Broad support needed to defend clean water ruling

Our wells were polluted. Our creek – a state designated Exceptional Water Resource. – was polluted. Local ordinances that protected us were stripped away by a measure rushed into state law. At one point, everyone else had given up and gone home to a very unhealthy future.

We held our little group of neighbors together for 7 years. We held chili suppers, bake sales, raffles and passed the hat over and over. Elected and appointed town officials stood by us. A great law firm fought long and hard for our rights to protect the most valuable, most vital resource on Earth – clean water.

Finally, in December 2008, justice prevailed. A Rock County Circuit Court judge affirmed a rural township’s rights in Wisconsin to:

  • Condition a permit for a huge confined animal feeding operation,
  • Require farming practices, such as rotations of hay, that curtail pollution,
  • Protect well and surface water from nitrate damage,
  • Protect vital soils and farmland from phosphorus loading,
  • Enforce provisions grounded in scientific evidence and state and federal protections.

Our ruling is the first court challenge of Wisconsin’s infamous Livestock Facility Siting Law passed in just 6 weeks with only one public hearing in 2004. Our ruling establishes a tremendously important precedent for every town, city and county in the state, forbidden by that law from imposing conditions on permits for huge confined animal feeding operations. Our ruling provides local jurisdictions with a tool they can use to protect a natural resource without which no one in this state can live – clean water.

We are appealing now for public help to defend this ruling against appeal. Among our handful of rural citizens are elderly and retired farmers on fixed incomes, small-scale farmers, working families impacted by local factory closings in Wisconsin’s highest unemployment area. Our attorneys, Peter McKeever and Christa Westerberg of Garvey McNeil & McGillivray of Madison, have expended every effort in defense of our health and safety, fought tirelessly in behalf of our rural community and sacrificed much in the finest tradition of public service – for years.

What the Town of Magnolia and our Green-Rock Citizens for Clean Water have done will help everyone in this state protect their water from harmful industrial-scale livestock practices. This case serves notice that contaminating creeks, rivers and streams with nitrate; polluting drinking water in wells; saturating vital soils with phosphorus from year-round spreading of millions of gallons of liquid waste – none of this will be tolerated – unless we let it. This decision affirms rights of communities to condition permits for livestock facilities to help stop them from degrading our fragile natural resources.

Please help us mount a strong legal defense of this court ruling. We’ve been facing one of the largest law firms in the state and lobbyists for big-scale, industrial agricultural practices. We need financial support and help to defend this ruling against legal challenges.

Send donations to Green-Rock Audubon Society, c/o Nancy Bennett, President, 915 N. Garfield, Janesville, WI, 53545. Note on the check that it is for Green-Rock Citizens for Clean Water’s legal defense, or simply for Garvey McNeil & McGillivray.

  • More than 30 ppm nitrate in a well on the industrial-scale livestock property in question.
  • Only 4 ppm nitrate upstream, but 250 ppm nitrate in Norwegian Creek – a state designated Exceptional Water Resource – as it crosses the industrial scale livestock property in question.
  • Field samples showing phosphorus levels 5 times what they should be – levels that could easily take 15 to 20 years without any fertilizer application to return to normal – in thousands of acres receiving millions of gallons of liquid manure, year-round.
  • More than 2,500 pages of scientific findings, testimony and analysis; field reports, soil and water samples; all completely ignored by the state panel appointed to review the town’s permit, conditions and industrial operation’s appeal.
  • The rights of a rural neighborhood and their appointed and elected town officials to protect the health and safety of people, livestock, aquatic life from excessive nitrate in water and phosphorus loading in soil from millions of gallons of liquid manure.

This is what we are living with. Yet this could all very well be what your families, your rural communities, your water, your soil, your health find jeopardized without the protections of this court ruling. This case sets a precedent for interpreting state law and administrative rules.

It will be there for you when you have to defend your own health and safety in court against the large-scale livestock operations that are moving into our state with the help of this livestock facilities siting law. It will be there for you when high-paid attorneys and officials try to intimidate you, threaten you and tell you otherwise.

Please stand with us. We need your help to defend this ruling. For more information, contact Tony Ends, 910 Scotch Hill Road, Brodhead, WI 53520 tony@scotchhillfarm.com 608 897-4288.

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