CAFO owner reappointed as Land and Water Conservation chair
The Kewaunee County Board on Monday unanimously approved newly elected Chairman Robert Weidner’s committee assignments, including the reappointment of CAFO owner John Pagel as chairman of the county’s Land and Water Conservation Committee.
Environmentalists last year asked for Pagel’s resignation, saying that it was a conflict of interest for Pagel to serve as head of the committee when concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) allegedly were creating the excess manure runoff causing ground and surface water pollution in the county. Pagel was first appointed chairman of the committee in 2014 by former County Board Chairman Ron Heuer.
“As a dairy farmer myself, I can be the communicator and liaison between farmers and the Land and Water Conservation Committee,” Pagel said after the meeting. “We are already showing from our county farmers that they are being proactive in trying to improve water quality in the county.”
In March, Pagel and two other CAFO owners met with the editors of the Green Bay Press-Gazette and said they believed large-scale agriculture was part of the reason for the county’s groundwater problems and that the agriculture industry is in the best position to provide a solution. Since then, the DNR has also approved Pagel’s request to become the first farmer in the county to spray liquid manure on agricultural fields, a practice residents at several recent DNR and county meetings said will add to adverse health and environmental conditions.
But Pagel said Monday that farmers were using different practices in the field to prevent manure runoff. Pagel also said he was a member of the Peninsula Pride Farms, the not-for-profit group recently formed by farmers and others in the agricultural industry that is working to address ground and surface water quality issues in Kewaunee and Southern Door counties.
“Without regulations in it is the important part,” Pagel said, noting that efforts by farmers to date have been voluntary.
County Supervisor Charles Wagner said that he had asked Weidner to appoint him as chairman of the Land and Water Conservation Committee. Wagner worked with the 2007 Karst Task Force that developed recommendations to address groundwater contamination and other issues caused by shallow soils in the county. He also served as president of the state Land and Water Conservation Association and was nominated in 2010 for County Land and Water Supervisor of the Year in Wisconsin.
Weidner did appoint Wagner as a member of the Land and Water Conservation Committee. Wagner, who had served on the committee from 2002 to 2014, did not serve on the committee from 2014-2016 because of what he called “personality differences” with Heuer. Lee Luft, who ran against Weidner for chairman, was reappointed to the Land and Water Committee and will continue as chairperson of the county’s Groundwater Task Force.
Wagner said that he would be using one of his fields to demonstrate how cover crops and no-till farming could reduce soil erosion and runoff.
“My personal feeling is that good clean water and farming can co-exist in Kewaunee County,” he said.
On Tuesday, Weidner, who had served as county chairman from 2004-2014, said that he was reluctant to remove a sitting chairman unless there was cause. He said that he had reviewed the Land and Water Conservation Committee minutes from the last two years and found no evidence that Pagel’s chairmanship created a a legal conflict of interest.
He said that he understood that there was a “perception of a conflict of interest” and he talked with representatives of some of the county’s environmental groups and found no “overwhelming” evidence that as a farmer Pagel had lobbied for his own best interests.
“I don’t know that he obstructed any ordinances or regulations,” said Weidner. “I don’t remove people unless I see that they have gone too far.”
Weidner said that Pagel has voted in favor of the county’s groundwater ordinance and the final committee he appointed was balanced with people representing farming and non-farming interests.
Weidner also reappointed Luft as chairman of the Finance and Public Property Committee. The committee will be addressing the county’s continuing loss of revenues in future years primarily as a result of the closing of the Kewaunee Power Station nuclear plant.
“There will be a heavy burden on the Finance Committee and continued burdens on the Land and Water Committee,” Weidner told the board.
In addition to Pagel and Luft, the new standing committee chairpersons are Tom Romdenne, Extension Education and Zoning; Gary Paape, Health, Veteran Service and Child Support; Larry Kirchman, Highway/Solid Waste; Kaye Shillin, Human Services; Linda Sinkula, Law Enforcement, Emergency Management; Bob Weidner, Personnel, Advisory and Legislative; and Scott Jahnke, Promotion and Recreation.
Scott Feldt, county administrator, also announced the hiring of Jennifer Schneider of Manitowoc as the new tourism coordinator. Schneider previously worked in Green Bay for eight years as a producer at WFRV-TV Channel 5 and as a producer at a television station in South Bend, Ind. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Karen Ebert Yancey can be reached at [email protected], on Facebook at Kewaunee County Star News Facebook, on Twitter at @EbertYancey or by calling 920-559-1235.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: CAFO owner reappointed as Land and Water Conservation chair