Two groups challenge DNR Kinnard decision
UPDATE: About 30 percent of the wells taking part in a voluntarily testing program in the towns of Lincoln and Red River showed evidence of nitrate or bacteria contamination. That information was misstated in the original version of this story, published Oct. 13.
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Two environmental groups Monday filed an appeal challenging the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) decision on Sept. 11 to grant a water pollution permit to Kinnard Farms to expand its large industrial farm to more than 8,000 animal units.
Acting on behalf of five petitioners, Midwest Environmental Advocates filed an appeal of the DNR’s final decision to allow Kinnard to operate without a limit on the number of animals in the facility or without a requirement to monitor the conditions of the groundwater where the Kinnards spread their manure.
Lee Kinnard responded with a statement defending the DNR decision.
“My family and I remain confident that in the end the Secretary made the correct decision under the law as advised by DOJ (Department of Justice), and that is what matters,” Kinnard said. “This issue is really between the DNR and the state and does not involve my family. My family remains committed to caring for our land and water in a manner that not only complies with all environmental laws, but actually exceeds these stringent and science-based regulations.”
In a parallel action, Clean Wisconsin field an appeal of the agency’s decision, saying that it sets a precedent that will negatively impact groundwater protections throughout Wisconsin.
“The DNR’s decision to approve this permit disregards a court decision and dismisses reasonable measures that would help protect Kewaunee County groundwater from more bacteria and nitrate pollution,” said Sarah Geers, staff attorney with Midwest. “It is yet another example of how the leadership of our natural resources protection agency says their hands are tied when it comes to acting on behalf of the public interest but will act quickly when it is in the interests of industry.”
The environmental groups have charged that the Department of Natural Resources continues to choose “milk over clean water,” approving permits for concetrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Kewaunee County that favor dairy farmers and allow them to spread millions of gallons of liquid manure on agricultural fields that seeps into the fragile bedrock in the area and pollutes ground and surface waters.
Last month, the DNR approved the Kinnards’ permit, allowing them to spread 70 million gallons of liquid manure and wastewater annually from their dairy operation in the Town of Lincoln on 8,000 acres of land in the towns of Lincoln, Red River and Casco, as well as land in Brown and Door counties. The permit was issued despite a October 2014 administrative law judge’s decision that said that the DNR had authority under state law to impose a limit on the farm’s animals and require off-site groundwater monitoring operations by the dairy.
Calling the administrative judge’s decision “sensible protections,” Elizabeth Wheeler, senior staff attorney for Clean Wisconsin, said the group was filing a petition for review of the recent decision on the Kinnard Farms wastewater permit.
“This reversal sets a dangerous precedent for how Wisconsin protects and manages its groundwater,” she said. “DNR’s ability to set reasonable conditions on wastewater permits is an issue that affects drinking water for the whole state.”
Clean Wisconsin’s concern in this petition is how Act 21 was applied to the case. Enacted in 2011, Act 21 attempts to limit a state agency’s authority and discretion to apply protective permit conditions. Until last month, the state maintained the position that DNR had the authority to apply and enforce permit conditions to protect groundwater quality.
In the case of Kinnard Farms, Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt invoked this DNR authority in October 2014, requiring groundwater monitoring, a limit on the number of animals at the facility and other conditions on the facility’s wastewater permit. Last month’s reversal stripped these sensible and necessary groundwater protection conditions from the permit, Wheeler said.
“The conditions imposed by Judge Boldt are enforceable water permit conditions and within the scope of the DNR’s authority,” says Wheeler.
“This narrow interpretation of Act 21 limits DNR’s duty and authority to protect groundwater and drinking water,” Wheeler added. “If allowed to stand, this decision could endanger the health of residents who live near large animal operations by failing to monitor their drinking water for bacteria and other pollutants.”
Just one year ago, Clean Wisconsin petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency under the Safe Drinking Water Act to protect drinking water in Kewaunee County, where about 30 percent of the wells taking part in a voluntarily testing program in the towns of Lincoln and Red River showed evidence of nitrate or bacteria contamination. The EPA is currently working with the DNR in Kewaunee County to address groundwater pollution issues in the county.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Two groups challenge DNR Kinnard decision