Kewaunee CAFO manure spreading case to be heard by Door County judge
KEWAUNEE – The three Kewaunee County men facing state charges for underreporting the amount of manure they spread on a dairy farm and sending pollutants into nearby waterways will have their cases heard by a different judge than originally was scheduled.
Farm owner Johannes Wakker, manure hauler Gregory Stodola and agronomist Benjamin Koss were charged Dec. 2 in Kewaunee County Circuit Court by the Wisconsin Department of Justice. They were scheduled for initial appearances Jan. 12 in front of Judge Jeffrey Wisnicky, the county's sole circuit court judge, but each requested on Dec. 6 to have a different judge preside over their cases.
The defendants said Wisnicky should be disqualified from presiding because he would have intimate knowledge of some of the facts in the case from his time as the county's corporation counsel, in which Wisnicky served from 2007 until his election as judge this past April.
As a result, the cases were assigned on Dec. 8 to Door County Judge David Weber. No future court activity has been scheduled as of that date.
The charges faced by Wakker, Stodola and Koss stem from the spreading in December 2019 of excess manure stored at the time on Wakker's farm, Wakker Dairy, a concentrated animal feeding operation in Kewaunee.
A total of eight charges were filed by the DOJ. Stodola and his Stodola Ag Transport business, who Wakker hired to haul and spread the manure, face three charges of discharging pollutants into state waters, while all three men face charges for conspiracy to commit a crime and filing fraudulent reports. Koss was hired by Wakker to file a required report about the manure spreading with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
The DOJ complaint, following a DNR investigation, alleges that Stodola spread manure on several of Wakker's fields, but far more than what Wakker’s permit allowed. That resulted in pollution discharges into tributaries that lead to Lake Michigan. Water samples subsequently taken from those tributaries showed E. coli bacteria readings ranging from six to more than 100 times higher than readings that would close a public beach, as well as extremely high levels of nitrates, phosphates and other organic waste.
The complaint further alleges that because the amount of manure spread on the Wakker farm exceeded the amount allowed, Stodola created a document that underreported the manure actually spread by more than 1.9 million gallons. It further alleges Stodola gave the document to Wakker while billing Wakker the cost for the actual amount of manure, telling Wakker he was reporting less than the true amount.
Wakker gave the report to Koss to file it with the DNR, the complaint says, telling Koss that Stodola was underreporting the amount. The complaint says Koss manipulated the numbers even further to “calibrate the books” so the numbers would fit within DNR regulations before filing the allegedly falsified report.
The Criminal Litigation Unit of the DOJ Division of Legal Services is handling the prosecution of the case.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Kewaunee CAFO manure spreading case to be heard by Door County judge