Manure spraying proposed by Conservation chair
At a Department of Natural Resources public hearing last week county officials, environmentalists and residents protested a permit request by Kewaunee County’s Land and Water Conservation Committee Chairman John Pagel that would allow him to spray liquid manure on fields owned or rented throughout the county by his large dairy operation in West Kewaunee.
If approved, it would be the first time that liquid manure is sprayed in the county.
Residents at the hearing said they oppose the permit because it would pollute the air with dangerous toxins, create health risks for residents, visitors and animals, reduce property values and harm the quality of life for neighbors near fields where manure is sprayed. They also protested that the permit was being granted before a DNR study group has completed its study of the safety of spraying liquid manure and said wind levels in Kewaunee County are such that manure spraying should be prohibited.
Proponents of manure spraying say that it is more economical for the farmer and can reduce water pollution because runoff is less likely when manure is applied when crops are in the field.
Pagel owns Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy in Kewaunee. The dairy’s concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) permit is up for renewal and would allow him to continue operating a dairy farm with approximately 9,532 animal units and to spread the cow manure on 8,133 acres he owns or rents from other landowners.
The CAFO permit request has been modified to include industrial waste that would be added to the manure from a cheese production factory he built in late 2015 at his main dairy at N4893 County C in Kewaunee.
Pagel also asked for a separate permit to spray some of the 67 million gallons of cow manure his farm generates annually on agricultural fields in the county. Pagel and other farmers in the county have primarily disposed of their cow manure by spreading it directly on the soil. Pagel also has a digester to convert cow manure into electric power.
Several county residents last year asked for Pagel’s resignation as chairman of the conservation committee. They charge that it is a conflict of interest for Pagel, a county supervisor, to chair the committee because he owns one of the largest CAFOs in the county. They allege that the county’s 16 CAFOs are responsible for much of the increased groundwater and surface water contamination in the county.
Thirty-four percent of the tested wells in the county are contaminated, and its three major rivers and many other waterways are on the EPA’s Impaired Waters list for excess phosphorus.
Speaking at the hearing, Lee Luft, county supervisor and chairman of the Groundwater Task Force, asked the DNR to use its authority to delay approving the manure spraying permit until the DNR group has issued its recommendations.
Luft said that the current permit request for spray irrigation does not address many concerns that could impact nearby residents, including night spraying, change in wind direction and speed, and use of drop nozzles and other spraying devices. He also noted that a provision that limits spraying to within 500 feet of neighboring residences does not provide enough protection for schools and other public facilities.
“Kewaunee County is in a certified wind belt. … The protection being offered citizens of Kewaunee County is not adequate,” he said. He noted that several towns in the county have passed ordinances banning liquid spraying of manure.
County resident Jodi Parins accused Pagel of “sloppy practices” and asked the DNR to deny the manure spraying permit because of Pagel’s alleged failures to operate within existing DNR regulations.
She cited a 2014 EPA inspection report of his dairy, which documented two potential violations where wastewater was flowing into tributaries of the Kewaunee River. Parins questioned how Pagel could remain as chairman of the county’s conservation committee when the EPA had observed him violating existing water pollution regulations.
“This is the practitioner who has left us with contaminated wells and an impaired watershed,” Parins said.
Although the inspection report did find two potential violations, the EPA section chief also concluded that Pagel had taken appropriate steps to correct the problems and prevent future violations, and no fines were levied.
Todd Lohenry of Algoma said he moved here from Aurora, Ill., with his wife and six sons to escape crime, but believes that manure spraying poses even more danger to his family.
“Pagel’s business is affecting my health, my family’s health and my property values,” he said.
He questioned whether Pagel was receiving special treatment from the DNR because he was a large contributor to the Wisconsin Republican Party.
“This permit process should not be about Kewaunee County for the 1 percent, this should be about Kewaunee County for all,” Lohenry said.
Several speakers began crying as they spoke of their concern about how manure spraying would affect their quality of life and their neighbors.
“I am concerned about the CAFO expansion and spray irrigation because of the enormous impact it could have on our air, water and property values,” said Mary Goodner, who said she and her husband moved to the county six years ago because of its beautiful landscape.
Her husband, Dale, said that he first worked in the county in the 1960s when its future was envisioned as “a mecca for fly fisherman.” When he returned in 2010, he said that he could “only describe the water as too thick to navigate.”
Dick Swanson, a member of the groundwater task force, submitted pictures to DNR representatives that he alleged showed untreated effluent from Pagel’s barns flowing into tributaries of the Kewaunee River this month.
“This is a health emergency and the DNR has not sent us a warden in three years,” he said, adding that as a result citizens were now the only ones reporting illegally discharged manure from farms.
Patti Chaivre, a Green Bay nurse from the town of Pierce, warned of MRSA and other diseases that could be contracted from sprayed manure and said that she had recently treated a CAFO employee who she alleged was experiencing respiratory health problems from his job.
“My son was thinking of moving his business here, but now he probably won’t because of everything that is going on,” she said.
Nancy Utesch with Kewaunee Cares called liquid manure “toxic soup” that could endanger resident’s health if it was sprayed.
She alleged that Brad Holtz, agricultural runoff management specialist for the DNR, who was one of two DNR officials conducting the meeting, had been widely quoted in articles for private companies, including Feeco International, which makes fertilizer from manure. She asked Holtz if he had financial interests in Feeco or any of the county’s CAFOs or their businesses.
Holtz said after the meeting that he would seek legal counsel before answering the question.
Greg Bethard, a spokesperson for Pagel’s Ponderosa Dairy, said after the meeting that Pagel was on a previously planned trip to New Zealand and could not be at the hearing.
“We do respect the rights of every citizen to voice their opinion,” Bethard said. “We’ve got some issues in the geography of Northeast Wisconsin and we need to work together to address them,” he said. “Our families and children live here, too. … We are all after solutions.”
No one spoke in favor of the manure spraying.
Holtz said that resident’s questions would be answered by the DNR in writing prior to April 1. He said that written comments on Pagel’s permits could be emailed to him at [email protected] or mailed to him at the DNR, 2984 Shawano Ave., Green Bay, WI 54313.
He said the DNR would make a final decision on both permits within 30 days.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Manure spraying proposed by Conservation chair