Bradford Planning and Zoning Board
c/o Town Attorney
I am not intimidated nor deterred by the comments Mr. Crass made to you Monday night at your town’s public hearing. I repudiate his assertion that I have no right to comment on the 5,000-animal unit conditional use permit you are deliberating.
The proposed facility will impact all of Rock County and beyond. As a Rock County resident of 18 years responding to both phone and written requests from Bradford town residents, I have a right to address the proposed application as much as the Nebraskan CUP applicant and prospective absentee owner of the dairy operation or his Milwaukee legal representative.
The volume of liquid manure being generated by the proposed facility in Bradford Township is identical to that of the 5,000-animal unit facility now licensed in my vicinity of Western Rock County. DNR and DATCP permit procedures and requirements for such a CAFO as you are deliberating in your township are identical to that of Larson Acres Inc. in Western Rock County. The process and its implications, which we residents of Western Rock County have faced for 9 years in relationship to (a) state permitting of CAFOs, (b) supposed protections of public health and safety, and (c) very real environmental risks and certain outcomes associated with manure generation and applications of this size, are the same for Bradford and Magnolia townships.
For nearly 5 years, I assisted agronomists, soil scientists and educators as a grant writer and communications coordinator for a school for sustainable agriculture research and education. I prepared literature reviews on nutrient management and organic matter budgeting. I recruited farmers and collaborative agencies to take part in on-farm applied research projects. I organized field days and outreach efforts. I both wrote and edited professional reports and publications.
I have a master’s degree in journalism and 14 years of newspaper experience, in addition to 16 years of farming experience. I am qualified and competent to give comment on agriculture in general. I also have direct experience with industrial scale livestock production in Rock County and the evolution and outcomes of the state’s Large Scale Livestock Facility Siting law, its application checklist, technical guidelines, appeals process and litigation.
As I said to you Monday night, I carry no ill will against any farmer, big or small. With my family, I depend on farming for our livelihood. It is our business. It is our vocation. We’ve advocated for farm families in three states. We’ve actively supported our farm neighbors in southern Wisconsin. My wife serves on an agriculture coalition’s board of directors in central Wisconsin. We both serve on the state line Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training and Farm Beginnings steering committee. We’ve been active in town, county and state 4-H programs for 16 years.
I’ve shared my direct experience with both the state’s livestock facility siting law in general and with Larson Acres Inc. in particular, as regards my rural neighborhood in western Rock County. I have respect for members of the Larson family. I respect the hard work and sacrifice they surely make to maintain a farming business in these difficult times. I do not want my comments to reflect negatively on them in any personal way. I find it tragic that everywhere in Wisconsin we are in conflict in our countryside as a result of this 2004 law.
Yet the record, the scientific evidence, the events and documentation that are unfolding as a result of passage in 2004 of the livestock facility siting law compel me to speak. Clearly, this law has set us on a course with dangerous implications. Consider the facts surrounding this case involving the Town of Magnolia and Larson Acres under the new law. It is a portent of what is to come upon us all, everywhere in Wisconsin, as a result of this law’s uniform set of procedures
I witnessed in 2007, a step-by-step presentation for Larson Acres by a state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection staff member to Magnolia’s Town Board of Supervisors. That DATCP staff member described every element of the checklist for completing a permit application to construct a large-scale confined animal feeding operation under the new state law. He told the local town board that Larson Acres had met every letter of the law under the new permit process for siting a 1500-animal-unit heifer operation on County Hwy B in their township. He urged the town board to grant a conditional use permit to Larson Acres for this facility. He advised them that they could not deny Larson Acres a permit under the new law.
At that very moment, however, the town was receiving and gathering information on Larson Acres Inc. from soil and water scientist Dr. Byron Shaw, aquatic ecologist and bio-geochemist Professor Emily Stanley, hydrologist and aquatic biologist David Marshall, retired lab manager from the Environmental Chemistry and Technology Program at the UW-Madison Philip J. Emmling, and hydro-geologist Peter Taglia.
These respected scientists studied Larson Acres’ crop records and soil samples. They tested wells, surface water and drain tiles at Larson Acre’s heifer operation and in the vicinity. They carefully evaluated agronomy, health, safety, local geology and soils at the operation’s quarter-mile long dry cow feeding barn and massive slurry, built to accumulate more than 6 million gallons of manure every 300 days.
Their evidence and analysis formed the basis for more than 2,500 pages of public record. It showed well water readings of up to and more than 30 ppm nitrate. It showed creek water readings of more than 200 ppm nitrate and field tile readings of more than 100 ppm nitrate. Water upstream from the property tested under 4 ppm nitrate.
Federal water standards tell us that 10 ppm nitrate, which can starve the body of oxygen in the blood stream much as it starves aquatic life of oxygen in surface water, is unsafe to drink. The U.S. Geological Survey and state Department of Natural Resources tested 240 streams around Wisconsin and found an average of only 2 ppm nitrate between 2001 and 2003.
Nitrate levels that scientists were finding at Larson Acres’ heifer operation in Magnolia Township, were not only abnormal. They were, they are, lethal. The operation had been incorporating millions of gallons of liquid manure in fall and spring ahead of its conditional use permit under the new state law. Both Shaw and Stanley, emeritus and sitting professors of the University of Wisconsin, told the town what they were finding at Larson Acres was the most serious pollution they had seen in their academic and professional careers.
Nitrate pollution’s health impacts include Blue Baby syndrome, developmental and birth defects. It is affiliated with forms of cancer, such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and bladder cancers. Risks to other organisms, including livestock, are slowed growth, slowed body functions that can result in stillbirth and even death.
Dr. Shaw told the local board that Larson Acres’ field records and soil samples showed phosphorus levels more than 5 times what they should have been on more than half its land base. He said it could easily take 18 years of letting the soil completely rest, with no fertilizer or manure applications whatsoever, for crops to take up that much phosphorus and return levels safely to normal. He said this indicated too much nitrate had been applied to the same land.
While the town of Magnolia believed it had enough evidence to refuse the livestock facility siting permit for the application that DATCP said met every letter of the new law, the town granted the permit with 7 simple conditions. Larson Acres Inc. refused to submit to those conditions and appealed to the state’s new livestock facility siting review board.
I attended the one day of open deliberation this new board gave Larson Acres’ appeal and the town’s evidence. The review board held no open discussion of any details in the town’s 2,500 pages of evidence. They granted no party a chance to speak. They asked no questions of town officials in attendance. In a single, daylong public review of Larson Acres’ appeal in July 2007, the words “public health” were uttered only once. Only passing references admitted “problems” at Larson Acres, and several review board members even belittled and scoffed at local residents.
The review panel members struck down the Town of Magnolia’s attempts to condition Larson Acres livestock facility siting permit. They refused to allow the town to have Larson Acres:
Stop fall manure application on its tile drained and upland fields till nitrate pollution stops.
Set up regular water monitoring and annual soil testing on the property,
Replace its plan to plant field corn (the most prone crop to leak nitrate into water) continuously in its manure application area, with wider rotation of hay (the least likely cropping system to leach nitrate).
While a Rock County Circuit Court judge sided thereafter with the town’s right to condition Larson Acres given the weight of evidence of environmental damage, the extensive statutory standing of a town to enforce water protection and public safety, a state appeals court struck down this ruling with a very narrow interpretation. The Town of Magnolia and our local citizens have petitioned for Supreme Court review of this decision.
Regardless of the outcome of our situation in Rock County, I urge the citizens, elected and appointed public servants of your town to be vigilant in protecting your residents and their health and safety. From our experience with state agencies given severe budget shortfalls and staff cutbacks, I do not believe anyone from any level of government is going to protect you from environmental damage and harm resulting from CAFO operation in your township.
The pollution here documented, in addition to a more than 30,000 gallon spill of liquid manure because a hose clamp broke, emergency spreading of liquid manure on frozen ground because of an overflowing slurry in winter, a game warden’s discovery of a trench running from a slurry directly into Allen Creek, all happened at Larson Acres in the past 10 years, all the while a DNR Waste Pollution Elimination Discharge Permit was in force – and all without sanction, penalty, or obvious public repercussion. Indeed, the DNR allowed the doubling of the dairy herd and extended a new permit to Larson Acres for another 5 years.
To protect your people, I urge you to take the following actions as regards any CAFO proposed for or operating in your community:
1) Consult an independent, qualified geologist and a soil and water scientist regarding the sub-soil of every inch of ground proposed for the manure application area in the land base identified for this proposed 5,000-animal unit facility.
2) Consult an independent, qualified hydrologists regarding the ground water in the same area, and urge everyone affected by the proposed liquid manure application to obtain annual well water readings with a recognized laboratory for nitrate and bacteria analysis.
3) Consult independent health experts regarding the public safety of the proposed CAFO and its manure applications.
4) Consult independent health experts regarding the public safety of the proposed CAFO and its manure applications.
5) Start a public fund and allow members of the public to make contributions to this fund for purposes of soil and water testing, document review, record review, proposal review and ongoing monitoring so that your town can afford to enlist assistance of qualified independent authorities and expert witnesses.
6) Ask for both documentation of adequate liability insurance and a bond to protect the town in the event of business failure, environmental disaster or negative health impacts resulting from this CAFO. Document the applicant’s response to these requests.
7) Start a local water monitoring and well testing effort township-wide immediately, building off the state DNR’s Water Action Volunteers program; recruit young and old, especially groups such as 4-H to help with ongoing water monitoring; establish base line data, records and nitrate and bacteria test results, especially in the vicinity of all proposed liquid manure applications from this facility; reclaim the public water ways as the public’s trust and vital resources;
8) Strengthen health and safety provisions and procedures of your ordinances.
9) Budget for enforcement, including inspection and litigation, to protect your water and air from pollution under state statutes and federal laws. Consult with the Town of Magnolia and its planning and zoning board on their related experience. Consult with their excellent attorney, Glenn Reynolds of Madison.
No one paid me to take the time to prepare these verbal and written comments for you. No one paid me to take the time to attend your public hearing earlier this week. I shall support you and your ongoing efforts to protect health and safety from the environmental and health impacts of concentrated animal feeding operations as much as I possibly can.
Tony Ends, 910 Scotch Hill Road, Brodhead, WI 53520 / 608 897-4288