Controversy arises over manure treatment proposals
At a contentious Personnel, Advisory and Legislative Committee meeting Dec. 10, committee members voted to recommend that the Kewaunee County Board accept a $50,000 grant to study the feasibility of establishing manure treatment centers around the county, but agreed to table a proposal to use $60,000 in unbudgeted county funds to hire a lobbyist to advocate for state assistance to establish a Kewaunee County biodigester.
County Chairman Ron Heuer, who is also chairman of the personnel committee, had included on the agenda a proposal to take possible action on a $5,000-a-month consulting contract between the county and Wisconsin Capital Solutions LLC in 2016 to lobby the state Legislature for possible funding and support for a Kewaunee County Biodigester project.
Heuer’s proposal came after the County Board last month approved a budget that required across-the-board cuts of 5 percent in all county departments as well as other budget cuts to county programs due to lost revenue from the closing of the Kewaunee Power Station.
The committee agenda did not include time for public comments but was amended at the meeting to allow citizens to speak who had come to the meeting to protest the $60,000 expenditure.
“The chairman is more interested in the success of the 15 to 16 CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) owners in the county than the other 20,000 residents,” said Jodi Parins of the Rural Enterprise Network. She said Heuer’s proposed county funding for a lobbyist would use taxpayer resources to fund business solutions for the private sector.
Parins noted the scientific study of the county’s wells announced Dec. 8 found that 34 percent, or 110 of the 320 wells tested, were contaminated – indicating that more than 1,000 wells in the county may be unsafe to drink, she said. (The total number of wells in the county is estimated at 3,900.) She said that the chairman should instead be focused on finding solutions for residents with unsafe wells.
Calling the consulting contract a “horrible idea,” Jesse Jerabek, town of Lincoln supervisor, said that if the county was going to spend $60,000 it “should be spent the right way … not to just help one group of people.”
Government officials, including the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have been working in the county to address the groundwater contamination issues caused by the spreading of cow manure on county fields, many of which have shallow soils allowing manure to seep into groundwater.
Heuer has consistently said that the solution lies in manure treatment technology currently being developed, but county officials agree that technology does not yet exist to treat the large volumes of manure created by the 16 CAFOs in the county.
In a county Groundwater Task Force meeting on Dec. 2, Heuer reported that the county had received a $50,000 grant from from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC) to study the feasibility of establishing “hub and spoke” manure treatment facilities throughout the county to handle the county’s growing manure disposal problem.
Heuer said that the study would require hiring an engineering firm to determine whether manure from the county’s livestock could be piped or trucked to six to eight privately owned cooperatives established throughout the county. The town of Lincoln had been proposed as the pilot area for the study, Heuer said.
The feasibility study would have to be completed by June under the terms of the grant. Other PSC grants may be available for implementing the project, Heuer said.
“They (the PSC) have millions of dollars … that could be made available to invest in these projects because they are a renewable energy source,” said County Supervisor John Pagel who attended the PSC grant meeting with Heuer and Scott Feldt, county administrator. “They want to do the project somewhere in the state … and hoped that we would take it on.”
Residents at the meeting also agreed that the county should accept the money for the feasibility study, but Jerabek and another town of Lincoln supervisor, Mick Sagrillo, said that the town should have been informed earlier that the study would focus on their town.
After more than an hour of discussion, the committee voted unanimously to recommend to the County Board that it accept the PSC grant. Heuer then said that the lobbyist proposal had been “premature” and the committee voted to table the lobbying agreement.
It is the first time in recent years that the county has considered a proposal to fund a countywide biodigester that would create energy. Anaerobic manure digesters collect manure and convert the energy stored in its organic matter to produce energy (gas or electricity) for on-farm or off-farm use. The most common type are wet biodigesters because they are used to digest liquid manure.
While some experts say that biodigesters are a source of renewable energy, others argue that biodigesters pollute the air as well as the water.
The DNR last year issued 90 alleged air pollution violations against a manure digester operated by Clear Horizons in the town of Waunakee. The DNR said that the plant’ s electrical generators were belching excessive amounts of toxic formaldehyde and acid-rain inducing sulfur dioxide.
The air pollution problems were reported after three spills of more than 400,000 gallon of cow manure over the past 12 months and findings that the biodigester was not removing enough nutrients from manure that is spread on farm fields.
“Private industry has created this problem,” said Dick Swanson, a member of the Groundwater Task Force. “Until we have more information, we need to stop the cows from coming.”
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Controversy arises over manure treatment proposals