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County board rejects water study
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MONROE - A water study to identify groundwater resources throughout Green County failed by a single vote Tuesday night, despite a last-ditch attempt to resurrect the motion for reconsideration.

The Green County Board of Supervisors voted 20-8 for the study, which would cost $105,528 over its three-year life. Money for the study would have come from the county's general fund, and under state statute, transfers from the general fund require a two-thirds majority. The Green County board has 31 members, meaning 21 votes were needed to fund the study. Three county supervisors, Harvey Mandel, Steve Stettler and Beth Luchsinger, were absent Tuesday.

Opponents of a large-scale dairy farm proposed for Sylvester township pushed for the water study last fall, as the county board was completing its 2016 budget, saying it would help identify potential areas where groundwater might be particularly vulnerable to contamination. At the time, the board rejected the inclusion of a water study in the budget but said the issue could be revisited at any time and money taken from the general fund.

Last week, the county finance committee approved recommending the water study to the full board.

The water study issue packed the county board room, with many spectators holding blue Mylar balloons in support of the study.

Elvin Busjahn of Brodhead was the lone citizen to address the board.

The cost of the study, "$105,000 is a drop in the bucket," compared to the potential for groundwater contamination, he said.

He said the proposed Pinnacle Dairy project, which projects at least 5,000 cows, is "too many cows for one area." He suggested the county look at a moratorium on large farms.

Such a move seems unlikely now, as last week the county land and water conservation committee voted against recommending a county-wide moratorium on large-scale farm.

A letter from Monroe attorney Greg Knoke, which served to present more than 125 signatures of residents in

"opposition of ordinances and regulations limiting the size of dairy farms," was also presented to the board.

Madeline Gotkowitz, a hydrogeologist for the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, tried to put distance between her agency's water study proposal and the large-scale farm issue.

Green County is in the karst belt, an area of limestone and dolomite. Much of the bedrock is close to the surface, making the groundwater less protected from contamination. The water study would look at variables such as the soil depth to the bedrock, estimate the time for the aquifer to recharge from rainwater and map bedrock and water elevations.

She stressed the water study was a tool for the entire county to get an overview of its groundwater, regardless of what type of development might be planned in the future - including a cheese factory, farm or brewery.

The study would not suggest zoning or permitting requirements; rather, it would help identify what areas might need additional monitoring or safeguards to accommodate a planned use, she said.

"You can't stop a farm with a map," Gotkowitz said.

Supervisor Russ Torkelson was among supervisors who questioned the scope and purpose of the study. He said the county is "doing too many studies," citing its current look at needs at the jail and at Pleasant View nursing home.

"Why are we doing a study to tell us water goes downhill?" Torkelson said.

But Supervisor Betty Grotophorst said the water study was "for all of Green County." She urged fellow board members to not confuse the issue with any discussion of stopping a large-scale farm.

"It's only a water study," she said.

While drawing applause from the audience, her words failed to move enough of her fellow supervisors. Voting against the study were Dennis Dalton, Richard Thoman, Jeff Williams, Sherri Fiduccia, Calvin Wickline, Torkelson, Gordon Klossner and Ted Fahey.

Immediately after the vote, Supervisor Herb Hanson asked Corporation Counsel Brian Bucholtz if there could be a motion to postpone the decision. After some quick research, Bucholtz said the motion could be brought back for reconsideration on the grounds of correcting a vote or that the vote was hastily made or ill-advised. The motion to reconsider would have to be made by someone who voted against the original motion.

Kim Hunter, a goat farmer in Cadiz township, was among disappointed spectators who were hoping the water study would be approved.

"It's common sense," she said of the study. "It's knowing what our resources are. It's just another tool" to help make decisions.

"But they didn't want that tool."