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County nixes permit for Pinnace Dairy
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MONROE - Green County Conservationist Todd Jenson has denied permit applications to build a proposed large-scale livestock facility dubbed Pinnacle Dairy after workers refused to allow county officials on the property.

Jenson wrote a letter, mailed on May 26, which he read during the Land and Water Conservation Committee meeting on Thursday. The incident occurred on May 16. In his letter, Jenson indicated that workers at the site would not allow county staff to inspect water levels in the monitoring wells set up to establish how deep the groundwater runs. These tests indicate whether groundwater could be contaminated with the addition of the proposed 5,800-cow farm when manure is spread over farmland and stored in large lagoons.

Todd Tuls, owner of Rock Prairie Dairy between Janesville and Delavan which began operations in 2011, used that 5,000-cow dairy as a model for the proposed Pinnacle Dairy Farm on 127 acres of land along County FF and Decatur-Sylvester Road in the Township of Sylvester. The farm would qualify as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, the designation for a livestock operation with more than 1,000 cattle in an enclosed space. The largest current CAFO in Green County was permitted for roughly 1,800 cows.

Jenson told Tuls in the letter that when he and department technician Chris Newberry approached the proposed site for the animal manure storage facility and feedlot, they were refused the ability to examine the water levels of monitoring wells on advice of counsel. They were told this by Pinnacle Dairy hydrologist Bob Nauta after being given approval in February by Pinnacle engineer Ron Williams.

Green County code allows the department inspection authority after a permit application has been made or after a permit has been issued to ensure the applicant is in compliance with the law.

"Based on Pinnacle Dairy Inc.'s refusal to allow the Department of Land and Water Conservation staff to inspect the water levels in the monitoring wells and its failure to abide by the requirements of Green County code, your permit applications have been denied," Jenson wrote.

Tuls has maintained that his farms throughout the country, especially Rock Prairie Dairy, have always followed best practices and remained safe.

But some residents of Sylvester and nearby townships have opposed allowing a dairy operation of this magnitude, citing concerns including potential contamination of groundwater.

Some, including Jen Riemer, a would-be neighbor of Pinnacle Dairy, began Green County Defending our Farmland to call attention to the negative effects manure contamination could have on the health of people living in the area. The organization hired a lawyer who created a proposed moratorium ordinance, which the Sylvester Town Board passed in September. A livestock license ordinance was adopted by the town board, but has not been put in place pending a review by the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The moratorium ends June 23.

Kriss Marion, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union chapter covering Lafayette, Green and Rock counties, said she thought the site was "turning out to be a nightmare" for Pinnacle because findings show the possibility for groundwater contamination and the instability of the wet farmland for such a large facility.

Todd Tuls' son T.J. did not return calls from The Monroe Times requesting comment on Friday.

Pinnacle Dairy, LLC has the ability to appeal the decision or re-apply for the permits. Jenson said if Pinnacle chooses to appeal, the letter must be presented within 60 days to the Green County Land and Water Conservation Committee. The committee decides whether to uphold the denial of permits or to reverse Jenson's decision.
MADISON (AP) - Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources isn't following its own policies for policing pollution from large livestock farms and wastewater treatment plants, a state audit released Friday found.

The Legislative Audit Bureau report found the DNR failed to send violation notices in 94 percent of the nearly 560 instances its policies said it should have over the past decade. The report also found that permits have been extended without review for years due to a backlog and that staff members don't have time to thoroughly monitor concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

"I'm troubled and I'm concerned," said Legislative Audit Committee Co-Chair Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay. "As somebody that's a strong advocate of clean water, I want to see a comprehensive program and not have a bunch of holes in it."

DNR spokesman James Dick said the agency often uses methods other than violation notices to obtain compliance, such as discussing violations, even though DNR policy called for violation notices in all 558 cases in the audit.

"Because DNR often uses other means to obtain compliance, the number of (notices of violation) is not a good indicator of whether an environmental issue was addressed," Dick wrote in an email.

The DNR permits about 1,250 municipal wastewater treatment plants, industrial wastewater treatment facilities and CAFOs. It's required to make sure those entities comply with permit terms, but the audit found the DNR didn't consistently follow its own rules and at times violated statutory requirements.

"This really basic and fundamental function of the DNR, it's not working right now," said Elizabeth Wheeler, a senior staff attorney at environmental group Clean Wisconsin.

She said if permit holders see there are no real teeth to enforcement, they have little incentive to comply, leading to further water pollution across the state.

Of the 260 CAFOs for which permits were reissued from 2006 to 2014, 17 were inspected after the permit was reissued instead of before, violating statutory requirements. Another 51 were inspected more than 12 months before their permit expired, which is too long before permit expiration because conditions on the farm can change. Dick said of the 17 permitted before inspection, the DNR has found records documenting substantial compliance before the reissuance for 15 of the 17 and believes the remaining two were in substantial compliance as well.

The audit also found staff had only electronically recorded 36 of 1,900 annual reports required of CAFOs from 2005 through 2014. Staff said they didn't record submissions because of a lack of time given other responsibilities. They also said they don't have time to thoroughly review each annual report, meaning instances of noncompliance could be overlooked.

Wisconsin Dairy Business Association Government Affairs Director John Holevoet said that just because staffing is an issue doesn't mean DNR is missing violations. He pointed to the audit's finding that the percentage of CAFOs being inspected twice every five years has increased from 20 percent in 2005 to 2009 to 48 percent in 2010 to 2014.

"I think there are some signs again that they're doing a better job than in the past," Holevoet said.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp wrote in her response to the audit that the department has recognized many of the issues identified and has already, or is in the process of, establishing systems to address them.

In July 2011, the department received a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifying 75 issues with state law and administrative rules. Stepp wrote the department has resolved 38 issues and efforts are underway to address 31 others.

Paul Zimmerman, executive director of governmental relations for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, said the organization wants the DNR to be successful with its program because it would much rather have the state agency issue permits than have the EPA step in.

Cowles said the audit verifies there's a staffing problem for permits and inspections, but he said it's unclear whether that stems from cuts to the DNR that Gov. Scott Walker included in the 2015-2017 budget. A spokesman for Walker declined to comment.

Cowles said he's asking the audit bureau to determine what funding would be necessary to supplement the DNR's wastewater permitting staff and program operations. The committee is also asking the DNR for follow-up reports on many of the issues by Nov. 1.

"This is going to be one of those things that's going to take a while," Cowles said.