimer’s home was completely under water. He pointed out that not all of the water that contributes to flooding comes from upstream.

“In 2018, the dry runs coming off the hillside above were all full of water,” he said. “The hillside is just barely above the site of the facility, with a spring-fed feeder creek that comes off the hillside and runs just below it. I think it’s possible that the 2018 rain event would have swept the whole facility off the hillside.”

The neighbor emphasized that he grew up on a farm in northern Illinois, where his family raised chickens and goats.

“I’m not against agriculture, but the Driftless Region is just special and different,” he said. “Buying my land and building my cabin along Timber Coulee Creek was my dream, and the Reimers are stealing the joy from my life.”

The neighbor said that he believes that if the community were polled about whether they want the facility placed where it is, they would reject it. He said that there is no reason to build in the valley, and the facility should be located up on a ridge.

Egg Facility_Neprud
THE NEPRUD PROPERTY, just down valley from Les Reimer’s organic egg facility, along Coon Creek, has been the site of DNR, U.S. Fish & Wildlife, and Trout Unlimted stream restora-tion efforts since the 1980s.

“Why risk one of the most celebrated trout streams in the Midwest?” he asked. “Just downsteam on Coon Creek, the WDNR has put huge resources into preserving and protecting Coon Creek at the Neprud property.”

He said that basically “we can all recognize when something is out of place.”  He said that at this point, it all comes down to the town board, with Ernie Peterson and Eric Nottestad pushing them to approve the building permit.

“I am extremely disappointed – my wife and I have two cute kids too – why is one family more important than another family?” he asked. “And the only way that we’ll know for sure that this facility is a disaster is after it becomes a disaster.”

The neighbor said that this all hinges on the romantic notion about organic agriculture, but he says that the rules for organic livestock agriculture have been so weakened that it is basically a complete fallacy. He said that if the Reimers had proposed to build a battery factory, or a strip club, or a pot farm, then everyone would be all up in arms.

He pointed out that “the only real economic growth Vernon County has seen in recent years comes from trout fishing. He asked why an agricultural operation like this should be allowed to be sited in a way that threatens that economic resource.

“Believe me, if my property value is injured, I will sue,” he said. “I know that the ‘Right to Farm’ and the nuisance laws are stacked against me, but that’s why it’s the right job for a person who has the time and the money to pursue it.”